After visiting the Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, we drove off to Batu Caves. Batu caves is a limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples, some 13 kilometers north of Kuala Lumpur. The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. According to my tour guide, during this time (January) more than a million devotees come to celebrate the festival.
At the entrance, I was greeted by this magnificent statue of Lord Murugan.
Standing at 42.7 m (140 ft) high, the statue is one of the tallest in the world and is made of concrete and steel, and painted in 300 liters of gold paint brought in from Thailand.
Lord Murugan is the Hindu god of war. Son of Shiva, he is also known by other names: Kartikeya, Skanda, and Subraminayan. It is interesting to see that just beside the statue is a shrine of one of my favorite deities, Ganesha.
Also known as Ganapati and Vinayaka, Genesha is one of the best-known and most worshipped deities in Hindu pantheon. His elephant head makes him easy to identify (and one of the reasons why it is endearing),and he is revered as a remover of obstacles, patron of arts and sciences and the deva of intellect and wisdom. As the god of beginnings, he is honored at the start of rituals and ceremonies. I remember a good Indian friend who mentioned that devotees would place Ganesha’s statue in business establishments. There are many stories how Ganesha acquired his elephant head, but the most common, and one which my good friend told me relates to decapitation of Ganesha by Shiva. Here’e Wikipedia’s account:
One day Goddess Parvati was at home on Mt.Kailash preparing for a bath. As she didn’t want to be disturbed, she told Nandi, her husband Shiva’s Bull, to guard the door and let no one pass. Nandi faithfully took his post, intending to carry out Parvati’s wishes. But, when Shiva came home and naturally wanted to come inside, Nandi had to let him pass, being loyal first to Shiva. Parvati was angry at this slight, but even more than this, at the fact that she had no one as loyal to Herself as Nandi was to Shiva. So, taking the turmeric paste (for bathing) from her body and breathing life into it, she created Ganesha, declaring him to be her own loyal son.
The next time Parvati wished to bathe, she posted Ganesha on guard duty at the door. In due course, Shiva came home, only to find this strange boy telling him he couldn’t enter his own house! Furious, Shiva ordered his army to destroy the boy, but they all failed.
This surprised Shiva. Seeing that this was no ordinary boy, the usually peaceful Shiva decided he would have to fight him, and in his divine fury severed Ganesha’s head, killing him instantly. When Parvati learned of this, she was so enraged and insulted that she decided to destroy the entire Creation. Lord Brahma, being the Creator, naturally had his issues with this, and pleaded that she reconsider her drastic plan. She said she would, but only if two conditions were met: one, that Ganesha be brought back to life, and two, that he be forever worshipped before all the other gods.
Shiva, having cooled down by this time, agreed to Parvati’s conditions. He sent Brahma out with orders to bring back the head of the first creature he crosses that is lying with its head facing North. Brahma soon returned with the head of a strong and powerful elephant, which Shiva placed onto Ganesha’s body. Breathing new life into him, he declared Ganesha to be his own son as well, and gave him the status of being foremost among the gods, and leader of all the ganas (classes of beings), Ganapati.
Before climbing the stairs to the main cathedral cave, I decided to visit another deity, Hanuman. The Ramayana Cave is situated to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 50-foot (15 m) tall statue of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the noble monkey and the aide of Lord Rama.The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner along the irregular walls of the cave.
Hanuman is the monkey god of Hindu mythology and one of the most fascinating characters in the Hindu pantheon. Regarded as the patron of learning, he is the representation of the force of life as man struggles to exist. The moment I saw his statue, I wanted to break into hanumanasana, or the splits. Unfortunately, my tour guide/driver left me to explore the caves on my own so I had no one to take a photo. Besides, the floor was filthy.
The Temple Cave
Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a very high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, I had to climb a steep flight of 272 steps. Well, after climbing the Great Wall and the 1,000+ Sigiriya steps, this was something I thought would be a stroll in the park. Well, not quite. By the time I reached the main entrance, I was huffing and puffing. The monkeys were also a nuisance and quite aggressive, but kinda cute and funny too. Just be careful when climbing the stairs as they may suddenly grab your bag or jump on you if you have food.
It is quite unfortunate and disappointing that such an ancient and historic site is not well-maintained. There was a putrid smell coming from within the caves (I am sure these were from man-made sources), there were stores inside the cave which kinda ruins the view and atmosphere of what were supposed to be sacred grounds, and it was dirty, with trash here and there.
Overall, my visit to Batu Caves was still worthwhile because of its interesting cultural heritage. Nevertheless, it pales in comparison with my other cave and shrine experiences (e.g. Halong Bay, Sigiriya, Putra Mosque, other places of worship). I’d rate this experience 3 stars.
Travel Tales of a Yogini. Batu Caves, Malaysia. 2014.