Monday, January 31, 2011

Havoc Of The Non-Stop Rain

Johor floods: Two dead and over 37,000 evacuated

Johor floods updates:

*Segamat, Johor Baru and Kluang worst-hit

*TNB disconnects electricity supply to Segamat to prevent electrocution.

*Delay in big palm oil shipments from Pasir Gudang

*KTM cancels many train services to the south

JOHOR BARU: Two people have died and 37,493 were evacuated to 200 centres statewide by 3am Monday as continuous rain in the past few days flooded many parts of Johor.

Segamat, Johor Baru and Kluang were the worst-hit areas and the bad weather was expected to continue on Tuesday, said Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman on Monday. All of Segamat is cut off by floodwaters. It is an island. Police said no one can get in or out of the town as the roads to Muar, Johor Baru and Kuala Lumpur are under water.

Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB) has disconnected electricity supply to Segamat. Its substations have been switched off as a safety precaution. A TNB spokesman said Monday that it was a common procedure during a flood to prevent electrocution. The supply will be restores once the floodwaters ebb to a 'safe level'.

Roads in Labis town, which was flooded Sunday, are clearing but the outskirts are still submerged. According to the Department of Irrigation and Drainage Malaysia (DID) online river level data, three in Johor burst their banks Sunday. Sungai Muar, Sungai Benut and Sungai Mengkibol overflowed.

With the downpour continuing, the department is closely watching five more rivers – Sungai Simpang Kiri at Sri Medan, Sungai Bekok, Sungai Johor at Rantau Panjang are at a dangerous level. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that rain-driven floods have disrupted Malaysian oil palm estates from transporting the vegetable oil to refineries and ports in key producing states of Sabah and Johor.

Planters said Monday that as much as 60,000 tonnes of crude palm oil heading to refineries in Sabah on Borneo island have been delayed as floods make it difficult for trucks to get through the estate roads, said two planters from the top producing state. The transport delay to Malaysia's key palm oil export port of Pasir Gudang in Johor has slowed the transport and loading of cargoes, refiners said, according to Reuters.

A Lazy Wet Sunday- 30.1.2011

Sunday morning was no better weather wise. It had been raining the whole night and the sun was no where to be seen. We had a choice of either to be lazy and sleep in or be brave and venture out into the cold and enjoy the Sunday. We decided to be brave and armed with our sweaters went out for a nice Chinese breakfast. After which we decided to check out the new the new mall that had mushroomed in Taman Kebuh Teh called the KSL Mall. Well nothing different from all other malls, this one had numerous shops selling clothes and shoes and other accessories. TESCO was supposed to also opened up here but still hasn't (although the directions to TESCO are already up on the various signboards. There is also MBO Cinema here bit since nothing nice was playing we decided to give it a skip. Anyways we were in KSL Mall less than 2 hours and decided to give Holiday Plaza a check out.

My husband was happy we ventured there and in parkson he manage to add to his collection of collectible antic cars. So far he has a Volks and a Mini and the latest to join the bandwagon is a yellow Ford Mustang. He loves them so much, our counter cabinet has been emptied of my ornaments just to make way for his current and future collections. Well anything that keeps him happy, cause a happy husband maketh a happy wife! Anyways, at the perfume department I just happen to stop by the Elizabeth Arden counter looking for a perfume that I had when I in college called the Purple Fantasy. I still remember the year was 1999, at a time when pocket money was so low, I had come across this small purple bottle which costs RM120 ( big money for a student) but since the smell was almost mesmerizing I had bought it nevertheless and used it sparingly. Unfortunately, the bottle got misplaced when I was moving back to JB for good in 2002. Up till today I still venture into counters looking for that same small purple bottle. Well my luck was again not on my side as I did not manage to find the small purple bottle however I put on a perfume called flower basket and instantly I was transported back to the year 2002 when I had first started chambering. The fragrance reminded me of my first day in office and of all the days to come during the 2002-2003 era. Lots happened and that was one fragrance that never left me. Memories encompassed deep in my heart that shaped my future and also my character came flooding into my mind as I relived every moment of it. Who would have known that after all these years all it would take is just a simple fragrance to transport me back to my gone era. I am definately going to get a bottle of that the next time I am around a perfume counter.

