American schoolboy turns heads

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KUALA LUMPUR: Among the devotees at Batu Caves, one "devotee" stood out from among the sea of humanity. Sixteen-year-old American schoolboy James Chandler Llewellyn turned heads twice -- first, when he carried the paal kodam or milk pot dressed in saffron shorts and a T-shirt, and second, when he sat down to have his head shaved.

Unlike other devotees, Llewellyn, who speaks fluent Tamil and Bahasa Melayu, did not have a vow to fulfil nor an atonement to make for a personal sin.

He carried the milk pot to deeply experience a sense of bonding with his Indian foster family in Malaysia and to be immersed in a culture that is unfamiliar to his native Winston-Salem in North Carolina, US.

"As I am participating in a culture-based programme, I want to deeply experience and embed myself in the different cultural elements of Malaysia, such as family lifestyle, faith, language and ethnic cuisine," says Llewellyn, currently studying at SMK La Salle PJ.

His foster parents guided him into a period of fasting since mid December. He went on a vegetarian diet and slept on the floor which is a requirement prior to carrying the milk pot or kavadi.

"I successfully accomplished this period of preparation for 48 days. The mental focus of choosing and maintaining a fast such as this was challenging, but my earlier fasts for Ramadan, Navarathiri and Kanda Shasti (a devotion to Lord Murugan) had effectively prepared me," says Llewellyn adding that getting his American parents to believe that he was actually going to shave his head bald was a greater challenge.

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