An Insight of My Home Town ~ Historic Malacca

Finally I have completed my 2nd photobook. This time it’s not those far away escapade but closer to home about my home town, the historic city of Malacca. You may have a sneak of the photobook in pdf version here My Hometown Malacca – Part 1

Thaipusam ~ A Walk of Faith

Thaipusam is a spectacular Hindu festival celebrated each year, beginning on the night of a full moon in the auspicious 10th Tamil month of Thai when the star of well-being, Pusam, rises over the eastern horizon which normally falls in January or February on the Western Calendar. It is mostly observed by the Tamil community around the world; however the manifestation of the festival is best witnessed in Malaysia at Batu Caves. Having witnessed the celebration twice, the festivities centered at Batu Caves is an exciting and thrilling spectacle. Over 1 million devotees and visitors has been recorded visiting Batu Caves for the celebration each year.

Entrance of Batu Cave

Entrance of Batu Caves

There are plenty of stories what Thaipusam is all about. Among the most popular is that it commemorates the day the powerful goddess Parvathi, gives her son, Murugan, the spear “vel” to vanquish the evil demon Soorapadman which were plaguing the world. Some say it is to celebrate the birthday of the Hindu god Murugan. However, for the Hindus today, the festival is a day of penance and thanksgiving. They also believed that sins can be cleansed during Thaipusam. On the eve of Thaipusam, the festival begins with a five-ton chariot pulled by two bulls and followed by a procession of several thousand people from the Sri Mahamariaman temple in downtown Kuala Lumpur, on a 15-kilometre trek to Batu Caves. In a loud carnival atmosphere, drums beat and long wooden flute, could be heard crooning devotional tunes and trance inducing rhythms. The procession weaves through major streets of the city and takes more than 8 hours to reach its destination.

On the day of celebration, the devotees who take part shaved their heads and bathed at the nearby Sungai Batu, which is about 1.5 km from the entrance of Batu Caves. Unlike the scene at Varanasi (Banaras) in India where one could see the devotees bathed in Ganges River, here the devotees use open showers to bathe. I can understand why this had to be done. Looking at the river of Sungai Batu, it is in such deplorable state and definitely not fit for bathing. The temple authorities had constructed line of showers as an alternative.

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From here the devotees carry offerings commonly a simple pot of milk, walk the 1.5 km bare footed and climb the 272 steps to the temple in the main cave to seek forgiveness for past deeds or to thank Lord Murugan for wishes granted. Some devotees have opted to carry the Kavadi, a wooden arch decorated with peacock feathers and pots of honey. Kavadi carriers are devotees who have requested favours, and have had their favour granted or wish to atone for past misdeeds. Usually, a vow is made to carry the Kavadi. Common requests are recovery from illness, success in examinations or business. These forms of offerings are overshadowed by more elaborate ones with huge metal frames and bedecked with decorations in the belief that the larger the Kavadi the more resolute is one’s devotion. Skewers protruding through cheeks and metal hooks and spikes are also to be seen. This is a quaint evolution of the celebrations and according to some its origins are lost in antiquity. Some devotees however, choose to believe that the only way to salvation is to endure a penance of pain and hardship. Seeing the Hindu priest protruding a skewer through one of the devotee’s cheeks for the first time, did make my legs feel like jelly but I avoided the embarrassment of fainting. As I watched the whole spectacle, I chatted with a few local Indians and according to them leading up to the event, devotees who take part in the festival prepare themselves by cleansing their bodies by undertaking days of fasting, praying and abstinence. During this period, the devotees usually observed strict vegetarian diet and their minds are attuned to only one thing; spirituality and liberation from all forms of worldly desires. This is my theory though, almost all the devotees are in trance-like state and I believe that the reason for them to be able to tolerate the pain, if any. I don’t deny that I was amazed with what the devotees are willing to go through in the name of faith, but there were times I got goose bump and felt my hair at the back of my neck stood up.

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Family, relatives and friends will accompany the Kavadi bearer to the temple giving him all the encouragement especially through the arduous 272 steps climb to the main cave. Traditional musical instruments are played, and chants of “Vel, Vel” and smell of incense filled the air. Once they reached the temple, the milk or honey offering is poured on the statue of the deity as an act of thanksgiving. Those with hooks and skewers have a priest chant over them. The hooks and skewers are removed and the wounds are treated with hot ash. Believe it or not, there is not a drop of blood, no pain and even more amazing no scar at all. I do have a second theory on this, but this time I’ll keep it to myself.

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Thaipusam is one of the most visually and culturally stunning festivals I have experienced. If you have patience with crowd and are in town during the celebration, don’t miss to see this amazing Walk of Faith.