A Wet Saturday and A Makeover- 29.1.2011

The much awaited weekend was finally here after a long 5 day of work. Plenty of movements in and out of the country in my family. Kuldip was back from the shores of Indonesia (Batam) on Friday and Dad had ventured into the land of Filipinos on Saturday. Albeit all this movement the rain had a mind if its own alternating between a heavy downpour, slight drizzle on Saturday and whole night showers till today (Monday ) morning. I had to go to work on Saturday and thank God the weather gave way to me and allowed me the comfort of walking from my parking to office and back without getting wet. After that it was a no stop as it is still raining as I write this on a cold Monday morning (31.1.2011).

Leaving the weather aside, Saturday (29.1.2011) was also a day for change. I pampered myself on Saturday and went for a hair cut, wash, eyebrow trim and after being that I feel like a million bucks. I have always been the type who easily tires with my look and when that happens the first feature of me that becomes the victim is my hair. Over the years, I have gone from extremely long hair to shoulder length, to real boy cut, long curly hair to straight hair. After marriage my hair become long and pretty stagnant in fashion. So decided to change it this weekend what with the new year. So went ahead and let the saloon chop of my hair till ear length. Well I look younger and cuter (not that I never was!) and let me add that I feel great also. Enough of me praising my me, take a look at my new look and judge yourself and compare it with my previous looks!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Movies We've Watched- GUZAARISH

I was looking forward to watching the movie Guzarish despite its negative reviews. Some told me it was boring, some told me it was depressing. But I made it a point to watch it because its a Hrithik film and he doesnt do so many movies yaerly so his releases are always waited for eagerly. Safe to say Guzarish and Hrithik did not dissappoint at all. To an extent even Aish was tolerable ( I am not a fan of her) and the surprise package was Aditya Kapoor. The platform on which the film is based on is very simple but how it unfolds is what makes the movie rise above its story.

A quadriplegic, confined to his bed for many years, has a chhoti si guzaarish : he wants to be allowed to end his life. That’s the thrust of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s new film. Ethan Mascarenhas (Roshan), once the world’s best magician, now hopelessly infirm, calls it “euthanasia”. But euthanasia by any other name, regardless of smart puns, is not permissible — not by the courts, not by the church, and not by the legions of his fans. Ethan faces a lifetime of suffering, as he withers slowly and painfully away.
The film tells the story of Ethan Mascarenhas (Hrithik), a bed-ridden, wheelchair-bound quadriplegic who used to be a magician once but has spent the last 14 years of his life as a breathing vegetable confined within the musty walls of a run-down villa somewhere in the rain-soaked Goa. Sophia, (Aishwarya Rai) his nurse for 12 years, bathes him, feeds him, brushes his teeth, scratches his nose when he’s itchy, and also bears his tantrums. Ethan’s only connect with the outside world is his radio show ‘Hello Zindagi’ which he jockeys.

Ironically, the man who tells others to embrace life seeks to end his own. He fights a legal case to be allowed euthanasia, or mercy killing, to end his long suffering. Ironically again, the people who stand beside him willy-nilly in this struggle are the ones who love him the most - his lawyer friend Devyani (Shernaz Patel), his doctor (Suhel Seth), his apprentice (Aditya Roy Kapoor), his mother (Nafisa Ali), his former lover and assistant (Monikangana Dutta) and, last but not the least, Sophia, whom Ethan regards as “more than a friend, lover and even wife”.

But the question is - will the court go against the constitution and grant Ethan his wish, his guzaarish?

When I put in the DVD and hit the play button I expected a tear jerking depressing movie in which I will have to use loads of tissue paper to wipe my crying eyes but what unfolded beyond me was a movie i cd not stop watching halfway as I wanted to see how it ended. I wanted to see how Ethan's suffering would end. would the courts relent and grant him his Guzarish?
Those who have watched it, U know how it ends. Those who haven't not gonna spoil it for you. Go watch the movie!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I Remember You!

