On a day when I had few obligations at the Baptist World Alliance meeting, I took a break from business and joined a small tour to see some of the notable sights on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. The pewter factory and batik painters were interesting, but two other sights were more inspiring.
North of Kuala Lumpur, the Batu Caves are a complex of underground chambers entered from the side of a small mountain. Surprisingly, they weren’t discovered — or at least widely known — until 120 years ago, when American naturalist William Hornaday found them. The largest cave is a vast limestone cavern lit dimly from sinkholes high above.
The cave has such an ethereal, numinous quality that it was quickly adopted by the Hindus and turned into a temple complex. Today it is guarded by an assortment of souvenir shops, restaurants, flower stands, and a gargantuan golden statue of the Hindu Lord Murugan, who stands with his spear at the base of 272 steps leading up to the cavern.
Inside the “Temple Cave,” several small open-air temples, attended by bare-chested priests, offer solace to those who come in search of spiritual uplift, healing, or good fortune — and who provide a suitable offering of 5 ringgits or so (about $1.50 U.S.).
Comic relief is provided by a troop of macaque monkeys who pester visitors for food and bicker with each other over choice spots along the long stairway.
A bit further north is Templer Park, a preserved stretch of rainforest where 11 waterfalls cascade down the side of a green mountain — also populated by pesky macaques who will steal any food that’s not closely guarded. The freshness and abundance of flowing water make this park popular with Muslims, especially those whose religious heritage is from Saudi Arabia.
Couple after couple stroll by, the men in jeans and T-shirts, the women clad head to toe in a black chadors or niqabs. Some of the pairs hold hands or pose for pictures in front of a particularly picturesque waterfall — occasionally one of the men will lean over to kiss his partner on the bridge of her nose — the only part of her face that shows. Children swim in pools built at the bottom of the falls — the girls always fully clothed.
I always find it interesting how nature brings out the sense of the supernatural, whether seen in the austere desert formations of the American Southwest, the azure waters of the Caribbean, or the caves of Malaysia, the beauty of this earth calls us to suspect there must be a creator behind it, and people of all religions sense it. In Malaysia, where Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians share one of the earth’s choicest corners, it seems particularly evident.
Any favorite places that inspire you to ponder transcendance? The comment line awaits!
[Note: I’ll be taking some vacation time during the next week, so blogs may be few or nonexistent. For those who are interested, further information about discussion sessions and closing business of the BWA meeting can be found at bwanet.org.]