Tag Archives: pilgrimage

Batu Caves ‘aka’ Breathtaking Charmers

Realistic sculpturing is indeed something special – a divine art perfected by geniuses like Michelangelo, Rodin, … But when it comes to who is the ultimate sculptor, the greatest sculptor of all time, it leads to endless debates. Whatever be the conclusion, after seeing naturally sculptured spots such as the Batu Caves in Malaysia, almost all will arrive at a single answer: the greatest sculptor of all time is no one else but the ‘nature’!

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A place that has to be seen to be believed, Batu Caves is located around 13 km from Malaysia’s capital city Kuala Lumpur. For majority, in Malaysia and abroad, Batu Caves is a place of worship – ‘Sri Subramaniyar Swamy Devasthanam’, one of the very famous Hindu temples that are located outside the hub of Hinduism, India. But this place is more than just a temple abode – a location that blends the air of holiness with the thrill of natural beauty and adventurous excitement. Perhaps there will be no other location in the world where one can find holy temples consecrated in an array of perfect naturally carved caves.

Dating back to 400 million years, Batu Caves are actually limestone caves formed within three sandwiched hillocks – the name comes from the Malay word for rock and/or from the neighboring Batu River. Centuries ago this location was the transit place for indigenous Malay tribes for their hunting trips. Later the then-Chinese settlers made use of these caves to make fertilizer from bat-droppings for their agricultural needs. But this spot remained ‘hidden’ to the outside world until ‘discovered’ by British explorers in the late 19th century.

At that time the Tamil communities from India were prominent settlers in Malaysia. A noted Tamil merchant, Thambusamy Pillai, after experiencing a holistic touch at this place, decided to build a temple in the caves. It is also believed that the ‘Vel’-shaped main cave entrance (‘Vel’ – a divine spear – the chief weapon of Lord Subramaniya) inspired Thambusamy Pillai to consecrate a temple for Lord Subramaniya, also known as Muruga / Karthikeya, the most revered deity of Tamil communities worldwide.

At present Batu Caves is regarded as the ‘Mecca of Hindus outside India’ – particularly famous for the annual festival ‘Thaipooyam’, a much revered occasion in the Malaysian capital. But this God-made wonder is much more than a pilgrim’s spot… a canvas of natural sculptural beauty.

A must see spot for Kuala Lumpur visitors, what greets you first on arrival is a 140 feet tall gigantic gold-painted statue of Hindu God Subramaniya, the tallest statue of Subramaniya in the world!

Of the main caves here, the first, right near the basement is ‘Valluvar Kottam’ (Art Gallery Cave & Museum Cave) where you can see many fascinating mural paintings and statues of Hindu Gods; not to mention that of a ‘five-legged-bull’. In this cave Lord Subramaniya’s story, from birth to marriage and subsequent slaying of demon, is pictorially narrated thru murals.

Another cave located near the hill-wall leading to Subramaniya temple-stairs is the ‘Ramayana Cave’, guarded by a big statue of Hanuman (the monkey god, a staunch devotee of Lord Rama).

Apart from the temple of Lord Rama and Hanuman here, what catches attention are the beautiful murals on the cave walls that illustrate the story of Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’.

Then starts the long climb of 272 steps towards the biggest cave of the lot .… which contains the Lord Subramaniya shrine. When you reach half way; the entrance to ‘the dark cave’ can be seen – a marvel of natural architectural brilliance! As the name implies, it is a long gloomy tunnel-like cave infested by bats.

Inside the dark cave, the ageless limestone formations that pops out from the floors, cave-walls and ceilings elegantly decorate the whole structure. These peculiar formations are really hard to believe whether manually sculptured or not! But they only add up the fact that nature is the ultimate artist. This cave also houses some wild species that are too rare to be seen. (As it is too pristine, special permission is needed to visit Dark caves).

Finally comes the largest cave – the Temple Cave or Cathedral Cave. After watching the naturally carved walls that are towered by a very high dome-like ceiling, which is also naturally lighted up by sunrays entering thru holes atop, you will be sure that ‘Cathedral Cave’ is the apt name for this as there can be hardly seen such a naturally built Cathedral elsewhere !

What makes a major difference here from a manmade Cathedral may be the rush of macaque monkeys, a brigade of their own.

Inside this naturally-created cathedral that steal a match between the best manually built ones, anyone will stand gazing the unparalleled artistry of the supreme self for long, before proceeding to the main temple.

Besides the major shrine of Lord Subramaniya, few other shrines can also be seen here – wonderfully complimenting the Dravidian temple architectural style – something that can’t be seen outside South India.