I received a very nice e-mail from my sister- in- law Gurjit this morning. For those unknown Gurjit is my husband's elder sister. It was so sweet that I could not miss posting it in our blog.

It reads as follows.......

My Dearest ,
I Am sending Mail To you

To Say Dear

I Am Fine Here

Please keep in touch with me

Gandhi Ne Bola Hai.......
"Agar koi tumhe Email na kare, Good Morning/Good Evening na bole, Call/SMS bhi na kare... to koi baat nahi, tum Email karte raho....

Good Morning/Good Evening bolate raho......
Call/SMS bhi karte raho.......
Dekhna, Uski aatma ek din jaroor jaagegi.
Aur vo tumhe E-Mail/Call/ SMS jaroor Karega/Karegi"

Aur agar fir bhi koi E-Mail/Call/ SMS nahi aaye,
to uske paas jana, use ek Guldasta dena.... aur kahna.......


Warm Regards,
Didi Gurjit

A Visit to Bank Negara Johor Bahru - 26.1.2011

We planned an office trip to Bank Negara Malaysia Johor Bahru today as a part of our learning field trips. Basicly this trip was for us to get exposure on BNM's controls over monies leaving the country (physical monies). It was very interesting to learn about many many illegal methods used by people who wish to smuggle monies out of the country. Also learnt the workings of Hawala. How good networking is needed to even embark on such a syatem is mindblowing but what is more mindblowing is the fact that Hawala is a method used in lots all countries and its a huge.


Hawala has its origins in classical Islamic law, and is mentioned in texts of Islamic jurisprudence as early as the 8th century. Hawala itself later influenced the development of the agency in common law and in civil laws such as the aval in French law and the avallo in Italian law. The words aval and avallo were themselves derived from Hawala. The transfer of debt, which was "not permissible under Roman law but became widely practiced in medieval Europe, especially in commercial transactions", was due to the large extent of the "trade conducted by the Italian cities with the Muslim world in the Middle Ages." The agency was also "an institution unknown to Roman law" as no "individual could conclude a binding contract on behalf of another as his agent." In Roman law, the "contractor himself was considered the party to the contract and it took a second contract between the person who acted on behalf of a principal and the latter in order to transfer the rights and the obligations deriving from the contract to him." On the other hand, Islamic law and the later common law "had no difficulty in accepting agency as one of its institutions in the field of contracts and of obligations in general.

Hawala is believed to have arisen in the financing of long-distance trade around the emerging capital trade centers in the early medieval period. In South Asia, it appears to have developed into a fully-fledged money market instrument, which was only gradually replaced by the instruments of the formal banking system in the first half of the 20th century. Today, hawala is probably used mostly for migrant workers' remittances to their countries of origin.

How Hawala works

In the most basic variant of the hawala system, money is transferred via a network of hawala brokers, or hawaladars. A customer approaches a hawala broker in one city and gives a sum of money to be transferred to a recipient in another, usually foreign, city. The hawala broker calls another hawala broker in the recipient's city, gives disposition instructions of the funds (usually minus a small commission), and promises to settle the debt at a later date.

The unique feature of the system is that no promissory instruments are exchanged between the hawala brokers; the transaction takes place entirely on the honor system. As the system does not depend on the legal enforceability of claims, it can operate even in the absence of a legal and juridical environment. Informal records are produced of individual transactions, and a running tally of the amount owed by one broker to another is kept. Settlements of debts between hawala brokers can take a variety of forms[further explanation needed], and need not take the form of direct cash transactions.

In addition to commissions, hawala brokers often earn their profits through bypassing official exchange rates. Generally, the funds enter the system in the source country's currency and leave the system in the recipient country's currency. As settlements often take place without any foreign exchange transactions, they can be made at other than official exchange rates.

