Photo Essay: Day 3 of Thaipusam – Rituals with Hooks *Viewer Discretion Advised*

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Photo Essay: Day 3 of Thaipusam – Rituals with Hooks *Viewer Discretion Advised*

Thaipusam Rituals, Hooks & Self Mortifications

(the stuff you’ve not-so-secretly been waiting for)

If you’ve been following the series of Thaipusam articles, you’ve probably seen the build up from the details surrounding the Hindu Festival, photos from the opening ceremonies in Kuala Lumpur, and photos from the 15 kilometer pilgrimage to Batu Caves. This photo essay covers the climax of the ceremonies! It starts at 4am on the night of the full moon upon our arrival back to Batu Caves from our guesthouse in KL. It goes on through rituals, climbs of hundreds of steps into the holy caves, people falling into trances and losing themselves completely (in order to be found?). There are also lots of photos of self mortification. Hooks, skewers, rods, spikes – all of which have been pushed through the flesh of the devotees, and even the ritual of their removal at the end of this post. It’s not for the squeamish, but it’s certainly a fascinating look into another world, and another way of living. Enjoy!


Hindu Festival - Sleeping man selling balloons

Upon arriving back to Batu Caves around 4am, not everyone was coping with the early (or late) hours of the festival.


Batu Caves - 4am crowds are unbelievable

This was a shot around 4am, and the crowds had been building throughout the night.


Full Moon for the Hindu Festival

The moon was full for the Hindu Festival that night.


Batu Caves - Millions making pilgrimage for Thaipusam

Millions making pilgrimage for Thaipusam every year


Thaipusam Hooks - The first man we saw with hooks in his back

This was the first man (of many) that we saw with hooks in his back.


Thaipusam Hooks - man with hooks in his back

He was pulling several heavy ropes which were being guided by a colleague close behind him.


Thaipusam Trance - this was the first trance we saw

This was the first man in a trance we saw that evening. He was staring almost blankly at the entrance to Batu Caves, while his tongue waved around rapidly inside his mouth.


Thaipusam Trance - this man was deep in a trance

This man was deep in a trance, and kept stopping to have fire put in his mouth by nearby devotees


Hindu Festival - A young devotee

This young devotee learns of the crazy things that happen when you stay up way past your bedtime!


Hindu Festival - Cigar smoking

I am still not sure of the significance, but there were several devotees who seemed to be spiritual leaders, which had big followings. They were often found smoking big cigars.


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About the Author:

From a young age, Ian was always a wanderer. He's since travelled to all 7 continents, and has spent the majority of his life pursuing this passion. Follow him in his off-the-beaten-path adventures and discoveries!


  1. Turtle February 20, 2013 at 8:28 pm - Reply

    Oh my gosh! That’s insane! They do this at 4am? What an ungodly hour!

  2. GiselleandCody February 20, 2013 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for posting these Ian. It’s always great to see other cultures even if most people think they are crazy. 🙂

    • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End February 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm - Reply

      I thought it was pretty amazing, really 🙂 No craziness – just pure passion, devotion, sights, sounds and smells! It was beautiful!

  3. Glas9Designs February 20, 2013 at 10:05 pm - Reply

    I certainly live a sheltered life. Difficult to understand self-mutilation and public humiliation like this. One question: are these old piercings…why no blood? Not that I want to see more gore, mind you.
    Thanks again WSE for enlightening me and piercing that bubble I seem to be trapped in! 😐

    • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End February 24, 2013 at 1:16 pm - Reply

      Our pleasure, Glas9Designs (cool name!) – from what we saw, all piercings were new, and often they didn’t bleed until the piercings were removed, though in some cases, they didn’t even bleed then! I’ve heard of the mind over matter theory, that they’re able to prevent themselves from bleeding out of desire and faith… but I’ll leave that one up to you to decide on. 😉

  4. Susan Aksu February 20, 2013 at 11:18 pm - Reply

    Hooks, skewers, rods, spikes , oh my! Very interesting tradition, I have never heard of this before. Are the people that are getting pierced more significant in the culture/ceremony?

    • Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End February 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm - Reply

      I believe it just depends on your level of devotion (or perhaps how much sin your are essentially repenting for over the past year). It did appear that some were regarded more highly however, and would perform rituals to others, such as removing the hooks and blessing them. Truly fascinating!

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