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Batu Caves (Kuala Lumpur)
Batu Caves is a limestone hill, which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. Batu Caves is also the name of the nearby village.
The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to
Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia.
The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people (a tribe of Orang Asli).
As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilising their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were recorded by colonial authorities including Daly and Syers as well as American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.
Batu Caves was promoted as a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader. He was inspired by the 'vel'-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Muruga within the caves.
In 1890, Pillai, who also founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur, installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Subramania Swamy in what is today known as the Temple Cave. Since 1892, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated there.
Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps. Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100 m vaulted ceiling.
Standing at 42.7 meter (140.09 ft) high, the world's tallest statue of Murugan,
a Hindu deity, is located outside Batu Caves, near the city of Kuala Lumpur,
Malaysia. The statue, which cost approximately Rupees 24 million, is made of
1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold
paint brought in from neighboring Thailand.
Rising almost 100 m above the ground, Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a 100 m-high ceiling, and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors have to climb a steep flight of 272 steps.
At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan's victory over the demon Soorapadam. An audio tour is available to visitors.
The Ramayana Cave is situated to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 50-foot (15 m) tall murti of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the noble monkey devotee and aide of Lord Rama. The consecration ceremony of the temple was held in November 2001.
The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner along the irregular walls of the cave.
A 42.7m (140.09 feet high) high statue of Lord Muruga was unveiled in January 2006, having taken 3 years to construct. It is the tallest Lord Muruga statue in the world.
Batu Malai Sri Subramaniar Temple is managed by the Board of Management of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam, which also manages the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur and the Kortumalai Pillaiyar Temple. It also performs the role of Hindu Religious Consultant to the Government of Malaysia in determining the Hindu yearly calendar.
Icons carried in procession during Thaipusam at Batu Caves. Also seen in the
background is the 42.7 m high golden statue of Lord Muruga.
Batu Caves serves as the focus of the Hindu community's yearly Thaipusam (Tamil: தைபூசம்) festival. It has become a pilgrimage site for not only Malaysian Hindus, but Hindus worldwide from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore.
A procession begins in the wee hours of the morning on Thaipusam from the Sri
Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur leading up to Batu Caves as a religious
undertaking to Lord Muruga lasting eight hours. Devotees carry containers
containing milk as offering to Lord Muruga either by hand or in huge decorated
carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'.
The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms.
After a bath in the nearby Sungei Batu (Rocky River), the devotees wend their way to the Temple Cave and with remarkable endurance they climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades off on either side.
When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272 step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb against gravity- against the press of the bustling masses.
Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.
In 2007, the festival attracted more than 1.5 million pilgrims, making it one of the largest gatherings in history.