Hawala is attractive to customers because it provides a fast and convenient transfer of funds, usually with a far lower commission than that charged by banks. Its advantages are most pronounced when the receiving country applies distortive exchange rate regulations (as has been the case for many typical receiving countries such as Pakistan or Egypt) or when the banking system in the receiving country is less complex (e.g. due to differences in legal environment in places such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia). Moreover, in some parts of the world it is the only option for legitimate funds transfers, and has even been used by aid organizations in areas where it is the best-functioning institution.

Furthermore, the transfers are usually informal and not effectively regulated by governments, which is a major advantage to customers with tax, currency control, immigration, or other concerns. In some countries however, hawalas are actually regulated by local governments and hawaladars are licensed to perform their money brokering services.

[edit] HundisOn a similar note, Hundis referred to legal financial instruments evolved on the Indian sub-continent. These were used in trade and credit transactions; they were used as remittance instruments for the purpose of transfer of funds from one place to another. In the era of bygone kings and the British Raj these Hundis served as Travellers Cheques. They were also used as credit instruments for borrowing and as bills of exchange for trade transactions.

Technically, a Hundi is an unconditional order in writing made by a person directing another to pay a certain sum of money to a person named in the order. Being a part of an informal system, hundis now have no legal status and were not covered under the Negotiable Instruments Act, 1881. They were mostly used as cheques by indigenous bankers.


The word angadia means courier (in Hindi) but it is also used for people who act as Hawaladars within the country (India). These people mostly act as a parallel banking system for businessmen. They charge a commission of around 0.2-0.5% per transaction from transferring money from one city to another.

Batam Weekend 23.1.2011

We again had an early day as I had to catch the 9.30am ferry out from Batam and had to be at the terminal at 9am. We headed for our hotel breakfast and our punctual Emmy was there to fetch us at 8.45pm. The ferry left Batam Center sharp at 9.30am and this time I decided to sit on the deck in order to snap some lovely pics of the blue sky and big ships as well as pics of planes taking off from Changi Airport and closer to home, pics of Pasir Gudang Port. The ferry reached the zon terminal at 12pm (Malaysian time) and once I reached my parents place was almost 1.30pm. Lazed around for a while as my brother was coming for tea with the children. They arrived close to 6pm and after tea the children manage to get me to play gun fighting with them. I left my parents place at almost 7.30pm and went home looking for my bed as I needed all the rest I cd get after having such and exhausting weekend. It was exhausting but enjoyable and I actually look forward to my next trip back to Batam again and dis time I shall bring a big empty bag just for shopping purposes!

Batam Weekend - 22.1.2011

My day stated relatively early this morning as my husband who had to go and work was up by 7am. After he left for work, I had a shower, got all dressed and went fro a nice breakfast at the hotel coffee house. The breakfast was nothing out of the ordinary, something that is expected of a hotel. Being me food has never fascinated me that much so I was done in one helping and decided to give my cabby a call for him to pick me up. Emmy was so punctual as he said and at 9.40am (Batam time, Malaysian time +1). since we were early for shopping, I suggested he take me someplace that was famous for its massage and Emmy took me to a place called Indo Thai Massage. Here I had a relaxing one and a half hour massage for RP140,000 ( RM50) and can safely say that all massages that I have been to in Johor which cost me almost double was nothing compared to this massage. One and a half hours just flew by and I craved for more and more.

Once the massage was out of the way, Emmy took me to the biggest shopping mall in batam which is Nagoya Hill. This mall was so huge I actually got lost trying to find my way back to Emmy. Here I bought a t shirt for my husband which cost RP43,000 (RM15). After checking out every floor I decided to go get Emmy and move on. Once in the taxi I asked Emmy to take me to Batam Center Ferry Terminal in order for me to book our retrun ferry tickets tom and save rushing in the morning. Enroute, I we passed this big Buddhist Temple and I had s top there for a while. The calm and quiet temple had 3 big worship halls adorned with Buddha statues and josssticks. The passages in between the halls had a statute of laughing Buddhas playing a musical instrument . The entrance and porch area of the temple were also adroned with various statutes of Buddha each with a different musical instrument. I said a prayer in one of the halls and lit 3 jossstickes promising to come back once my wish had been fulfilled. By the time we got to Batan Center was almost 1.30pm and the weather was getting a bit on the hot side. Once i got the tickets booked I asked Emmy to drive me to a nearby shop where I cd pack some lunch for myself to be savoured back at the hotel. I bought a nice juicy chicken murtabak with a side oreder og cucumber salad for RP20,000 (RM6) and once back in the hotel I enjoyed the various TV programmes that Novotel had to offer me while waiting for my husband to come home after work.

