Hundreds of thousands of Hindus across Malaysia celebrated the annual Thaipusam festival on Wednesday, with many piercing their skin with hooks and skewers to show devotion to the deity Murugan.
Thaipusam marks the day when the goddess Parvathi gave her son Lord Murugan a powerful lance to fight demons. It is observed mainly in countries with a significant ethnic Tamil population, including Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore.
Most of Malaysia's roughly 31 million people are Muslim but it also has ethnic Chinese and around two million ethnic Indians, mostly descendants of labourers brought from India by former colonial ruler Britain.
Thousands of devotees thronged the Batu Caves on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur in the early hours Wednesday, walking barefoot up the 272 steps towards the site's limestone hilltop shrine.
Many carried prayer offerings known as "kavadi" and balanced milk pots on their heads with their hands as they ascended.
Some carried large platforms attached to a harness and decorated with images and idols of Hindu deities.
Others pierced their faces with tridents and rods or hung multiple hooks and chains from their skin in an act of penance.
The steps also take devotees past a statue of Lord Murugan standing 42.7 metres (141 feet) high -- the tallest figure of the deity in the world.
"I just recently got married so I just went up to say thanks to him (Lord Murugan)," Vijeyaletchumy Vimalan, a Thaipusam participant for 25 years, told AFP.
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