Sunday, May 10, 2009

From Batu Caves to Maran: Walk Wit Milk

Walk-umentary: The Last 4km - Palkudam Procession

So you have walked 200km? What is another 4km, right?

It could be the longest 4 km I have ever walked!

Not only walk, we had to carry palkudam (milk pot) filled to the brim with milk. It was covered with a piece of yellow cloth. The palkudam is an offering to Lord Murugan.

We had to ditch our shoes. No footwear allowed! So, it was another test on the already blistered and battered soles of us.

Despite all that, it was the final moment everybody was looking forward to. We endured 3 days of ultra distance walking for this. We changed our diet to vegetarian. We blistered. We burned. We also seriously needed a bath!!! Heheh!

Conveniently, there was a river located at our stop. :)

So, everyone jumped and dipped their heads in the milk-tea-coloured river. Weee....

After cleansing ourselves, we changed into another set of clothes. Most of the devotees worn yellow, an auspicious colour. I didn't know about this so, I was stuck with my white Sport ToTo T-shirt. :)

Then, we got our forehead "decorated" (I can't find another word for this..can't use "make-up"...Heheh!) with holy ash and red dots by the priests.

There was a prayer session led by Uncle Shunmugan. Everyone prayed and chanted "Vel! vel!"

Hey...What's the firecracker doing there?

Very Chinese, eh? No, I should say - very "muhibbah" instead. Isn't amazing how each other's culture is assimilated in our lives? 1Malaysia, anyone? ;)

A string of firecrackers was let off prior to the procession. Yup! The palkudam procession was literally set off with a BANG!

Everyone was walking slowly, carrying palkudam on their heads, shoulders or hands while chanting, Vel! Vel! Vetri Vel!

For those uninitiated, The Vel (Tamil: வேல்) is the divine javelin/spear of the Hindu deity Murugan.

Me? I was quite ambitious actually. I was carrying a milk pot with my left hand and my brick for a camera on my right! I don't wanna miss a moment of this walk! Moreover, Uncle Shunmugan already gave me the green light to be the unofficial photographer for the whole procession!

My balancing skill was put to the test for this. On one hand I had to keep the milk from spilling (cause it's no use crying over spilt milk, you know. Heheh!), and on the camera hand, I had to keep hand really steady for sharp images.

I almost forgot to mention at the same time I had to look out for traffic on that narrow road and tried my best not to step on other people's toes too! Remember, everyone was all barefooted! Phew!

I walked back and forth of the line to catch the actions. My strategy was machine gun shooting! Just shoot! Anyway, I couldn't use my manual zoom as my hands were full...I am glad the photos turned out alright. :D

Aren't these two a lovely couple? They met while doing this walk few years back and love blossomed. Now, they are engaged to get married. (Insert sweet here!)

I saw some devotees pierced their cheeks/ tongues with tiny vels.

It is quite common to see devotees go into trance I was told. Indeed. I saw two devotees went into trance right in front of my own eyes! It was exciting yet intriguing!

There was a man who walked in a peculiar way. He was bobbing his head up and down with a pot of milk on top of his head. The amazing thing is – no spillage of milk from his action! See if you can spot him in the video later. :D

And a dancer who hissed like a snake as she swirl and twirl around the line of devotees! I didn't have her picture here but I caught a glimpse of her in my video. I couldn’t get close enough for a good picture. I was quite scared actually...Heheh!

Anyway, these were just the tip of the ice berg.....More trance story later at Sri Marathandavar Temple.

"Vel! Vel! Vetri Vel!"


About 1hr 15 minutes later....We arrived at the Sri Marathandavar temple. I was in awe with the sheer size and beauty of it!

We were received by two men, one was playing the drum and the other some soft of clarinet(?) Sorry, I don't know the name of the Indian instrument.

We had to circle the temple three times, clockwise.

During the first circle, a sami was kind enough to hold my milk pot so that I could go around snapping photos. He was carrying two milk pots - his own on the head and mine on his shoulder! Thank you so much, sami!

See the tree above the temple? It is not behind the temple. The temple is actually built around the tree. I will tell you more about the temple in my later post.

I retrieved my milk pot back from the sami after the first round. After that I put away my camera as I have already got the shot that I wanted.

The temple surrounding was super busy! Lot of noise. Lots of people. Very festive like.

We couldn't enter the temple immediately after we have circled the temple three times. There was a massive line at the entrance. So, we had to wait for our turn.

My neck felt like snapping and my head was like going to burst. The milk pot seemed to be getting heavier by the minute!

Inside the temple, loud drums were playing. People were singings and clapping. I was amazed with the interior of the beautiful temple. It was like glowing in gold! Too bad photography is not allowed inside. So, you just have to take my words for it. Heheh!

I passed my milk pot to the priest and in return I was given a half coconut, containing a packet of holy ash and red dye, a banana and some flowers. The milk was poured over the Murugan shrine inside the temple.

Then, we were ushered out from the temple. Outside there were still thousands of people waiting to go inside the temple! What a crowd!

Check out the video of the palkudam procession! It took great effort to shoot this, with one hand holding the milk pot and the other a camera that weighed almost a kg! So pardon the shakiness of certain scenes!


That was the end of our journey from Batu Caves to Maran but not the end of our Walk-umentary. There is so much more to share. Please come back for updates!

Coming next: The Panguni Uthiram celebration.

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