Thaipusam 2018 @Batu Caves

Having missed last year’s Thaipusam due to work related travels, it felt good to be able to make it to this year’s celebration. Thinking I could avoid the extreme crowd and move around relatively easier and unhindered, I was over at the celebration grounds in the wee hours of 31st January. Alas, it was of no consequence as it was as crowded as I had experienced it on previous visits, possibly even more crowded by the looks of it, my ‘grand’ plan to beat the crowd came to nought and lack of sleep unrewarded :(.

A Lord Murugan Figurine Mounted On A Kavadi

The experience and mental picture of the grounds/happenings from previous visits helped me to settle down and move around the grounds quicker, avoiding the crowd where possible. This year’s event was as crowded and busy as before, yes, but I felt it lacked that bit of sparkle, intensity, colour somehow, maybe it was because I spotted less kavadis, less intense spiritual feats, or maybe that’s just how it is with the celebration in the wee hours of the morning! I was there from 1.30am till 7am, by about when I could feel the effects of sleep deprivation getting the better of me, packed it in and duly headed home for some much needed sleep. I have a number of earlier posts on Thaipusam (links can be found at the bottom of this post) and will not write about it again here, would rather just let each photo tell its own visual Thaipusam story. Hope you enjoy.

Devotee In A Trance Fulfilling The Thaipusam Ritual

Drumming It Up

Devotee In A Trance Led By An Assistant

It’s Extremely Crowded And These Ladies Are In Queue, Patiently Inching Their Way Toward The Temple Which Is A Long Way More To Go

Devotee In A Mayil Kavadi And Two Assistants Set To Go On The 272 Steps Up The Cave And Temple

Devotees Briefly Pray Upon Reaching The Stairs

Step By Step

Devotee In A Trance Making His Way Up The Stairs

Devotee In A Trance Making His Way Up The Stairs

Perfect Spot For A Selfie

Almost There, A Few More Steps To The Cave Entrance

Pierced Devotee’s Back With Pots Of Milk For Lord Murugan

Pierced Devotee’s Back With Cheroot Sticks

Piercings Removal Upon Completing The Ritual

Twitches From A Devotee Face When Piercings Were Removed

Holy Blessings For A Couple

Falling Back Into Consciousness

Waiting For Group Members To Reach The Temple

Banded Bros


Crowd Making Their Way Down The Stairs

Crowd Making Their Way Down The Stairs

My other posts on Thaipusam can be found here:




All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm, XF 35mm and XF 55-200mm









Tok Dalang Nawi, Master Story Teller

In conjunction with World Youth Day 2017, ThinkCity and Kuala Lumpur City Hall, in partnership with Seni Pusaka, Lab DNA and Red Archer, and the support of Citi Foundation organised a Malam Wayang (Night Theatre) on 12th August night at the Urbanscapes House in Kuala Lumpur. This Malam Wayang is rather special as it showcases both a contemporary and traditional wayang kulit (shadow theatre) back-to-back with performances by the young ones from the Tree Theatre Group and the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang. I made it to the venue at 8.45pm due to prior commitments, missed the Tree Theatre Group performance entirely, unfortunately; but in time for the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang performance. Heartening to know there is quite a number of of wayang kulit fans of all ages out there in Kuala Lumpur as the hall was well filled that night.

Tok Dalang Nawi, Master Story Teller

The Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang is a famous wayang kulit troupe from Machang, Kelantan led by master story teller Tok Dalang Nawi and master musician Abdul Rahman Dollah, the disciples of the Wayang Kulit Kelantan legend, Pak Dollah Baju Merah. Wayang Kulit Kelantan can be found in Kelantan (of course) and other states along the Peninsular East Coast. Based on tales from the Hikayat Seri Rama (The Ramayana), it is built essentially on four core elements consisting of the tok dalang (master story teller), patung patung (characters), kelir (screen) and muzik (music). The artful and harmonious combination of these elements is the hallmark of an excellent and memorable wayang kulit performance. In former times, an oil lamp is used as the light source; but these days, an electrical light bulb is a typical light source.

Tok Dalang Nawi In Deep Contemplation Prior To Performing

After the emcee’s introduction, lights dimmed out and the performance started with the distinctive and beautiful sound of Kelantanese percussive music from the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang ensemble filling the hall and the wayang kulit screen taking centre stage. As the musical prelude continued, Tok Dalang Nawi appeared to be in a meditative contemplative state briefly before the tale of ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ unfolds …

And The Tale Of ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ Unfolds …

The tale of ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ begins with Raden Lakjuna’s infatuation for a golden hoofed white horse. The white horse is actually a magical white horse that can metamorphose itself into a beautiful princess. As the story goes, Raden Lakjuna fell in love with the beautiful princess and they eventually got married. Months passed and the princess found she was pregnant with their child. The princess was overjoyed with the news, but Raden Lakjuna felt otherwise. Raden Lakjuna was unhappy with the news and became very angry with the princess.