Once my husband got back at 4.30pm I was all well rested and was again eager to go out and do some shopping with my husband this time. So we called Emmy again and had him take us to DC Mall, another huge mall which had variety of things to offer all. The most appealing were the bags and shoes that DC Mall had to offer. I had to restarin myself as I already had many many bags at home. However I did manage to buy an embroided blouse which cost me RP160,000 (RM53 +). After we had finished with DC Mall, we made our way again to Nagoya Mall where we picked up some perfumes and makeup for me. I also bout a dress for RP119,000 (RM30+....which in Malaysia woudl have cost me nothing less than RM80-100). After getting all the shopping out of the way for this trip , my husband led me to a Restaurant called Happniess Reastaurant ( he had been to this rest on biz trips and claimed it had some good food). Well we ordered a meal for 2 consisting of Kung Pow Chicken, Kailan Oyster Sauce and Fried Sotong. The food was excellent and it cost us RP 69,000 (RM24) and we still had leftovers that we just cd not finish. My husband had his eye on dessert so we decided to share an Ice Durian Cendol. It was so yummy but the helping was so big even both of us together cd not finish it completely. Well suffice to say that with our bellis full like a phython we decided to head back to the hotel and put an end to the day as it was one tiring day and we had our journey back to Johor Bahru tom early in the morning.

Batam Weekend - 21.1.2011

I jumped for joy when my husband asked me to join him in Batam for the weekend of 21/22.1.2011 as he was stationed there working for 2 weeks and would not be able to make itback for the weekend and since I have never been to Batam (only heard and read about it thus far) I took up the offer even before my husband could even finish his sentence. With a valid passport in hand no devil could keep me away from a holiday!

I started my journey on 21.1.2011 after work at 4.45pm. I didn't have a ticket in hand so my task was to take the 6.30pm ferry out and had to be at the ferry terminal ticketing counter by 6pm. Having caught a bus almost immediately I was thrilled at the time I was making. Little did i know that the bus at the stand wd wait for it to be almost full before snailing its way around town. Still I was relieved when the bus left the stand at 5.20pm giving me ample time to make it. You can imagine my horror when the bus swung around town and proceeded to stop again at a stand this time till 5.40pm. By the time his royal highness decided to pull out of the stand at 5.45pm I was gritting my teeth and cursing (so much for a holiday!) the bus. Keeping a vigil look at my watch and praying I am not delayed I heaved a sigh of relief when the bus pulled up near the ferry terminal. With just 5 minutes to go I dashed my way across and just by luck made it to the ticketing counter at exactly 6pm.

Having obtained my ticket, I had 20mins to kill till ferry time so this time I decided to walk slowly and make my way up to the departure lounge. Att exactly 6.20pm I boarded the ferry. I picked my seat by the window as I wanted to take a few pics and if tired sleep by the window. They ferry was very prompt and left exactly at 6.30pm. The journey was delightful and the scenary of the sea belanding with the setting sun was amazing. I manage to to get a few beautiful pick of the setting sun. Finally the ferry arrived at Batam Center at 8pm Malaysian time (7pm Batam time). Making my way out of the ferry, I headed towwards the Immigration and Customs clearance. I panicked when I saw long lines leading to the Immigartion check and was prepared to have a long wait but to my amazement, the check took nothing less than 10mins and I meade my way out where I was greeted by my loving husband. He guided me out of the terminal and into Batam Center Mall where we had some A & W for dinner whilst catching up on the week's news and gossip. Finally Emmy (our cabby) picked us up and sent us back to Novotel Hotel. The hotel being 4 * star was impressive. Cosy, clean and cold. I was delighted as a comfy hotel wd help me get some good sleep as I prepared for my sight seeing and shopping itenary the next day!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cutting Of Sikh Boy's Hair- The Star 19.1.2011

