Last Updated on May 28, 2023 by Ellen
There was some activity in a temple at the Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur during our visit. So, I took off my shoes, entered the temple, and went to watch some kind of religious ceremony. It turned into something special most tourists probably don’t experience.
I realized I had walked over and gotten into some type of queue. A priest gave blessings to people as he worked his way down the line. I didn’t move away, or move up. Instead, I simply 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. Then he 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. He stood near a curtain held open by a male figure statue’s hands. Behind the opening, in a small alcove, was a beautiful statue of a female figure. I knew it must be one of the Hindu goddesses, since the site is a place of worship. The statue of her was black stone. Next to the large statue of a goddess was a smaller female statue painted red.
The priest rang a bell.
Somehow, that made the ceremony feel more ‘official’. Next the priest said some kind of prayer, lit incense, touched the black statue’s mouth, neck, upper chest, and stomach. He said more prayers. The priest wore an orange-colored cloth around his waist, and a small-beaded rudraksha necklace on his bare, brown chest.
Next he poured what looked like milk over the life-sized statue’s head. He had to reach up high to make it to her head – the statue was on a platform. The goddess wore a headdress and held some kind of staff. A belt with rings around her legs was carved into the stone. The details on the statue were quite intricate. A thick, flat necklace across her upper chest, with bare breasts. The milk turned the statue from black to white, temporarily.
The priest then poured water over the her head. It rinsed the milk: over her face, chest, belly, down her legs, onto her feet and the floor. The floor in the small alcove was wet.
Some kind of religious ceremony had gotten underway, and I was invited to be a part of it.
I decided not to take pictures, though I could have. The only restrictive signs inside the Batu Caves were against smoking and wearing shoes in the temples.
As the priest kept rinsing the goddess statue with water, I heard Tedly call me. He 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. 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 carried a large bowl of flowers and fruit with some money stuffed between the items. He came beside me and held up the bowl as if to show the priest, busy pouring a second round of water down the front of the statue.
The new visitor then placed the bowl on a table next to me. 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.
Who was I to get in his way?
The man stepped in and began taking pictures with his smart phone. The priest poured milk over the statue second time, followed by more rinsing with water.
Then he 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 and went to 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. I watched the priest motion for the the man to put the powder on the woman’s head. I had not noticed that before.
This left me wondering: would the priest apply more powder to my forehead?
When it was my turn in the line, the priest motioned for me to come closer. He put a white powder on my forehead.
Then he 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.
This is when I felt … somehow different.
I felt, lighter somehow, and blessed. I had said my own two silent prayers as I had watched the milk and water run over the statue.
My prayers were likely different from whatever the priest said, and different from what other people said to their gods and goddesses.
Yet I believe we all have the same human desires for peace, prosperity, and love.
The ritual was over. The priest’s helpers closed the curtain. The large black goddess statue and her smaller red-painted counterpart were no longer in sight. Tourists would have no idea what was behind that curtain, or what the ceremony would be like.
People dispersed to put on their shoes outside of the temple, myself included.
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. I’m glad he did. The ceremony was a special experience at the Batu Caves — something most tourists probably don’t get a chance to experience.
Later that same evening, Tedly and I searched for what kind of ceremony it had been. Admittedly, I know little about the Hindu religion, other than it’s polytheistic and involves rituals and ceremonies. But I did find a little bit about Lord Murugan’s wives. And I think some of the symbolism I witnessed is explained here.
Even though I don’t really understand what happened, I don’t feel I need to.
I believe I have the spirit of the intent, and I’m good enough with that.
Batu caves tourist info
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. This turned out to be a good thing because there were mosquitoes galore in areas with no breeze.
Below 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. You’ll see plenty of monkeys walking close to tourists on the route.
Batu Caves is a must-visit site for any traveler or tourist who goes to Kuala Lumpur.