In fact, other than the state of Tamil Nadu (South India) the mother land of Tamils, this is the pilgrim place where the ‘Thaipooyam’ festival (which signifies the triumphant of good over evil, as well as an auspicious chapter in the life of Lord Subramaniya) is celebrated in full grandeur. The festival is one of the largest gatherings of its kind, participated by the Hindu communities from Southeast Asian countries.

This natural wonder provides magnificent panoramic views of Kuala Lumpur neighborhood as well…

Last but not the least, is the ‘Reptile Cave’ the newest opened cave in Batu. Here you can see varieties of snakes, with the reticulated python being a major one – ‘thrill for the daring’.

Rope climbing is another means for enjoying this nature’s precious creation. It is estimated that Batu caves offers more than hundred & fifty climbing routes! Thus not only the devotees, but adventurists too can relish this spot to the fullest.

Nature’s prowess continues to amaze mankind… whatever may be the advances in sophisticated arts & crafts; seems there is no match for the artworks of the creator.



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Parassinikkadavu Temple… it’s something special

Kannur, in north Kerala, is a land of many unsung wonders… a district with its own share of assets amongst the numerous attractions in the god’s own country. One that stands out of many-a unique assets of Kannur is Parassinikkadavu Muthappan Temple – a temple of immense specialties!

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Situated on the serene banks of river Valapattanam, about 20 km far from Kannur town, the Muthappan temple at Parassinikkadavu is perhaps the only one of its kind in the country in terms of religious practices. In the Hindu temples that follow the ‘sattvic’ way of worship (a term attributed in respect to the high caste Brahmanic worship system) – which demands strict purity and vegetarianism – and the temple offerings are natural ones like flowers and fruits, can anyone imagine that here there is no idol to worship and offerings to offerings to the deity are meat & toddy! That’s the Temple at Parassinikkadavu.

Here, instead of the Hinduism’s customary idol worship, the deity ‘Muthappan’ is worshipped by means of the folk art ‘Theyyam’ (north Kerala’s indigenous dance form where the performer applies mask on his face and puts on brightly coloured costumes).

In fact Muthappan Temple is the only one where devotees witness the fascinating Theyyam dance daily; as it is regarded that god uses human as a medium to communicate to his devotees and put an end to their traumas. The Theyyam performed at this temple are two types: Vellattom and Thiruvappan, personification of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu respectively.

If one learns about the interesting legends of the god ‘Muthappan’, Parassinikkadavu Temple’s strange rituals can be given full justice. Muthappan, believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva, was found as an infant by a childless Brahmin couple. They raised him as their own son. But as he grew up, Muthappan picked up wayward habits, becoming a wandering hunter extremely fond of meat and toddy. One day Muthappan vanished all of a sudden, but not before revealing his divine self to the local folks. Later a temple was consecrated at Parassinikkadavu in his honour.

A deity known for his instant wish granting prowess much like Lord Shiva, Parassinikkadavu Muthappan is the most popular deity in northern region of Kerala. Everyday, lots of people come to this temple to witness the worship rituals, which are indeed a treat to watch.

The daily routine begins with the Theyyam artists, in their colourful attire, performs frenzied dancing rhythmically with the resonant beat of the percussion instrument ‘chenda’. Symbolically representing the ‘hunter god’, the Theyyam dances with swaying the sword. The movements, brisk and light randomly, are true eye feast and the whole atmosphere throbs with holistic air. As the performance reaches its peak, Theyyam – on behalf of the deity – answers to the devotees’ various woes.

The worship concludes with the distribution of the temple’s special ‘prasadam’, i.e. ritual offerings, ‘Payyankutti’ (A dish made with flattened rice, boiled groundnut with shredded coconuts, black pepper, pappad and dried fish; together with toddy) to everyone … but not before offering the same to Muthappan’s most trusted companion ‘the dog’ ! According to legends, the hunter god was always shadowed by dogs and it’s their privilege to be fed first-of-all with the temple ‘prasadam’ – An act symbolizing the oneness of the supreme soul irrespective of gender, caste or creed… which the enlightened ones stated that ultimately the soul only lasts, not the body.

In Kannur, people also conduct Theyyam, mainly ‘Vellattom’, at their homes as an offering to fulfill their wishes. After the proceedings are over, much same like that in the temple, the inmates keep the ‘thirumudi’ of Vellattom  (which represents the matted locks of Lord Shiva) on the house rooftop as it is believed that it will bring wellness & prosperity to the household throughout the year. Vellattom offering is held in high esteem by all locals alike.

Parassinikkadavu Temple is not limited to a particular religion; on the contrary it is open to all, with people from different faiths being the staunch devotees of Muthappan. A shrine that is a thriving testimony of secular harmony. The practices here seems to intensify the ever debatable fact that ” isn’t these caste & creed  are creations of one’s own mindset or ….? “