THE STAR 19th January 2011

Minister orders probe into ‘cutting’ of Sikh boy’s hair

PUTRAJAYA: Defence Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has ordered an in-depth probe into a claim by a Sikh national service trainee that his hair was cut while he slept at the Sungai Bakap camp in Penang.

National Service Training Department director-general Datuk Abdul Hadi Awang Kechil said a team from the department would be sent to conduct an investigation which would take about two weeks.

“The ministry and the department view any problem involving the faith of trainees seriously and we make sure all our trainers and staff are aware of their religious and cultural needs,” he said.

Abdul Hadi said trainee Basant Singh, 17, accompanied by his father Surinderpal Singh, lodged a report over the alleged incident with the camp commandant Mej Shamsudin Abdul Aziz at 3pm last Sunday.

They also lodged a police report.

“But the trainee Basant could not produce any evidence to show that his hair had been cut.

“Checks at his sleeping place as well as the belongings of other trainees in his dormitory were futile as no hair or sharp objects were found,” he told a press conference here yesterday.

Basant said he had been traumatised by the incident which violated his religious practice – of which does not condone the cutting of one’s hair.

“I was fast asleep on Sunday night. When I woke up the next day, I realised that my hair had been cut off as I was about to tie it,” he said.

Basant’s hair, which originally reached below his navel, was estimated to have been cut by 50cm.

Basant said the camp commandant had given him leave until Jan 23 but he did not want to go back.

His father Surinderpal Singh, 46, who is a priest, said the incident was a transgression of his rights as a Sikh.

“I have taught him from young to keep his hair,” said Surinderpal.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Thaipusam- 20.1.2011

"The belief in Lord Murugan is what prevents the pain and the bleeding,"

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February). It is celebrated not only in countries where the Tamil community constitutes a majority, but also in countries where Tamil communities are smaller, such as Singapore and Malaysia.The festival is also referred to as Thaipooyam or Thaippooyam. The word Thaipusam is derived from the month name Thai and Pusam, which refers to a star that is at its highest point during the festival. The festival commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) so he could vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman. There is a misconception among people that Thaipusam marks Murugan's birthday; however, it is believed that Vaikhasi Vishakam, which falls in the Vaikhasi month (May/June), is Murugan's birthday.

Kavadi Attam is a dance performed by the devotees during the ceremonial worship of Murugan, the Tamil God of War.It is often performed during the festival of Thaipusam and emphasizes debt bondage. The Kavadi itself is a physical burden through which the devotees implore for help from the God Murugan. The Kavadi consists of two semicircular pieces of wood or steel which are bent and attached to a cross structure that can be balanced on the shoulders of the devotee. It is often decorated with flowers, peacock fathers (the vehicle of God Murugan) among other things. Some of the Kavadis can weigh up to 30 kg.


Vel Kavadi

The most spectacular practice is the vel kavadi, essentially a portable altar up to two meters tall, decorated with peacock feathers and attached to the devotee through 108 vels pierced into the skin on the chest and back. Fire walking and flagellation may also be practiced. It is claimed that devotees are able to enter a trance, feel no pain, do not bleed from their wounds and have no scars left behind.

Other types of Kavadi
Not all Kavadi involve extreme physical endurance. Some devotees also carry a brass jug of milk (Pal Kavadi) on their heads while others carry small pots with offerings for their deity.

Batu Caves is a limestone hill, which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 kilometres (8.1 mi) north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu or Batu River, which flows past the hill. Batu Caves is also the name of the nearby village. The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people (a tribe of Orang Asli).

