History and museums
Batu Caves is a limestone hill that has a series of caves and cave temples in Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia. It takes its name from the Sungai Batu (Batu River), which flows past the hill and also it is the tenth (Pattu in Tamil) limestone hill from Ampang. Batu Caves is also the name of the nearby village.
The cave is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside India, and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia.
Batu Caves in short also referred as 10th Caves or Hill for Lord Muruga as there are six important holy shrines in India and four more in Malaysia. The three others in Malaysia are Kallumalai Temple in Ipoh, Tanneermalai Temple in Penang and Sannasimalai Temple in Melacca.
It is also near a town called Jinjang where famous entrepreneur Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong had his vision to build his business empire.
The limestone forming Batu Caves is said to be around 400 million years old. Some of the cave entrances were used as shelters by the indigenous Temuan people (a tribe of Orang Asli).
As early as 1860, Chinese settlers began excavating guano for fertilising their vegetable patches. However, they became famous only after the limestone hills were recorded by colonial authorities including Daly and Syers as well as American Naturalist, William Hornaday in 1878.
Batu Caves was promoted as a place of worship by K. Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader. He was inspired by the 'vel'-shaped entrance of the main cave and was inspired to dedicate a temple to Lord Murugan within the caves. In 1890, Pillai, who also founded the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur, installed the murti (consecrated statue) of Sri Murugan Swami in what is today known as the Temple Cave. Since 1892, the Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai (which falls in late January/early February) has been celebrated there.
Wooden steps up to the Temple Cave were built in 1920 and have since been replaced by 272 concrete steps. Of the various cave temples that comprise the site, the largest and best known is the Temple Cave, so named because it houses several Hindu shrines beneath its high vaulted ceiling.
Rising almost 100 m above the ground, the Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a very high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it, visitors must climb a steep flight of 272 steps.
At the base of the hill are two more cave temples, Art Gallery Cave and Museum Cave, both of which are full of Hindu statues and paintings. This complex was renovated and opened as the Cave Villa in 2008. Many of the shrines relate the story of Lord Murugan's victory over the demon Soorapadman. An audio tour is available to visitors.
The Ramayana Cave is situated to the extreme left as one faces the sheer wall of the hill. On the way to the Ramayana Cave, there is a 15 m (50 ft) tall statue of Hanuman and a temple dedicated to Lord Hanuman, devotee and aide of Lord Rama. The consecration ceremony of the temple was held in November 2001.
The Ramayana Cave depicts the story of Rama in a chronicle manner along the irregular walls of the cave.
A 42.7-metre (140 ft) high statue of Lord Murugan was unveiled in January 2006, having taken 3 years to construct. It is the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world.
Batu Malai Sri Murugan Temple is managed by the Board of Management of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam, which also manages the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur and the Kortumalai Pillaiyar Temple. It also performs the role of Hindu Religious Consultant to the Government of Malaysia in determining the Hindu yearly calendar.
There are various undeveloped caves which contain a diverse range of cave fauna, including some unique species, such as Liphistiidae spiders and Eonycteris and fruit bats. The site is also well known for its numerous macaques, which visitors feed — sometimes involuntarily. These monkeys may also pose a biting hazard to tourists (especially small children) as they can be quite territorial.
Below the Temple Cave is the Dark Cave, with rock formations and a number of animals found nowhere else. It is a two-kilometer network of relatively untouched caverns. Stalactites jutting from the cave's ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor form intricate formations such as cave curtains, flow stones, cave pearls and scallops which took thousands of years to form.
In order to maintain the cave's ecology, access is restricted. The Malaysian Nature Society organises regular educational and adventure trips to the Dark Caves.
Batu Caves is also the centre of rock climbing development in Malaysia for the past 10 years. Batu Caves offers more than 160 climbing routes. The routes are scattered all around the side of Batu Caves, which is made up of limestone hills rising to 150 m. These climbing routes are easily accessed, as most crags start from ground level. These climbing routes often start from the North Eastern side of the cave complex whereas the staircase and temple entrance faces South. This North eastern area is known as the Damai caves. Abseiling and spelunking trips can be organised with some local adventure companies. One of the companies offering such a service is Oxbold. The usual package includes:
The Batu Caves serve as the focus of the Hindu community's yearly Thaipusam (Tamil: தைபூசம்) festival. They have become a pilgrimage site not only for Malaysian Hindus, but Hindus worldwide, from countries such as India, Australia and Singapore.
A procession begins in the wee hours of the morning on Thaipusam from the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Kuala Lumpur leading up to Batu Caves as a religious undertaking to Lord Muruga lasting eight hours. Devotees carry containers containing milk as offering to Lord Murugan either by hand or in huge decorated carriers on their shoulders called 'kavadi'.
The kavadi may be simple wooden arched semi-circular supports holding a carrier foisted with brass or clay pots of milk or huge, heavy ones which may rise up to two metres, built of bowed metal frames which hold long skewers, the sharpened end of which pierce the skin of the bearers torso. The kavadi is decorated with flowers and peacock feathers imported from India. Some kavadi may weigh as much as a hundred kilograms.
After bathing in the nearby Sungai Batu (Rocky River), the devotees make their way to the Temple Cave and climb the flights of stairs to the temple in the cave. Devotees use the wider centre staircase while worshippers and onlookers throng up and down those balustrades on either side.
When the kavadi bearer arrives at the foot of the 272-step stairway leading up to the Temple Cave, the devotee has to make the arduous climb.
Priests attend to the kavadi bearers. Consecrated ash is sprinkled over the hooks and skewers piercing the devotees' flesh before they are removed. No blood is shed during the piercing and removal.
Housing development began since 1970 with housing estates such as Taman Batu Caves, Taman Selayang, Taman Amaniah, Taman Sri Selayang, and Taman Medan Batu Caves.
In the last decade, the surrounding area has changed from a small village to industrial estates and new housing and shops. There is also an elevated flyover over the highway. A new 515-million-ringgit KTM Komuter rail extension from Sentul to Batu Caves began operations in July 2010, serving the rebuilt Batu Caves Komuter station.
On 1 January 2011, during the Thaipusam festival, it was announced that a cable car would be built for the following year's festival. It would cost around 10 million ringgit.
Batu Caves is easily reached by commuter train at Batu Caves Komuter station, costing RM 4.4 for a one-way journey from KL Sentral. Batu Caves may also be reached by bus 11/11d from Bangkok Bank Terminus (Near to Puduraya Terminus) or bus U6 from Titiwangsa.Batu Caves is also easily reached by travelling in car.