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1.0 History and Background

Picture taken by Zamri Salleh (USM)

Batu Caves is a limestone hill, which has a series of caves and cave temples, located in Gombak district, 13 km 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 Muruga. It is the focal point of the annual Thaipusam festival in Malaysia and attracts over more than 1.5 million pilgrims, making it one of the largest gatherings in history.

Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. When the caves were in a pristine state before 1860, several of the 18 cave mouths were used by the indigenous Besisi people (also referred to as Orang Asli) as transit shelters when they went out hunting from their jungle hamlets.

Picture taken by Zamri Salleh (USM)

As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilizing their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were found by American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878. Batu Caves is said to have been discovered by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader, in the 1800s. He was inspired by the ‘vel’-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Muruga located within the caves.

In 1891 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. 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.

The walk to the entrance is itself quite a pleasant experience through a lake and ponds filled with hundreds of colorful fish. The Ramayana Cave occurs to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, 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 on November 2001.

The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner quite effectively. The cave is well lit and allows the visitor to stroll leisurely viewing the depictions along the irregular walls of the cave. One might experience the feeling that one is strolling through the giant intestines of the mighty demon, Kumbhakarann, brother of King Ravana of Lanka.

2.0 References

Batu Caves is an interesting place where it is made of 30 caves, but only a few caves are developed. The main caves are the Temple Cave, Dark Cave, Cave Villa and Ramayana Cave. The highest cave is called the Temple Cave. It has small shrines to Hindu gods and a Tamil-style Hindu temple. The Temple Cave has a vaulted ceiling of 100 meters high. Right above the cave is an opening where ones can see the cloud or the sun. A flight of 272 steps lead up to the Temple. The stairway is divided into sets of 17 steps which each lead to a landing.

The majestic 140.09 ft high, the world's tallest statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity, is located at the base of a 272-step staircase of Batu Caces. This is a masterpiece of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Dhevasthanam’s visionary leader, Datuk R. Nadarajah, PJN, DPTJ, KMN, AMN, PJK. In 2001, Datuk R. Nadarajah got a vision from Lord Muruga to build a beautiful statue of the deity. Being a strong devotee of Lord Muruga himself, he was passionate about his vision and initiated the project of building this wonderful masterpiece of Lord Muruga. It took him 5 years to complete this project with much effort. Every detail of the project was supervised by him personally to ensure that the statue was built successfully.

The statue, which cost approximately RM 2.5 million, is made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tons of steel bars and 300 liters of gold paint brought in from neighboring Thailand. It was crafted by 15 exceptionally experienced Indian sculptors and 15 semi skilled workers from India who worked more than three years and two months on the project. Finally the world witnessed the launching of this magnificent statue by the Honourable Dato’ Seri S. Samy Vellu on 29th January 2006.

Picture taken by Zamri Salleh (USM)

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. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan’s victory over demon Soorapadam. This magnificent looking statue has entered the Malaysian Book of Records as the tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world. Lord Murugan, one of the divine powers in the Hindu pantheon of gods is worshipped by more than a million devotees around the world during the Thaipusam festival.

3.0 References


1. Official website for Sri Subramaniar Swamy Devasthanam Temple, Batu Caves.
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2. Malaysian Explorer
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[Other Resource]

1. Document compiled by National Heritage Department. Daftar Warisan Kebangsaan.