An estimated 100,000 ethnic Indian Hindus watched as a helicopter showered flowers over the gold-painted, 42.7-metre statue late on Sunday at the foot of a hill outcrop that houses the Batu Caves, just outside Kuala Lumpur.

Samy Vellu, the works minister and Malaysia's highest-ranking ethnic Indian politician, conducted the official unveiling of the statue at the base of a 272-step stairway leading to the Sri Subamaniar Swamy Temple, located inside one of the hill's sprawling caverns.

Indian Hindus, who make up about 7% of Malaysia's 26 million people, regard Lord Muruga as a manifestation of valour, beauty, youthfulness, vitality, masculinity and happiness.

R Nadarajah, the temple chairman, said: "This is the tallest statue of a Hindu deity in Malaysia. 

"It's also the tallest Lord Muruga statue in the world. We are trying to get it reported in the Guinness Book of World Records."

Nadarajah said 15 sculptors from India and 15 other general workers took more than three years to build the statue at a cost of more than US$550,000.

"All in all, 1,550 cubic metres of concrete, 350 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of paint were used," he said.

The unveiling came two weeks before the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam, when up to a million people visit the temple to pay homage to Lord Muruga and make penitence.

Devotees pierce the skin on their backs and chests with scores of hooks, or drive skewers through their cheeks and tongues before climbing to the temple.

Malaysia's majority, about 60% of the population, comprises ethnic Malay Muslims.

There is also a large ethnic Chinese minority who are mainly Buddhists and Christians.