Feb 2017 - Thaipusam Festival Tour


I have lived in KL for seven months and during that short time I have had the opportunity to experience several festivals for which KL is known. Thaipusam has been my favorite festival to date and has exceeded all of my expectations.

A brief background and meaning behind the religious festival: Thaipusam is celebrated by the Tamil community and commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a Vel "spear" so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. Devotees undergo a pilgrimage and carry Kavadi (a burden) to the temple in Batu Caves. These Kavadi can be a small or a very large structure carried on the devotees’ shoulders. Devotees cleanse themselves and perform elaborate ceremonies at the river prior to embarking with their Kavadi on the pilgrimage route. At the end of their route they ascend 272 steps to Batu Cave with their Kavadi imploring Lord Murugan for assistance in completing their pilgrimage.



Experiencing Thaipusam is having each of your senses awakened. It is an experience unlike any other and leaves you feeling revitalized. This year marked my first Thaipusam experience and guided tour where our very own Cheryl Hoffmann led the group. Cheryl is, in my opinion, a fantastic source of information on local culture and festivals in KL. She gave us an overview of what to expect and the meaning behind the religious festival.  We met at a local train station in KL and traveled together to the main KTM station located near Batu Caves. This was the first glimpse of things to come since the train cars were full with visitors traveling to the same destination. Thaipusam had an expected 1.5 million visitors at Batu Caves in 2017.  This makes for cramped quarters when traveling to the festival by rail.


Upon arrival at the Batu Caves station, we immediately encountered a myriad  of sights, sounds, and smells. Festival music was playing on large speakers, drums were beating , horns were blaring. The sounds were amazing and immediately drew you into the experience of Thaipusam.  After exiting the station, we wove our way through various stalls and shops that sold food, trinkets, and religious items, finally making our way to a preparation area for devotees. This area was alive with the beat of drums and devotees washing in the river and performing other rituals in preparation for their pilgrimage route to the Temples atop the steps. There were lines of devotee men and children waiting to have their heads shaved, lines of men and women making offerings, and families gathering at the river's edge eagerly awaiting their moment to perform their rituals. This area was alive with action and our eyes were captivated by all of the vivid colors. Cheryl did an amazing job explaining the different aspects of preparations the devotees endure and the reasons behind the multitude of rituals the group witnessed.


After visiting the exciting area of offering and preparation we made our way towards some of the various temples and viewed the Silver Chariot that was transported from the Center of KL to Batu Caves. We watched the Chariot procession and visited many of the different stalls selling religious items. We snaked our way through the crowds and eventually arrived at the path of devotees who were heading towards the stairs to ascend to the top.

The moment we joined the throngs of people making their way to the steps we were completely immersed in the full experience of Thaipusam. It was an exhilarating sensation accompanying the devotees on their first of many grueling steps towards and up the stairs. There were people of all ages making their way to the steps with their Kavadi, or burden. We witnessed many types of Kavadi being carried along the way. There were simple pots of milk, hooks or vel spears that pierced the skin, or large structures that the devotees carried on their shoulders. The atmosphere was so alive while the devotees were chanting, dancing, and beating their drums. We made our way to the top and we silently watched as the devotees reverently formed a line to enter the temple and present their Kavadi to the priest. It was a humbling experience to watch the devotees brave the heat and bear their burdens as they ascended the steps.



The day for our group finished with a refreshing drink and some delicious food from the local vendors and a recap with Cheryl, of the events of the day. Thaipusam is an essential experience if you live in KL. I would recommend the event to anyone who is able to attend. It will be something you will never forget!


Written by Michelle Dye

Pictures by Michelle Dye and Cheryl Hoffman