Photo Essays | Society | Southeast Asia

Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Every year, devotees gather at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur to honor Lord Murugan.

By Lucas Veuve for
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Devotees take a ritual shower before starting their pilgrimage to Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A young devotee has his tongue pierced as it is believed to give great power of endurance.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A devotee dancing with his Kavadi whilst in a trance.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A devotee praying before starting his ascent up to Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A devotee in a trance tearing a coconut with his teeth, to symbolize “the breaking of one’s ego to reveal purity inside.”

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A devotee dances energetically to the beat of traditional drums whilst in a trance.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

A devotee and his entourage prepare for his pilgrimage to Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Devotees carry urns of milk and one family member (center) bears a ornate Kavadi.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Devotees carrying silver urns of milk as they wait to ascend to Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Hindu devotees of all ages climb the steep stairs to Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

An exhausted devotee makes his way up the final steps to enter the caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Large crowds gather inside the main chamber of Batu Caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Family members help remove the Kavadi and piercings from a devotee inside the caves.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Inside the caves, family members help remove the devotees’ piercings.

Credit: Lucas Veuve
Thaipusam in Malaysia: Honoring the Destroyer of Evil

Large crowds gather all night to witness the elaborate Kavadis overlooked by the statue of Lord Murugan.

Credit: Lucas Veuve

In Malaysia, Thaipusam is a Hindu Festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community. Every year, devotees gather at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur to honor Lord Murugan, the destroyer of evil.

Many devotees carry silver urns of fresh milk on their head and walk to the caves in thanks for any children born that year. Devotees who have committed misdeeds or feel unworthy of God carry “kavadis,” large decorated shrines that are supported around the bearer’s waist. Many of these kavidis weigh upwards from 100-150 lbs and have to be manhandled up the temple steps. Kavadi-bearers fast for 48 days in advance, eating only sattvic food once a day, and enter into a trance-like state before making the short pilgrimage. This penance also involves passing small spears through their tongues and cheeks, a practice believed to give great power of endurance. Other body piercings performed include metal hooks with limes, oranges, or small urns.

Lucas Veuve is a photographer based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.