I’m in a Carnatic kind of mood today.
Woke early, before the sun, hopped on the local train and headed towards the northern outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. I was picked by a colleague who drove me to Batu Caves, the last station on the commuter train line. The caves extend into the limestone interior of one of several ranges of hills that edge KL. The caves are said to be about 400 million years old. Today they are a holy pilgrimage site for Hindus from around the world, especially those from Tamil Nadu.
The main temple is dedicated to Lord Murugan (brother of Ganesha and son of Parvati and Siva). On Friday the annual thaipusam holy day will be celebrated. This is day that commemorates the occasion when Parvati gave Murugan a vel (spear) with which to ward off evil spirits and the demon Soorapadam. Hundreds of thousands of people will gather throughout the week to make offerings to the great Murugan, whose gold plated image stands at least 25-30 meters high, by the side of the mountain. Worshippers carry offerings—tankards of milk and flowers, bananas—on top of their heads and climb 272 steps into the cave temple. Other pilgrims, dance into a trance and then pierce their skin with hooks or small vels (spears). They hang little pots of milk and other holy things on the hooks and walk up the steps, giving thanks for prayers answered, or seeking the Lord’s favour.
A fascinating place, to which I will return again and again, I am sure.
The festival is especially significant to Tamilians and one has the feeling of being back in south India, not in Malaysia. Shops all around the temple sell sweet milk coffee and all varieties of south Indian foods. When I returned home, tired but exhilarated, I needed to hear some southern Indian music. And it is that I share with you today.
R.K. Suryanarayan was one of the premier exponents of the veena, an ancient Indian classical instrument recognised by the two large gourds which form its head and feet. Suryanarayan hailed from the village of Rudrapatna, in Hassan District of Karnataka. The village has a long and proud history of learning and culture, with fully 60% of practising Carnatic musicians claiming a connection to the village!
Suryanarayan had a very distinctive way of playing the veena which relied on a lot of strumming, almost as if he were playing the guitar. The sound is vigorous and lively. Close your eyes and focus on Lord Murugan as you listen to this lovely music.
03 Shankara Bharana
05 Gambheer Nata Madhyamavathi