Malaysian Hindus celebrate Thaipusam annual festival

Tens of thousands of Hindu pilgrims, some with hooks piercing their skin or skewers through their cheeks and tongues, climbed 272 steps to a limestone cave near Malaysia's biggest city Saturday in celebration of the annual Thaipusam festival.

The pilgrims were paying homage and offering penitence to Lord Murugan, a revered Hindu warrior deity at the Sri Subamaniar Swamy Temple at the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur.

Some 10,000 people carried brass pots with offerings of milk, while another 20,000 carried 'kavadi', metal or bamboo frames decorated with beads and peacock feathers. Many of the kavadi carriers attached their elaborate costumes to their backs and chests with hooks, through their skin, and others drove skewers through their cheeks and tongues.

The Batu Caves temple committee expects about 1.5 million people to visit over the weekend. Thaipusam also serves as a cultural gathering for Malaysian Hindus from the ethnic Indian minority, who make up about 7 percent of the population. There are cultural dances and musical performances, and hundreds of stalls sell food, clothes and other items.

An additional attraction this year is a giant statue of Lord Murugan. The 42.7-meter (141-foot) gold-painted statue took three years to build and was unveiled two weeks ago. Malaysia's majority, about 60 percent of the 26 million population, comprises ethnic Malay Muslims. There is also a large ethnic Chinese minority who are mainly Buddhists and Christians, reports the AP.


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