The Ensemble Musically Paints The Atmosphere And Emotion, Backdrop For Tok Dalang Nawi’s Tale And Characters To Come Alive
L to R   Pak Zin (Serunai), Eddin Khoo (Mong), Abdul Rahman Dollah (Geduk Ibu & Anak /Gedombak), Syazwan Zainal (Canang), Ahmad Faris (Tetawak), Udin Khai (Kesi), Irsyat (Gendang Ibu/Geduk Ibu Dan Anak), Syafiq Abdul Rahman (Gendang Anak)

From L to R   Udin Khai (Kesi) & Syafiq Abdul Rahman (Gendang Anak)

From L to R   Pak Zin (Serunai) & Abdul Rahman Dollah (Geduk Ibu Dan Anak/Gedombak)

Raden Lakjuna divorced the princess and cruelly punished her, whereupon she felt like giving birth to their baby. With the kind help of midwives from the adobe of gods, the princess successfully gave birth to a son who also possess similar magical powers to metamorphose, just like herself. Years passed and the princess tells her son to look for his father, Raden Lakjuna. The son soon transformed into ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ and set off to look for his father. The tale continues with chronicles of Kera Bali Bulu Beremas facing numerous encounters and struggles on his journey looking for his father …

The Tale Gradually Develops And Grows On The Enthralled Audience

Backstage – Tok Dalang Nawi With His Ensemble And The Numerous Cast Of Characters

The sheer number of episodes within a wayang kulit tale (performance), their storyline, characters, and the respective characters interplay of dialogue, interpretation of emotions and actions therein makes it a complex and demanding craft to master. I believe being gifted with multiple attributes like good memory, voice and both physical and mental dexterity helps immeasurably if one aspires to be an accomplished tok dalang. Physical and mental stamina, strength are also important assets as performances typically take a few hours to conclude.

Kids Were Delighted And Amused By The Simple And Clever Use Of Light And Shadows To Tell A Story, A Magical Moment In Itself

A Thin Fabric And Its Shadows Veils The Master Story Teller And His Ensemble From The Audience

Tok Dalang Nawi, the master story teller, was a picture of intense concentration as he totally immersed himself into his story telling, adroitly working with the characters and telling the tale from behind a thin fabric screen and its shadows. He was completely in his element, effortlessly bringing the tale and characters to life, ‘losing’ himself in the play, delighting and enthralling the audience with his unique brand of wayang kulit story telling honed through years of disciplined and dedicated practice.

Total And Undivided Concentration

Stepping Up The Tempo

As the tale picks up pace and and drama unfolds, master musician Abdul Rahman Dollah and his men stepped up or slowed down their tempo accordingly to Tok Dalang Nawi’s pace, as the duel between good and evil, love and hate plays out in dramatic fashion with quick sweeping movements, creating some tense and gripping visual moments. The master story teller related the slow parts of the tale with equal finesse, his heartfelt delivery and range giving depth and emotion to the story’s characters. It didn’t feel like it but the tale ran its course for a good 3 hours before concluding close to midnight.

The Duel Between Good And Evil Reaches A Crescendo

A Tense And Gripping Moment

And Slowing Things Back Down With A Heart And Soul Narration

I certainly enjoyed watching my first wayang kulit performance that night, and had a lot of fun shooting the event (i think the same goes for the others who were shooting the event too) as I just love low light/night photography. Big thanks to the organiser(s) for their kind understanding and allowing photography to all. Big thanks too to Syafiq, member of the Kumpulan Seni Warisan Pusaka Machang ensemble who plays the Gendang Anak, for his help closing the loop on certain aspects of the ‘Kera Bali Bulu Beremas’ story I had difficulty following as it was performed in the Kelantanese dialect.

All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm, XF 35mm & XF 55-200mm









Prince Of Egypt – A Musical

The Wesley Methodist School KL (Int.) recently held a ‘Prince Of Egypt’ musical for three consecutive nights in late April. It was one of many events which the school is organizing to raise funds for the renewal of lease for the school land which will be expiring in a few years time. As it is for a good cause, we were only happy to support and bought tickets for the first night’s show.

‘Things Cannot Be As They Were’

It was literally a cast of hundreds with students from respective year’s and teachers forming the production team, contributing in one way or another their talent, expertise and time to make it a great showcase for the school. There were a few glitches here and there on the premiere night’s performance, but they were minor; and most importantly, everyone enjoyed the show.

‘Let My People Go’

‘I Will Not Be The Weak Link’

The epic journey of Moses from slave to prince to deliverer which has been told and retold for centuries was beautifully and colourfully brought to life within a three hour production with the right balance of play, song and dance. It was highly entertaining, an admirable effort and performance from the entire team, they certainly did the school and themselves proud that night.

‘When You Believe’ Duet

Soloists And Choir

‘When You Believe’ Duet

The Choir

Soloist And Choir

Song Of Freedom Dance

When You Believe Dance

When You Believe Dance 2

Audio And Visual Effects Artistry

The audio and visual effects team kept a close watch of the entire proceedings, timed their effects to perfection to create the right mood and atmosphere throughout the performance, one which particularly stands out for me is the ‘Parting the Red Sea’ scenes in the final act which I think was very clever and well executed.

Parting The Red Sea

The Pursuit

The Water Returns

The Finale

The curtain calls from the entire cast were absolutely spontaneous and charming, simply a delight to watch …

Curtain Call – Main Cast

Curtain Call – Main Cast

Curtain Call – Aaron And Hotep

Curtain Call – Jethro And The Three Sisters

Curtain Call – The Voice Of God And Narrator

Curtain Call – Supporting Cast

Curtain Call – Palace Maids

Curtain Call – Dancers

Curtain Call – Dancers

Curtain Call – Dancers

Curtain Call – Dancers

And the show came to an end at approximately 11 pm with the principal’s closing address …

Principal’s Closing Address

Seated quite close to the stage and in the middle of a row, I would have distracted the audience attention and enjoyment of the show with my photography. During the intermission, I found an unobtrusive spot further back the hall, and shot some highlights of the musical from thereon with a zoom lens. Not ideal, but I think it worked quite well for some of the scenes and moments, which I have posted here.

All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 55-200mm