Batu caves is not just a tourist destination, but a vibrational hub of energy north of Kuala Lumpur. Often, when Eddy and I are at a loss of where to go, but need to have a getaway, we head off to those limestone caves for a good banana leaf lunch.
It is said that the limestone formation of Batu Caves about 400 million years old! The caves were used by the native indigenous people (the Temuan tribe). By the mid 1800s, settlers from China collected guano as fertiliser for agriculture.
Batu Caves became renowned when it was recorded by colonial authorities around 1878. It was made a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, a Tamil trader. Inspired by the vel-shaped (spear-shaped) entrance of the main cave, he dedicated a temple to Hindu deity Murugan there in 1980.
Since 1892, the Hindu festival of Thaipusam has been observed in Batu Caves.
Recently, Eddy and I headed to Batu Caves to just get away and have a banana leaf lunch. In the end, we decided to visit each and every one of the cave temples (that was open). We spent almost five hours there!
The main cave – Murugan Temple.
The main temple is hard to miss, with a 140-foot tall Murugan statue right in front of it! It is the second tallest statue of Lord Murugan in the world, taking three years to build (unveiled in 2006).
Eddy and I had lunch first before heading up the 272 concrete steps (called ‘The Rainbow Staircase’) to the main temple. As mentioned above, the entrance is said to be shaped like a ‘vel’ / spear, the weapon used by Lord Murugan. Eddy and I have climbed up before, and I recall going down is far harder than going up.
The unwise thing I did was to wear my old pair of Crocs, with its smooth scuffed soles. Although it hadn’t rained the night before, the steps themselves were wet, and there was banana peel now and then (eaten by the monkeys).
Upon reaching the top, we noticed there was a new shrine way at the back, having to go up another flight of steps to get there. When we reached the top cave, there was no ceremony or puja taking place (as was usually the case on previous occasions of our climbing up). The temple in the main cave was closed and quiet and the place was just occupied by visiting tourists like us.
Interestingly, there were chickens up there at the temple (aside from monkeys outside). The sides of the cave was dotted by statues of various Hindu deities, notably Shiva’s family (Murugan / Kartikeya is Shiva and Parvatti’s son – the other son being Ganesha, incidentally who is the deity that resides in the root chakra – read more here).
Eventually, we headed to the back of the cave to the new stairs (new to us, at least), leading up to another little temple, and a very visible statue of the Nataraja (Lord of the Dance, one of Shiva’s many depictions, and favoured by yogis quite often).
There is a yoga philosophy story of the dancing Shiva that guru Manoj told once, about his hands being placed in such a way that you can only see his heart if you’re standing at a certain angle. I can’t remember the story properly, but it shifted my perspective and made me decide to take my yoga teacher training with him.
Then we headed back down – and that’s when the old Crocs and the wet slippery steps (with banana peel and other monkey detritus proved to be a challenge for me. Not including looking at the scenery and seeing how far up I was. It took us longer to walk down then to climb up!
The Art Gallery.
To be honest, I can’t remember the name exactly, but I think it’s called ‘The Art Gallery’, which is a series of caves at the left side of the Rainbow Staircase (if you’re standing facing it). I do recall when I was a young boy that the pools encased by a wall now used to be open to the public. There were fish and turtles living there, and I remember you could even buy feed to feed them.
Now it’s closed off, with a concrete walkway leading to the caves. I’m not too sure what the theme of this cave was, but from what I could tell, it featured stories (depicted with statues) of famous Indian heroes, including the likes of Mahatma Ghandi.
Another reason, I think, I couldn’t tell clearly what the caves were meant to share is because all the signages and explanations were in Tamil. Entry to this area is RM5.
There is also another cave in this area, showcasing Hindu deities in their south Indian forms. Because most of the names and terms I learnt seem to be from the north, it was nice to learn about their souther counterparts, especially of the goddess.
As we exited, we came across souvenir stalls, and also a stage, where I presume dances and other cultural performances are meant to take place. There are also peacocks roaming freely, as well as the opportunity to take your photo with parrots (or cockatoos?). Peacocks are reared because it is the animal closely associated with Murugan / Kartikeya (other names for this deity is ‘Skanda’, ‘Subramaniam’ and ‘Shanmukha’).
Once past this area, you come to a series of cages with other animals, including rescued dogs and puppies, geese, more peacocks, and a bizarre-looking breed of chickens.
This is the latest addition to the temples (and attractions) at Batu Caves. I am not sure why the temple was built, but I would hazard that it is because one can see a fair number of eagles residing in the limestone hills of Batu Caves.
My knowledge on Garuda the deity is lacking, except that I know the eagle is one of the animals (aside from the crocodile) that is associated to the Svadisthana chakra (read more here). While the main animal of the sacral chakra is the crocodile, which makes sense since the chakra’s element is water, garuda resides here and when fully formed, it is said that mythologically-speaking, Vishnu will manifest and he will protect and nourish us.
With the many monkeys around – I mean, they are EVERYWHERE! – it is unsurprising that there is a Hanuman temple at Batu Caves. A supporting here (to some, he is the hero) of the Ramayana, Hanuman is the Monkey God of Hindu lore.
Hanuman is considered to a both a form of Shiva, and yet he belongs to the Vaishnavite school of Hinduism. He is one of the few Hindu deities revered across all Hindu schools, He is said to live simply in a banana forest, where he chants the name of Ram everyday. The yoga asana depicts the leap of Hanuman towards the sun (as he thought it was a beautiful ripe fruit) and also his even more courageous and venerated leap towards Lanka to save Sita.
The Hanuman Temple at Batu Caves has a 50-foot tall statue of Hanuman in the front. It is very hard to miss.
The Ramayana Caves.
Unsurprisingly, the Ramayana Caves are right behind the Hanuman temple, but because it is tucked way back, it may be missed. Personally, I think it was the highlight of our excursion that day.
The story of Ramayana told in these caves are slightly different from what I know. Maybe it is based on the Tamil Ramayana? Let me know if you know the context here.
The Ramayana – in a nutshell – tells the story of Rama and Sita, and usually we tell the tale of how Ravanna stole Sita away to Lanka and how she was saved. It is a super long story, and the emphasis of the tale depends on the teller. The story shown here seems to focus less on this and more on the final battle between Ram’s army and Ravanna (I think).
Also in the Ramayana Cave is a Shiva Lingam shrine, to which you need to climb another bunch of steep steps (thankfully, not wet or slippery!).
As we leave the Ramayana Cave, there was a signboard with some wisdom that made our whole cave adventure, repeated below:
Geetha Upadesha. Whatever happened was good. Whatever is happening is also good. Whatever will happen that also will be good. What did you lose that you are crying for? What did you bring which have you lost? What did you create that is destroyed? Whatever you have taken is taken only from here. Whatever you have given is given only from here. Whatever is yours today will belong to someone else tomorrow. On another day, it will belong to yet another. This inevitable change is the law of the universe and the objective of my creation. Bhagavan Sri Krishna.
Go for a limestone adventure.
Aside from these beautiful cave temples, Batu Caves is also well known for its rich flora and fauna, and also for rock climbing.
If you are a visitor to Malaysia, please do go visit this attraction. If you are Malaysian, don’t miss out if you haven’t already been.
What do you think of Batu Caves? Let me know here!
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