A bird’s paradise in Kuala Lumpur

Located in the serene and scenic Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens, KL Bird Park is only 10 minutes drive away from the city centre of Kuala Lumpur. It  claimed to be the home to more than 3,000 birds of approximately 200 species of local and foreign birds. One of its most extraordinary feature is that birds are let free in the aviary which closely resembles their natural habitat. 

Last weekend was my 3rd visit to the park. Personally, I like this park because it allows visitors to come close with the birds. It gives me great pleasure watching colorful and melodic birds perching and winging about freely while relaxing in a natural and beautifully landscaped surrounding. It is also an educational experience. Understanding of the bird’s behaviour and habitat give me a better chance of spotting them in the wild.

The moment I stepped into the park  egrets, heron and yellow billed storks can be seen near the man-made pond. I noticed there’s seem to be more birds compared to my previous visit in 2002.The man-made ponds and waterfalls in the park also no longer look like a concrete structure. Overtime,  growth of plants and moss makes them look more natural and what is more important the birds seem to be happy.

I was keeping an eye on a blue male peacock, hoping to capture some photographs of this colorful peasant, when I saw a Blue Indian peafowl busy picking dry sticks. I followed the peafowl, keeping sufficient distance in order not to distract him, and to my delight he has a nest on one of the trees and his partner is waiting, probably incubating their eggs.

After seeing a spectacular courtship display of the peacock about 45 minutes later, I chose a less busy path where the man-made waterfall flow into a stream. There’s a grassy area where I saw a few egrets, storks and a pair of red flamingos. The egrets and one of the red flamingos were busy searching for food on the edge of the water. The other red flamingo was just sitting on the grass. When I was trying to capture some pictures of the sitting flamingo I realised that it has an egg. They seem to take turns guarding and incubating the eggs whilst one of them searched for food. I was very excited and I can’t believe my luck to see this.

Seeing the bigger birds are easy but for the smaller songbirds having a binoculars would be handy because they are most likely to be high on the trees. I was lucky because my housemate who tagged along have very sharp eyes and spotted many of the small birds. She is my walking binoculars. Photographing them would be another daunting tasks because they tend to move quiet a lot. Patience is a virtue, and in this visit I was blessed seeing many beautiful songbirds in their natural element. 

The flamingo pond seems to be a bit crowded, not of visitors but of birds. May be the park management need to right size the area since they seem to have a successful breeding programme. My final stop of the visit is the hornbill zone.  Feeling exhausted, I decided to skip the non-flying birds zone.

Entrance fee to the park is RM48 (RM25 with MyKad) and opens from 9.00 a.m – 7.00 p.m. Some tips, bring drinking water because Malaysian weather is very humid. Wear good walking shoes, some area can be slippery especially after rain. Bring a small towel to wipe off the sweat. A hat or cap is recommended for additional shade. At the free flight aviary zone, birds will be flying above you and some will be on the trees, so the hat can also act as protection from bird droppings. Walk slowly and enjoy…

Dance of the peacock…

Peacocks are large, colorful pheasants known for their long tails. The blue peacock originates from India and Sri Lanka, while the green peacock is found mainly in Southeast Asia. Their tail feathers spread out  in a distinctive train, arched into a magnificent fan that reaches across the bird’s back boasting colorful “eye” markings of blue, gold, red, and other hues. This act is used in mating rituals and courtship displays.  Females are believed to choose their mates according to the size, color, and quality of these outrageous feather.

In my recent visit to the KL Bird Park, these peacocks are plentiful and I was fortunate enough to see their courtship displays. The male peacock will make loud calls to attract females. Once a female is nearby, the male peacock will spread his tail feathers, turning left and right and in between rattle his feather strongly to get the attention of the females. The scene is as if he is dancing, showing off the beauty of his tail and hoping to impress the females. The whole rituals can last between 10 – 30 minutes.  

Some say the peacock looks arrogant

The male peacock will make loud call to attract females

Dance starts with a few rounds of turning his spread fan like tail to the left and right

The peacock rattles his tail strongly to attract the females…

Another peacock with green feather tail doing the courtship dance…

Colors in the garden…

Small, colorful and beautiful…easily found in tropical garden. I have started on this small project to capture images of butterfly, dragonfly and small birds found in gardens around Malaysia. I will add the images from time to time so do drop by to check it out.

So Hot So Colourful ~ Putrajaya International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta

Sometimes you can find interesting event happening near you. I had a chance to see for the 1st time a hot air balloon show at Putrajaya, an administrative capital of Malaysia. Everything about the fiesta is so colorful and it end with a BANG!!! a wonderful fireworks display. The fiesta encourages family togetherness by having fun with variety of activities for all ages.

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