Allison Heiliczer witnesses the Tamil festival of Thaipusam — commonly celebrated in India — just outside of Kuala Lampur.

I RECENTLY ATTENDED the Thaipusam festival in Kuala Lumpur, at the Batu Caves. This day is celebrated mostly by the Tamils during the Tamil month of Thai on the full moon. It celebrates the birth of the god of war and victory, Murugan. To celebrate, the devotees shave their heads, fast for 48 days before the festival (one vegetarian meal a day is permitted), and carry kavadi (burdens).

In Kuala Lumpur, the festival begins in the city and extends for 15 kilometers to the Batu Caves. Once at the Caves, one must climb 272 steps to the top. With each step, the energy is focused towards sharing and celebrating the collective spirit of the day.



As the national bird of India, the peacock struts its stuff before the festival begins.



After fasting (one vegetarian meal a day) for 48 days leading up to the festival, these sweets invite devotees to indulge many of their senses--mostly their eyes.


Batu caves statue

En route to the Batu Caves.



Looking down as he hikes up to celebrate the birth of Murugan, the god of war and victory. During the Thaipusam festival, worshipers will often shave their heads and carry something burdensome called kavadi.


Tamil girl

At the festival, this Tamil girl looks to the 272 steps she will have to climb to celebrate with her fellow devotees.


Little Indian girl

How many more steps until we reach the top?


Led up the steps

A little boy is led up the steps.


Climbing stairs

One foot and one finger at a time, with his head painted, heart open, and soul curious, he climbs all 272 steps to the top of the Batu Caves.


Batu caves

Welcome to the Batu Caves.


Indian woman

Inside the caves, this Indian woman watches her children as they dance around with smiles.


Little boy

Eyes wide open, readying himself for the festival.



Worhsipers usually will carry kavadi (burdens). One such kavadi involves putting a spear through one's face, which is a constant reminder of the god, Murugan and is a way to remain silent and increase endurance.



For 48 days leading up to the festival, devotees fast by taking only one vegetarian meal a day. Connecting is this man's food, Being is his fire, and dancing his expression.



At one with each other and their devotion.