KUALA LUMPUR: Sipping of milk at his office here, Sri Maha Mariamman Temple chairman Tan Sri R. Nadarajah said the history of Batu Caves began with a man named K. Thamboosamy Pillay, who was one of the pioneer leaders of the Indian community in colonial Malaya.
Born in 1850 in Singapore and educated at the Raffles Institution, Thamboosamy gained prominence through the course of his work as an interpreter and an assistant to a senior lawyer.
His work brought him to the city here and during that time, he noticed that a large number of Indians from South India had settled in Selangor. Being a Hindu devotee, he decided to build a small temple dedicated to the goddess Mariamman at a river bank in Selangor.
In 1875, the Kuala Lumpur railway authorities offered an alternative site for the temple as they wanted to extend their goods yard. With the permission of the sultan of Selangor, a small attap temple was built in Jalan Bandar here (now known as Jalan Tun H.S. Lee).
The sultan decreed that the temple land was to become a “land for the Indian community”.
“In 1888, Thamboosamy and his friend, Kanthapa Thevar, discovered a perfect place in Batu Caves and prayed to Lord Muruga for the first time by placing a vel (spear) as a deity at a spot 122 metres above the ground.
“The following year, Thaipusam festival in the Tamil month of Thai, which falls between late January and early February, was celebrated for the first time and it became an annual affair in Batu Caves.”
Nadarajah said the temple community faced a challenge in 1916 when British Collector of Land Revenue, A.W. Just, gave instructions to remove the vel and ordered Hindus to stop praying at the cave.
“Temple president K.T. Subramaniam, together with vice-president M. Cumarasamy and committee members Sivaraju Pillai, Subramaniam Pillai and Uthirabadi, filed a court case on Dec 11, 1916, against Just for destroying the temple and stopping Hindus from worshipping in Batu Caves.”
They won the case and on Jan 14, 1917, the British government ordered Selangor Resident Secretary O.F. Stonor to allow the Hindus to continue worshipping and installing the vel that had been removed earlier.
“Stonor expressed dissatisfaction over the inappropriate action taken by Just and demanded a written explanation from him for the removal of 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, as well as tourists, would gather for Thaipusam annually and many men, women and children would bring milk, coconuts and kavadis to the temple.
“He said the rugged and 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 and the state engineer should be consulted before any work proceeded.”
Pointing to a picture of the Batu Caves temple stairs in his office, Nadarajah said the first structure was built in 1929 using wood.
“In the 1930s, the stairs began to show signs of wear and tear, and then temple chairman Ramachandran Naidu proposed to build two flights of concrete stairs to the upper caves.
“The proposal was forwarded to Sorobgom in 1939. The work was completed in 1940, just in time for the Thaipusam celebration that year,” he said.
In 1952, lights were installed at the stairs. The whole of Batu Caves temple was lighted up in 1967 after the temple got a contribution of RM52,000 from Vaikasi Visaka Ubayakaras, a Hindu organisation.
Nadarajah said in the same year, the Panguni Uthirabadi Ubayakaras, another Hindu organisation led by A. Suppiah, sponsored the installation of water pipes. After the nation’s independence, the number of devotees and tourists increased significantly and, in 1975, work was started to add a third flight of stairs.
“The Selangor government donated RM40,000 to initiate the project,” he said, adding that the foundation stone was laid by former menteri besar Datuk Harun Idris.
Nadarajah said the temple was also involved in education.
In 1946, after the Japanese Occupation, the residents around Batu Caves started to realise the importance of learning and established a Tamil School named S.K. India.
“The school name was later changed to SK Tamil Batu Caves. The school opened on Jan 23, 1946, in a shophouse at 7th Mile of Jalan Ipoh.
“The school shifted temporarily to an area nearby on Jan 1, 1951. Subsequently, a new building was built for the school by the Sri Maha Mariamman temple.”
Nadarajah said Batu Caves had been visited by the nation’s top leaders.
“In 1959, first prime minister of Malaysia Tuanku Abdul Rahman, accompanied by MIC president
V.T. Sambanthan, visited Batu Caves during Thaipusam.
“In 1971, second prime minister Tun Abdul Razak Hussein went to the temple for Thaipusam to recognise it as a national festival. And, in 1978, third prime minister Tun Hussein Onn dropped by.
“The Batu Caves area used to have massive quarrying activities. The temple management requested the local council to look into the matter.
“When Tun Hussein Onn visited in 1978, he advised us to take legal action against the quarry companies.
“Finally, Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu, who was newly appointed as the works minister at that time, ordered the quarrying activities to stop and relocated them to an alternative site in Sungai Long, Cheras, with the help of the state government.”
Nadarajah has been serving as the temple chairman since 1991.
This year, about 1.6 million devotees are expected to throng Batu Caves to celebrate Thaipusam.
Page 1 pic: Liroshan Loganadan, 5, and Jivaanesh Rajendran, 8, carrying kavadi in conjunction with Thaipusam in Batu Caves yesterday.