Saturday, August 27, 2011

August 25, 2011 - The Batu Caves

I thought maybe I had managed to save the best KL tourist attraction for last. As it turned out this was true in some ways and not in others. The huge caves were discovered on the outskirts of KL in the mid-1850's and it wasn't long after that the caves were adopted by the local Indian population as a Hindu shrine. I tried to find out WHY the caves were adopted this way - is it common for Hindu Temples to end up in magnificent natural settings? But for now that question remains unanswered.

The natural setting of the caves is indeed awe-inspiring, but the manmade embellishments are a mixture of the sublime, the shoddy, and the ridiculous. The 280+steps leading to the cave are, from a distance, beautiful and intimidating. Upon closer inspection the steps were narrow and dirty. The railings were rusted and worn, with trash strewn along the grass on the sides of the lower steps.

But the huge golden statue of the Hindu god lord Murugan, and the wonderful views from the top of the stairs were lovely. The actual cave is just huge. After I climb the initial set of stairs, I enter a large cavern. Water drips from the ceiling, and sunlight spills through an opening high above the cavern floor. The walls of the cavern hold various Hindu temples, shrines and statues of gods. At the other end of the cavern another set of stairs climbs to a second opening. This second cavern is bathed in sunlight from an opening high above. Monkeys wait for handouts and yet another shrine sits along the wall.

After I walk back down the steps I decide to pay the 15 Ringit to visit something called the Cave Villa. This turns out to be a series of lurid paintings depicting scenes from the Bahatva Gita, the Hindu scriptures. The guidebook describes these paintings as psychedelic and that seems right. They were pretty in a garish sort of way, but altogether too touristy for for my tastes.

The thing about the Batu Caves is that in spite of it's strangely kitschy nature, it's also an important religious shrine. During the January festival of Thaipusam, over a million people line the streets of KL to watch the religious procession from downtown KL to the Batu Caves.

I don't know very much about the Hindu religion, and I think some of my distaste is due to ignorance. Maybe if I knew and understood more about the philosophy behind the statues and paintings I could appreciate them more, instead of turning my snobby little nose up at them!

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