Batu Caves

During my trip to Malaysia in 2012 I saw to the Batu Caves, which is a short distance away from Kuala Lumpur by rail.  These limestones caves were transformed into a place of worship for the popular Hindu god Lord Murugan in the 1800s.  The statue of Lord Murugan stands at 42.7 meters (140 feet) tall, about the height of a 14-story building, and it was erected in 1890.  It is the tallest statute of Lord Murugan in the world.  The temple honoring Murugan is located deep inside the cave, reachable only by climbing 272 steps to the cave’s entrance.

Due to the statue’s iconic status, Tamil Hindu worshippers gather at the temple within the Batu Caves during Thaipusam, “an annual procession by Hindu devotees seeking blessings, fulfilling vows and offering thanks. Celebrated in honour of [Lord Murugan], who represents virtue, youth and power to Hindus and is the destroyer of evil, it is held during the full moon in the 10th Tamil month, called Thai, which falls in mid-January each year.”   [1]

In addition to the temple there is a separate cave where you can find a museum that explains the Tamil take on the Hindu religion.  I did not see any English signage (or any other languages), which is quite disappointing.  Yet the rainbow colored sculptures, pictures, and psychedelically painted walls will entertain you enough to forget that.  These artistic works depict “various Hindu gods arranged to tell parables from the Bhagavad Gita and other Hindu scriptures inside the cave.” [2]   There was also a small collection of reptiles further into the museum, which may have some symbolic connection to the faith.

As of 2012, some people fear that the construction of a 29 story condominium could lead to the premature collapse of the cave’s roof. [3]  Some believe that the construction’s proximity to the caves could lead to cracks and fissures that will lead to the eventual near-term collapse of the cave, thus making it inaccessible to tourists and worshippers in the future.

Hopefully this happens later than predicted.  The caves are thought to be at least 400 million years old, making it impossible to appraise the loss of such a natural wonder. [4]  A collapse would also bury the temple within it and deny Tamil Hindu worshippers an important place of worship.  They, as well as tourists, would also lose the chance to stand in awe of the Batu Caves’ natural splendor: its countless needle-like stalactites hanging like chandelier crystals from its ceiling, which surround a daylight hole where the earth and heavens unite above the temple.  This divine sight would be lost forever in the name of progress and development, but at the incalculable cost to present and future generations of worshippers and tourists alike.

Risking the future of the ancient Batu Caves to build condominiums seems like an absurd tradeoff, one that calls into question the very idea that development necessarily means progress.  But perhaps the massive statue of Lord Murugan will persist long after, becoming a potent reminder of what we lose in the name of development and progress.

Sources:

[1] http://www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/browse/whats-on/festivals-and-events/thaipusam.html

[2] Lonely Planet Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei Travel Guide, 11th Edition, Jan 2010

[3] http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp file=/2012/10/26/nation/12229017&sec=nation

[4] New Straits Times – Jan 7, 1994

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