As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilising their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were recorded by colonial authorities including Daly and Syers as well as American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878. Batu Caves was promoted as a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader. He was inspired by the 'vel'-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Muruga within the caves.

In 1890, Pillai, who also founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur, installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Subramania Swamy in what is today known as the Temple Cave. Since 1892, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated there. Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps. Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its 100 m vaulted ceiling. Rising almost 100 m above the ground, 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 100 m-high ceiling, and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors have to climb a steep flight of 272 steps.

At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan's victory over the demon Soorapadam. An audio tour is available to visitors. 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 murti of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Hanuman, the noble monkey devotee and aide of Lord Rama. The consecration ceremony of the temple was held in November 2001. The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner along the irregular walls of the cave. A 42.7m (140.09 feet high) high statue of Lord Muruga was unveiled in January 2006, having taken 3 years to construct. It is the tallest Lord Muruga statue in the world. Batu Caves serves as the focus of the Hindu community's yearly Thaipusam festival. It has become a pilgrimage site for not only Malaysian Hindus, but Hindus worldwide from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore.

A procession begins in the wee hours of the morning on Thaipusam from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur leading up to Batu Caves as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga lasting eight hours. Devotees carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Muruga either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'. The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms. After a bath in the nearby Sungei Batu (Rocky River), the devotees wend their way to the Temple Cave and with remarkable endurance they climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades off on either side. When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272 step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb against gravity- against the press of the bustling masses.Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal. In 2007, the festival attracted more than 1.5 million pilgrims, making it one of the largest gatherings in history.


A test of faith

THAIPUSAM is an annual Hindu festival which draws the largest gathering in multi-racial Malaysia - nearly a million people in 2000. Several hundred devotees spear their cheeks with long, shiny steel rods - often a metre long - and pierce their chests and backs with small, hook-like needles in penance. Tourists watch in awe as metal pierces the skin with hardly any bleeding and, apparently, no pain as the devotee stands in a trance in the dawn light after weeks of rigorous abstinence.

Over the years, curious British, American and Australian medical experts have come to observe and speculate. Some think the white ash smeared on the body, the juice squeezed from the yellow lime fruit or the milk poured on the pierced areas may help to numb the skin. But most admit they have no answer. The devotees say it is faith.

"The belief in Lord Murugan is what prevents the pain and the bleeding," says Krishna Vadyar, a priest at the temple which conducts the annual rituals. There are plenty stories about what Thaipusam is about. Among the most popular is that it commemorates the day Lord Siva's consort, the powerful goddess Parvathi, gives her son, Murugan, the vel (lance) to vanquish three demons and their large army which were plaguing the world. Thaipusam falls on a full moon day in the auspicious 10th Tamil month of Thai when the constellation of Pusam, the star of well-being, rises over the eastern horizon.

In Kuala Lumpur, the festival is celebrated on a mammoth scale at the Batu Caves temple on the outskirts of the city. It began in 1892, started by early Tamils who migrated to colonial Malaya. Devotees queueing up to climb the 272 steps to the Batu Caves Temple.Reportedly, two of them made the difficult trek up the ancient limestone hill and planted the `vel' in the cave. The cave, the size of a soccer field, houses a temple dedicated to Lord Murugan. The vel, made of metal and shaped like a lance, symbolises Murugan who is also known as Velan. On the eve of Thaipusam, a five-ton silver-chariot bearing Lord Murugan's image and followed by a procession of several thousand people leaves the Sri Mahamariaman temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur, on a 15-kilometre trek to Batu Caves. Mahamariamman is also another name for Parvathi, Murugan's mother. Drums beat out trance-inducing rhythms and long wooden pipes, known as nathaswaram, croon devotional tunes in a loud carnival atmosphere.

The ethnic Chinese in Penang and elsewhere in Malaysia also take part in the religious festivities. Hundreds break coconuts and offer fruits to the God all along the chariot's meandering route. Throughout its history, the chariot has been pulled by up to six pairs of bulls. But in 2000, the organisers responded to accusations of animal abuse, by switching to a motorised vehicle. However, in the island of Penang in northwestern Peninsular Malaysia, the chariot there continued to be pulled by the bulls. Many in the island's large ethnic-Chinese community also take part in the festivities, breaking hundreds of coconuts.

