Thaipusam 2016 @Batu Caves – Transcendence

(A word of warning, this post contains images of body mutilations which may disturb or upset some viewers.)

One of the highlights of Thaipusam are devotees showing their deep devotion or fulfilling their vow to Lord Murugan or other Hindu deities by entering a transcendence trance state and mutilating their body with body piercings while carrying a kavadi. Devotees prepare for this ritual by undergoing special prayers/rites and observing a strict vegetarian diet to purify their body weeks (48 days) before Thaipusam. On Thaipusam day, they fast. Swamis help the devotees enter a trance state, with the sounds of chanting, rhythmic drumming and scented incense pervading the air assisting the devotees to reach their trance state quicker.

Vel Pierced Paal Kavadi Bearer

Once in a trance, the devotees act or dance uncontrollably, under the divine spell of Lord Murugan or the other deities.  The swamis and assistants help the devotees pierce their tongue and cheek with vels (spears), they feel no pain and neither is any blood shed as they are in a spiritual and devotional trance. Some pierce their backs with hooks and hang little pots of milk, fruits (lime, oranges), bells on them. Perhaps not something for the faint-hearted, but it’s an incredible ritual to spectate and appreciate, and seeing is believing.

Red Roses and Oranges Hook Piercings

Along the journey to the main temple, they move, they dance to the spiritual and divine influence of the deities, some zombie-like with eyes glazed, accompanied by an entourage. They make stops along the way to oblige fellow devotees who approach them for blessings.

Woman Receiving Blessing From A Deity Via A Devotee In A Trance

An interesting and unexpected encounter was to see some seated down for a rest and enjoying a cigar, holy smoke, but it quickly dawned on me this is serious stuff though, it’s the deities who is smoking!

Holy Smoke

Upon completing their journey and offerings of devotion have been delivered/vows fulfilled at the main temple, the swami and his assistants are on hand to perform the ‘break trance’ ritual to return the devotees safely to the physical world.

Swami Works On Devotee While Assistants Help To Remove The Body Piercings

Holy Ash Is Applied To The Pierced Areas

A Prayer, A Blessing And The Devotee ‘Awakes’

Final Act – Dabbing The ‘Third Eye’ With A Dash Of Holy Ash

Swami (Deity) Enjoying A Few Puffs Of Cigar

After accomplishing his work in returning all devotees safely to the physical world, a fellow swami in turn helps the swami with the ‘break trance’ ritual to return him to the physical world.

Swami In the Midst Of The ‘Break Trance’ Ritual

Moving And Circling A Burning Coconut Around The Swami Forms Part Of The Ritual

The swami collapses into the arms of his assistants, regain consciousness, and look absolutely exhausted.

The Swami Collapses And Fall Into The Arms Of His Assistants

Photographing the ‘break trance’ ritual was the highlight for me at this year’s Thaipusam. It was about capturing the immediacy and energy of the proceedings and the emotion, interaction and action of its subjects. I used the 23mm lens and got up-close while remaining respectful there’s an ongoing holy and spiritual proceeding and be sensitive and aware as not to obstruct or disrupt the proceedings in anyway at all with my presence.

That’s it, my third and final post on this year’s Thaipusam event. It’s an amazingly colourful and energetic event with lots happening, no doubt about it, that it can be overwhelming at times,what I have captured are only snippets of the festival’s immense colour, drama and atmosphere, but I do hope you enjoy the photos and the posts as much as I have photographing and documenting them. Till next year … and with the blessings of the Lord and deities, documenting further interesting and colourful aspects of Thaipusam 🙂

The two earlier Thaipusam 2016 posts can be found here …

All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm


13 thoughts on “Thaipusam 2016 @Batu Caves – Transcendence

  1. Just… WOW! I know there are a lot of different traditions and rituals all over the world that is really extreme… But to be able to witness such is just overwhelming! I can’t even imagine the level of pain that one has to submit to in this kinds of ritual. But I guess this is what devotion really is. Just… WOW! Great photos and I love the words behind it!

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