There was some activity in a temple at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur, so I took off my shoes, entered, and walked over to watch what appeared to be some kind of religious ceremony.
I was standing in some type of line. I realized I was behind a few people who were getting a blessing from some kind of priest. I didn’t move away; I didn’t move up. I stayed where I was, and then the priest came to me.
He put his thumb in white powder, and he put his thumb on my forehead between my eyes, and then did the same with red powder as he said a few words I didn’t understand. I felt the powder on my face as he moved to the back of the temple, where a curtain was held open by a male figure statue’s hands. Behind the opening, in a small alcove, was a beautiful statue of a female figure, which I could only determine was one of the Hindu goddesses, since the site is a place of worship. The stone was black. Next to this large statue was a smaller female statue that looked to be painted red.
The priest rang a bell, said some kind of prayer, lit incense, touched the black statue’s mouth, neck, upper chest, stomach, said more prayers. The priest wore an orange-colored cloth around his waist, and a small-beaded rudraksha necklace on his bare chest.
Next he poured what looked like milk over the statue’s head. He had to reach up high to make it to her head – the statue was raised a few inches on the platform and must have been about seven feet in height. The goddess wore a headdress, held some kind of staff, wore a belt with rings around her legs, a thick, flat necklace across her upper chest, with bare breasts. The milk turned her from black to white, temporarily.
The priest next poured water over the statue’s head, and the water ran down the path left white with milk: down over her face, onto her chest, over her bellow, down her legs over the ringlets and then onto her feet. The floor in the small alcove was wet.
All I knew that was happening was that some kind of religious ceremony had gotten underway, and I had been invited to be a part of it. I decided not to take pictures, although the only signs inside the Batu Caves were restrictions against smoking and wearing shoes in the temples.
As the priest kept rinsing the goddess with water, I heard the special noise Tedly makes to get my attention when we are separated in public. Tedly didn’t enter the temple – he was outside with his shoes still on. I turned to see Tedly on the side of the wall-less temple, and he pointed to a monkey just a couple of feet behind me. Monkeys are all over the Batu Caves site. The little creature was just sitting there, looking up at me. I turned back to face the priest at the alcove as a new man approached the ceremony. He was carrying something.
The man had a large bowl of flowers and fruit and some money stuffed between the items came beside me and held up the bowl as if to show the priest, who was pouring a second round of water down the front of the statue. The new visitor then placed the bowl on a table next tome, and stood in front of me with three older women. I moved back a step to let him in. He was obviously late to a ceremony of his religion – he had brought some kind of offering, and who was I to get in his way?
The devotee who brought the offering began taking pictures with his smart phone as the priest poured milk a second time over the statue, followed by more rinsing with water. The priest again rang the bell, said more prayers, and waved some incense around the small alcove. He placed the bell and incense on a stand, and exited the alcove. He took a tray with powder that had been on the table near me – the table with the offering, and the priest doubled back towards the alcove and the people directly in front of the statue. Those people appeared to be of some Asian descent, while the priest appeared to be of Indian descent.
The priest gave another white powder thumb streak onto the heads of all people in front of the alcove. There was a couple in front of me now, and the priest had the man put the powder on the woman’s head. This left me wondering if the priest would apply more powder to my head. When he got to me, he motioned for me to come closer, and put a white powder on my forehead.
Then the priest took a bowl of some kind of water in a large but shallow copper-like bowl with a thin ladle. He went around to everyone and put water into their cupped palms. Most people drank it,or tried to. A woman put the small amount of water on the top of her head. The priest said words I didn’t understand and placed water into my cupped hands. I had no idea what to do, so I took a small sip as the priest moved on. I was left with wet hands.
And, this is when I felt … somehow different. I felt, lighter somehow, and blessed. I had said my own two silent prayers as I had been watching the milk and water running over the statue.
Even though my prayers were likely different from whatever the priest was saying, and different from whatever the other people may have been inwardly saying to themselves or to their god or gods and goddesses, I believe we all had the same base desires for peace, prosperity, and love.
When the ritual was over, the people dispersed to put on their shoes outside of the temple. The priest’s helpers closed the curtain to cover the large black goddess statue and her smaller counterpart — the red statue had not been touched during this service.
Tedly asked why I didn’t take pictures. (His camera battery was dead.) I said because I didn’t want to disrespect the service. Tedly pointed out the guy who got in front of me was taking pictures like crazy. I pointed out that man brought an offering for his religion’s special ceremony — whatever that was — and it was obviously a big deal to him and the women with him. It just didn’t feel right for me to be snapping pics.
Tedly took my phone and took some “after” shots of me after a ceremony I was invited to attend — a ceremony that was special to experience at the Batu Caves — something most tourists probably don’t get a chance to see.
That evening, Tedly and I searched around for clues as to what kind of ceremony this had been, and which goddess or goddesses were behind that curtain. Admittedly, I know little about the Hindu religion, other than it’s polytheistic and involves rituals and ceremonies of which I have no clue. But I did find a little bit about Lord Murugan’s wives, and some of the symbolism I saw is explained here.
Even though I don’t understand what happened, I don’t feel I really need to. I believe I have the spirit of the intent, and I’m good enough with that.
Entry to the temples in the cave is free, but donations are encouraged, just like in any Christian church. There are 270-some steps to get to the top, and then a few more steps inside. Modesty is the key word for dressing – which is why I have a scarf tied around my bare arms. And as hot as it was, I wore pants, which turned out to be a good thing because there were mosquitoes galore in the cave areas with no breeze.
Here are other pictures around the site, including the impressive and famous entrance plaza, where Lord Murugan reigns. The Lord Murugan statue at Batu Caves is tallest statue in Malaysia, and the second tallest statue of a Hindu god in the world. It’s more than 140 feet tall. Roughly 9 to 10 percent of Malaysia’s population is Hindu.
As I mentioned, monkeys are part of the site. They’re in the cave, and on the grounds outside. It’s a short walk from the train to the caves, and you’ll see plenty of monkeys walking close to tourists on the route. You’ll probably smell them before you see them.
Batu Caves is a must-visit site for any traveler or tourist who goes to Kuala Lumpur.