It was believed Batu Caves was found in 1891 but conversion the site into a temple was actually occurred late in 1920. I used to stay nearby 10 years ago before moved to the KL City Centre. Here, you will witness one of the largest religious gathering during month of January (or February - depends on calendar year) where unbelievably approx. one million Hindu devotees from all over Malaysia and overseas will come and celebrate in a 2-3 days event of the Thaipusam Festival. The festival actually commemorates both the birthday of Lord Murugan and Lord Subramaniam, the huge statue of Lord Murugan which measures 42.7m tall that guards the entrance to the caves was son of Shiva and Parvati, where Murugan tamed the Indian demon Soorapadman. Note: Thaipusam is also being celebrated as localized event in other towns or cities such as Penang, Ipoh etc. but the Batu Caves event is more or less like a National scale fro the Malaysian Indian community.
You need to climb the 272 steps that leads up to the temple / shrine (like all those famous Buddhist Caves temples at Ipoh city featured earlier. Batu Cave ("Batu" means "Rock" in Bahasa Malaysia) where the site is also a limestone cave). During Thaipusam, the procession of the event actually begins from a Temple ("Maha Mariamman" Temple) in the KL City centre, barely a street behind the ever busy China Town. The devotees walk and escort the various religious figures for 11km to the Cave. Along with the journey, devotees can either carry a simple shoulder weight of kavadi, a pot of milk or a massive vel kavadi, - an altar up to few meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers or flowers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Along the way, friends, relatives will accompany and support their loved ones. Coconuts are smashed along the way. This seemingly painful journal looks strange but those who performs the ritual act have no feeling of physical responses to the cruel practice as all are "protected" by the spiritual and mental endurance.
This is similar to the myth of Chinese Jiu Hwang Yeh (Nine Emperors God) festival at Ampang held during the rainy season where those who being "possessed" will perform acts such as walking on fire and something similar to the Indian/Tamil /Hindu ways was performed.
The Thaipusam is strictly a Hinduism festival (Although not all fellow Malaysian Indian/Tamil are Hindu); I was told by a Indian friend where he performed this ritual act almost on a yearly basis that he was returning a wish came true made in front of the Lord Subramaniam (or Lord Murugan). A month before the festival, he practices strict disciplinary code on personal life style and become a vegetarian.
He will be blessed by the Hindu monks in the river next to the Batu Cave where setting up the altar or other acts such as piercing knifes, spears into the mouth or body will be prepared. The devotees may look like being possessed after that. The most unbelievable journal is the way up through the 272 steps steep climb with the altar on and it requires mental - but simply physical strength to deliver. Inside the cave, literally you will witness one of the most spectacular scene with in and outflow of devotees in the thousands jamming around the shrine. For the many tourists who may have been visiting Malaysia, the festive Thaipusam is always an unforgettable experience as the session was throughout the days and night. For the photographers, this presents an incredible experience for challenging your skill and strength to follow though because most of the access road will be block and you need to WALK and CLIMB a lot too - although I used to stay at Batu Cave for many years, I have never actually participate once in the night (shame..). Well, I didn't but many of my friends did - so, some of the pictures shown are their works. Thanks, pals.
Technically, this page should be prepared by a fellow Tamil/Hindu country mate who may know the culture and/or theThaipusam festival better than me; so- if there is other info that needs to be update/correct or add-on to this site - mail me via leofoo (at) mir.com.my