Monday, August 20, 2012

Visiting Batu Caves and Thean Hou Temple on Hari Raya

What was supposed to be my short excursion in celebration of my joblessness was postponed to a Hari Raya discovery of culture instead. N and I headed out early on the 2nd day of Hari Raya (assuming roads would be clear... and it was!) to Batu Caves!

272 steps up to Batu Caves
We'd budgeted half a day for our climb up to the Cathedral Cave. However, we didn't know the 272 steps would only take us about 10 minutes to ascend! (albeit much panting and frequent rest stops) ;D

Where we start our ascend - step 1 of 272
 Anyway, just a quick overview of what is Batu Caves. Batu Caves is actually a complex of limestone caves in Gombak, Selangor, Malaysia. It is said to be around 400 million years old and in the late 1800s, an Indian trader dedicated a temple within the main Cathedral Cave to Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war. The Cathedral Cave (also known as Temple Cave) was called so due to its high vaulted ceiling. The famous 272 steep concrete steps which rises almost 100m above ground to the Cathedral Cave has not always been there; instead they were built as replacement for wooden steps in 1920. A number of Hindu shrines reside in the Cathedral Cave and two temples (not too sure whether they are actually one) were built in split levels within the Cave. At the foot of the limestone hill, there are three other caves - Art Gallery Cave, Museum Cave and Ramayana Cave (far left). On the way up the steps to the Cathedral Cave, you will see a gated entrance to another cave - the Dark Cave. Entry is restricted to the Dark Cave as it is a conservation site. However, the Malaysian Nature Society organises daily educational tours (except Mondays) for a fee of RM25 (for adult MyKad holders; no concession: RM35). For the more adventurous, there is a 3-hour spelunking tour, which requires advance booking. More info on the tour can be obtained here.

Almost reaching the top... a few more steps to go!
View of the entrance to Cathedral Cave from the benches
At the top, I had a little bit of a snack before we entered the Cathedral Cave. Morning prayers were being conducted in the temple within and a small group of worshipers were gathered, barefooted as they approached the altar.

Notice the stairs leading to the split level

One of the shrines on the walls of the cave

Another shrine of a young boy

We went up the stairs to the second temple area

Part of the shrine of the second temple, illuminated from above by the sunlight

Looking up we could see an opening in the ceiling of the Cathedral Cave where natural sunlight lit the cavity

Another shrine

Limestone cave walls

Coming down from Cathedral Cave
When we reached ground level with a lot of time to spare, we took a walk to the other temples at the foothill. We walked towards the left, where we passed a grey temple. I'm not sure which deity's shrine was there, but we removed our shoes and went up to the altar to look around. Personally, I preferred this temple's architecture as it was simple yet regal. And there is something mysterious and calming about the constant chanting heard around the inner shrine where the statue of the deity is placed in a small room filled with fresh flowers and incense.

A beautiful grey temple where we took off our shoes and explored the altar. We did not venture nearer to the main shrine.
Walking further on, we came to the Hanuman statue and the green temple. Apparently this one was quite new - dedicated in November 2011. It was interesting to see that the statue depicted Hanuman ripping his chest open with two figures inside (Rama and Sita from the Ramayana epic). I asked N why some of the statues were painted blue or green or other bright colours, she said she'd heard that it was because the original characters were dark-skinned.

Hanuman, the monkey god, tears his chest open to reveal Rama and Sita

A wooden structure of what I think is the vehicle to carry around the deities during Hindu festivals. I was particularly taken by this broken treasure as there were angel/cherubim-like carvings on its roof with a bindi painted on each of them and the base had Chinese dragon carvings. The wonders of cultural influences in this one item.
We were quite happy with our little trip, but next time around we'd like to try the spelunking tour of the Dark Cave. However this time, unfortunately we went on a Monday and a public holiday at that!

By the time we left Batu Caves, it was only 10am, so we decided to visit the Thean Hou Temple at Robson Heights on our way back. Thean Hou Temple is a six-tiered temple built in the 1980s incorporating elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Thean Hou Chinese Temple
Coincidentally there was an Indian Hindu wedding at the main hall. Ladies with brightly-coloured sarees and Punjabi suits and men in kurtas were trickling in. While certain parts of the temple were filled with the aroma of roasted meat and food in preparation.

Wedding kolam at the entrance of the main hall
Trudging through the wafts of food smells, we went into the temple for a brief look around.

The prayer hall where there are three alters for three deities - Goddess of the Waterfront (Shui Wei Sheng Niang), the Heavenly Mother (Tian Hou) and Goddess of Mercy (Guan Yin) [L-R]

Main gate of temple with imposing red pillars; signifying prosperity and good fortune

Elaborate carvings of pheonix and dragons on the temple's roof

Colourful beams with dragon motif
It was a really hot day and we didn't get to explore much of the temple in comfort. We also missed the lantern decorations which are put up around the Mooncake Festival period. We were too early, I guess.

Having seen so much culture in one morning, we found ourselves starving at 11am - probably due to the "vigorous" morning exercise and huge amount of perspiration in the hot sun. So we headed to Bangsar for some banana leaf rice, which actually cancels out the calories we'd burned in the morning!

Banana leaf rice at Restoran Sri Nirwana Maju in Bangsar

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