On a rainy morning when we were in Kuala Lumpur last year, we decided to take the train out to Batu caves. Batu caves is a limestone mountain just outside Kuala Lumpur, famous for its cave shrines and temples. In the 1890s, a prominent Malaysian businessman of Tamil origin, K. Thamboosamy Pillay, noticed that the entrance to the cave reminded him of the Vel, the divine spear of the Hindu God of War, Karthikeya (Murugan). He vowed to build a temple to Lord Murugan in the caves. As the leader of the Indian community in Malaysia, he had a lot of pull and a lot of money. And, in 1892, he installed a consecrated statue of Lord Murugan in the largest of the caves, now known as Temple Cave. There are now many temples and shrines in and around Batu Caves, and it is one of the most important Hindu sites outside of India and the most important Hindu site in Malaysia.
To get there, we took the commuter train from town. It’s last stop is a station just outside the Batu Caves complex. We walked past the first of many shrines, totally distracted by the huge statue of Lord Murugan, the Hindu God of War. At 140 feet tall, it is the largest statue of Murugan in the world, and is covered with 300 liters of gold paint. From there, you climb 272 steps to the entrance of the cave.
There are a lot of macaques that hang out along the stairs, hoping for snacks or other interesting things they can steal from people. The afternoon we were there a macaque had just stolen a box of vitamins from a tourist’s bag.
He was running around the stairs with them, while the man screamed at him. He finally perched on the railing of the staircase and tore into the box. Bottles of vitamins went bouncing down the stairs as both macaques and people scurried after them. The monkeys won and ran off into the trees with the bottles. We laughed and laughed. And then continued up the stairs.
The caves are huge and there are so many temples and shrines. And long tailed monkeys. They love the fruits and flowers that devotees bring as offerings to the Hindu gods. A backpacker had bought some of the flowers there, and was wearing them as jewelry. She thought they were bracelets and leis. The monkeys thought she had brought them a snack. So the first 15 minutes of our time in the cave were marked by her repeated shrieks as they tried to take her flower “jewelry”. Finally, the monkey found something better, a banana, and ran off to sit and eat.
That meant that things quieted down a good bit and we were able to explore the caves and the many temples and shrines in peace. Much nicer without all the shrieking.
There are small shrines everywhere, tucked into small spaces in the cave. It’s fairly dark in there so you never know quite what you’ll find until you stumble onto it.
We spent a good deal of time exploring, and watching pilgrims and devotees. And then, just as it was time to head home, it began to rain. It was beautiful to sit in the cave and watch the rain cascading into the entrance. It was a nice end to a lovely morning.
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