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No Pain, No Gain for Hindu Devotees

No Pain, No Gain for Hindu Devotees

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

Saturday.

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

Kuala Lumpur.

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

rods.

"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

everything."

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

explanation.

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

sticks.

"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

it."

"There is just a little pain at the beginning and then it's all right,"he

said.

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