To many Thaipusam is the day of thanksgiving or atonement for wrongs. Spectacular edifices or kavadis are often carried or pulled by the devotees with chains and ropes anchored in the skin of their backs or chests. After ritual cleansing at a stream at the foothills, they walk up the 272 steps accompanied by family and friends. But kavadi carrying need not be so arduous. Just carrying a small pot of milk up the steps to be poured on the vel is enough. Most devotees do this. Some parents carry newborn babies slung in a cloth-cradle hung on a pole shouldered at both ends by the mother and the father as thanks for a safe birth. Some also carry kavadis made of wood or metal adorned with pictures or statues of Hindu deities, flowers and peacock plumes. Others shave their heads bald as a symbol of humility and atonement. Many observe a strict vegetarian diet for about 40 days and renounce all forms of comfort and pleasure-giving activities. The 40 days are spent in meditation and prayer.

Thaipusam is also celebrated in this form in Singapore, Thailand, Mauritius and other countries where Tamil workers migrated.

Wishing all Lord Murugan's devetoees all across the world a HAPPY THAIPUSAM!

Friday January 21, 2011
Festive colours shine despite heat

KUALA LUMPUR: The scorching heat and humidity did not deter hundreds of thousands of devotees and onlookers from coming to Batu Caves for Thaipusam.

Jaime Lecumberri, 51, said he did not mind the heat. “Hot? I love the weather here!” said the businessman from Spain yesterday. He said he became fascinated with the festival after watching kavadi-carrying Hindu devotees on television in Europe.

Peter Szyszka, 38, and his wife Aldona, 36, also came to know about Thaipusam via television.
The Polish couple described their experience in Batu Caves as “totally strange and exciting”.

Shahram Rikhtegar, 52, said the crowd reminded him of a festival in Iran. “The only difference is the explosion of colours. In Iran everyone wears black,” said the tour guide. Photographer Maziar Saeedi from Iran said Batu Caves was a good place to exploit his talents. A member of the International Federation of Photographic Art, Saeedi, 30, said he took many abstract shots.

German Sabime Adele, 40, said she was excited about the “exotic photographs” that she took.

In GEORGE TOWN, 13-year-old Seow Gaik Hui joined her three bothers in having her body pierced to fulfill a vow during Thaipusam. The SMJK Chung Hwa Confucian student was the youngest among a group of 32 Chinese devotees who joined in the procession. The youngest of eight siblings said she took part because of her brothers Hock Lye, 25, Hock Liang, 17, and Hock Eng, 15. “We are here to pray for good health and luck. I am also fulfilling my vows after asking for good examination results,” she said at the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple in Lorong Kulit here yesterday.

Cousins G. Asokuma, 31, and K. Sivakumar, 40, made heads turn as each carried a two-metre tall kavadi of Kuan Yin statue. Asokuma made a vow to carry the kavadi if his mother, who sufferes from seizures, could be healed while Sivakumar had prayed for a third son.

In JOHOR BARU, Australian Thien Nguyen, 18, said he came here to visit his girlfriend and was told not to miss Thaipusam. Briton Julie Torkington, 52, said: “It was so fascinating.” She was here with her husband and son.Christiaan Clemens, 23, from The Netherlands, said that he had never seen anyone go into a trance before. “I am here on an internship and a few of my colleagues told me to come,” he said.

In KOTA KINABALU, housewife Linim Dauk, 37, a Kadazanadusun accompanied her businessman husband Sathia Gopal in the 1km procession from the Lok Kawi beach to the Sri Subramaniyar temple, some 15km from the city. With them were their daughters Farisheena, eight, Thurrgashina, six, Ellesha, three, and their one-month old son Orijil Nair.

Sathia, 41, said he had made a pledge to carry a milk pot as he and his wife had been blessed with a son.