BATU CAVES, Malaysia (AP) - Strings running from the fish hooks digging into Selvakumar's
back pulled a small chariot carrying a holy statue. Each time its wheels hit a rock
or fell into a hole, the hooks pulled at his flesh.
But Selvakumar, 26, a business administration graduate, said he felt no pain because
of his faith.
Thousands of other Hindus pierced themselves with steel rods and needles in a bizarre
religious ritual of thanks giving and atonement at the annual Thaipusam festival
Hundreds of thousands, including gawking tourists as well as believers, jammed the
limestone caves at this tiny hillside village about 12 kilometers (seven miles) from
A. Nada Rajah, the president of lord Subramaniam temple in one of the caves, said
the crowd totaled 800,000.
The devout bathe in a river about half a kilometer (a third of a mile) away, pierce
themselves on the banks, then walk to the foot of the hills. They begin the long
climb up the 275 concrete steps to the temple, where they remove their hooks and
"It is faith. There is no other explanation," said the temple's chief priest
Krishna Vadyar. "White men will not believe it as they want an explanation for
Western medical teams have often visited the festival in search of an answer to the
mysteries of why so little bleeding accompanies the self-mutilation.
They examined burnt ashes, cow dung, fresh milk and lime juice smeared at the points
as possibly preventing bleeding, pain and infection, but they have so far found no
Selva Appalasmy, another festival participant, took out a two-foot steel rod about
a quarter-inch in diameter poked through his cheeks and mouth, and hundreds of tiny
fish hooks from all over his body.
This is the 10th year he has taken part in the festival to give thanks for the good
life god has given him and his family, he said.
An ascetic diet of one meal a day of fruit and milk for two weeks and lots of meditation
"give me the strength to go through this," he added.
Climbing the steps to the temple, he fell into a trance, as his family and friends
chanted over and over in time to the regular rhythm of bongo-like drums beaten with
"I don't know why they feel no pain after piercing themselves through one cheek,
through the mouth and out of the other cheek," said Shawn Steil, a bewildered
tourist from Calgary, Canada.
John Lomax from London was more adventurous and tried it "just for the fun of
"There is just a little pain at the beginning and then it's all right,"he