BATU CAVES: It began with prayer to Lord Muruga

THAIPUSAM:Millions have thronged the temple in BatuCaves for more than a century

SIPPING of milk at his officehere, Sri Maha MariammanTemple chairman Tan Sri R.Nadarajah said the history of BatuCaves began with a man named K.Thamboosamy Pillay, who was oneof the pioneer leaders of the Indiancommunity in colonial Malaya.
  Born in 1850 in Singapore and educated at the Raffles Institution,Thamboosamy gained prominencethrough the course of his work as aninterpreter and an assistant to a senior lawyer.
  His work brought him to the cityhere and during that time, he noticed that a large number of Indiansfrom South India had settled in Se-
langor. Being a Hindu devotee, hedecided to build a small temple dedicated to the goddess Mariamman ata river bank in Selangor.
  In 1875, the Kuala Lumpur railwayauthorities offeredanalternative sitefor the temple as they wanted to extend their goods yard. With the permission of the sultan of Selangor, asmall attap temple was builtin JalanBandar here (now known as JalanTun H.S. Lee).
  The sultan decreed that the templeland was to become a “land for theIndian community”.
  “In 1888, Thamboosamy and hisfriend, Kanthapa Thevar, discovereda perfect place in Batu Caves andprayed to Lord Muruga for the firsttime by placing a vel (spear) as adeityat a spot 122 metres above theground.
  “The following year, Thaipusamfestival in the Tamil month of Thai,which falls between late January andearly February, was celebrated forthe firsttime and it became an annual affairin Batu Caves.”
  Nadarajah said thetemple communityfaced a challenge in1916 when British Collector of Land Revenue, A.W. Just, gaveinstructions to removethe vel and orderedHindus to stop prayingat the cave.
  “Temple presidentK.T. Subramaniam, together with vice-president M. Cumarasamy and committee members Sivaraju Pillai, Subramaniam Pillai and Uthirabadi, filed acourt case on Dec 11, 1916, against Just for destroying the temple andstopping Hindus from worshippingin Batu Caves.”
  They won the case and on Jan 14,1917, the British government orderedSelangor Resident Secretary O.F.Stonor to allow the Hindus to continue worshipping and installing thevel that had been removed earlier.
  “Stonor expressed dissatisfactionover the inappropriate action takenby Just and demanded a written explanation from him for the removalof the vel and depriving Hindus of
their rights,” said Nadarajah.
  On Feb 13, 1929, the temple committee lead by Cumarasamy proposed to the secretary of the Resident of Selangor of the British Government of Malaya (Sorobgom), A.J.Gracie,to build the iconic stairs leading to the Batu Caves temple.
  “He said 50,000 devotees from Selangor and neighbouring states, aswell as tourists, would gather forThaipusam annually and manymen, women and children wouldbring milk, coconuts and kavadis tothe temple.
  “He said the ruggedand sometimes slippery path up the hill was difficult for pilgrims to walk.
  “Gracie gave permission to build the stairs,but it must be built using temple funds andthe state engineershould be consultedbefore any work proceeded.”
  Pointing to a pictureof the Batu Caves temple stairs in his office, Nadarajah saidthe first structure was built in 1929using wood.
  “In the 1930s, the stairs began toshow signs of wear and tear, and then temple chairman RamachandranNaidu proposed to build two flightsof concrete stairs to the upper caves.
  “The proposal was forwarded toSorobgom in 1939. The work wascompleted in 1940, just in time forthe Thaipusam celebration thatyear,” he said.
  In 1952, lights were installed at thestairs. The whole of Batu Caves temple was lighted up in 1967 after thetemple got a contribution ofRM52,000 from Vaikasi VisakaUbayakaras, a Hindu organisation.
  Nadarajah said in the same year,the Panguni Uthirabadi Ubayakaras,another Hindu organisation led byA. Suppiah, sponsored the installation of water pipes.
  After the nation’sindependence, the number of devotees and tourists increased significantly and, in 1975, work was startedto add a third flight of stairs.
  “The Selangor government donated RM40,000 to initiate the project,”he said, adding that the foundationstone was laid by former menteribesar Datuk Harun Idris.
  Nadarajah said the temple was alsoinvolved in education.
  In 1946, after the Japanese Occupation, the residents around BatuCaves started to realise the importance of learning and established aTamil School named S.K.India.
  “The school name was laterchanged to SK Tamil Batu Caves. Theschool opened on Jan 23, 1946, in ashophouse at 7th Mile of Jalan Ipoh.
  “The school shifted temporarily toan area nearby on Jan 1, 1951. Subsequently, a new building was builtfor the school by the Sri Maha Mariamman temple.”
  Nadarajah said Batu Caves had beenvisited by the nation’s top leaders.
  “In 1959, first prime minister ofMalaysia Tuanku Abdul Rahman,accompanied by MIC presidentV.T. Sambanthan, visited Batu Caves during Thaipusam.
  “In 1971, second prime ministerTun Abdul Razak Hussein went tothe temple for Thaipusam to recognise it as a national festival.
  And, in1978, third prime minister Tun Hussein Onn dropped by.
  “The Batu Caves area used to havemassive quarrying activities. Thetemple management requested thelocal council to look into the matter.
  “WhenTun Hussein Onn visited in1978, he advised us to take legal action againstthe quarry companies.
  “Finally, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu,who was newly appointed as theworks minister at that time, orderedthe quarrying activities to stop andrelocated them to an alternative sitein Sungai Long, Cheras, with thehelp of the state government.”
  Nadarajah has been serving as thetemple chairman since 1991.
This year, about 1.6 million devotees thronged BatuCaves to celebrate Thaipusam.

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