Saturday, 6 January 2018

Kuan Yin Teng (Temple of the Goddess of Mercy)

It's been awhile since I've been here. Mom used to bring me here when I was a kid. When reminiscing back to my childhood days those many years ago, I wonder why my surroundings always appeared larger then they actually were. Perhaps it's because I was smaller.

The Kuan Yin Temple, situated on Pitt Street (now Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling) was constructed in the early 1800s by Chinese migrants, on land given by the East India Company.

The Goddess of Mercy Temple, also known colloquially as Kuan Yin Teng or Kong Hock Keong, is a Taoist temple in the city of George Town in Penang, Malaysia.  It was first built in 1728, making it Penang's oldest Taoist temple.

The original name and official name of the shrine is Kong Hock Keong Temple(廣福宮) which literally means 'The Temple for Cantonese and Hokkien', referring to the major ethnics of early Chinese settlers in Penang but as far as the name is concerned by most local folks in Penang, it is known as Kuan Im Teng,(觀音寺) which stands for the pavilion of Kuan Yin.

Ironically, when it first started, the temple built at a cost of $4,000 (Spanish dollars- to be exact 3803.44) was dedicated to chief deity, Ma-Cho-Po (Mazu) or Goddess of the Seafarers, widely worshiped by the Hokkiens. At the time, Penang Island was sparsely populated and the seafaring Hokkiens would choose a temple in honor of the goddess with unblocked sea view, at least in the early years.

However, following an influx of ethnic Chinese into George Town after the founding of the settlement in 1786, the temple was renovated in 1824, during which the primary deity of the temple transitioned into one dedicated to Guanyin.

More Chinese deities, including Guan Yu and Tua Pek Kong, were also added into the temple, better reflecting the more diverse Chinese community in George Town by that point.

As time goes by, decades influx of Chinese immigration since the founding of George Town by Captain Francis Light had resulted in several Chinese dialect groups successful in establishing themselves within the new settlement, including the Hokkienese and the Cantonese.

The temple also began playing an increasingly important and valuable role in resolving conflicts between these two groups.

However, the worsening feud situation between the various Chinese dialect groups in George Town, has escalated into the Penang Riots of 1867. Eventually this would lead to the establishment of the Penang Chinese Town Hall in 1881 to take over the temple's more secular function as a tribunal for Penang's Chinese community up until the mid-19th century.

Before and After Kuan Yin Temple Information Board.  A sight for sore eyes. Would somebody get rid of that or replace with a new one?

A unique street that unifies diverse cultures and faith, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling has been referred to as 'Street Of Harmony' in Georgetown, coincidentally due to presence of heritage houses for religious and cultural activities. The three heritage houses are St George's Church, Kuan-Yin-Teng (Goddess Of Mercy Temple ) Chinese Temple and Masjid Kapitan Keling. All these houses of worship are within a half kilometer stretch.

Today, the Goddess of Mercy Temple is dedicated to the Taoist Goddess of Mercy, Guanyin.  

The temple is at its busiest during temple day, the first and fifteenth of every lunar month, and on the Goddess of Mercy's feast days, which are on the 19th day of the 2nd, 6th and 9th month of the lunar calendar as many people came to pray for their health and wealth.

These feast days marking her birthday, anniversary of her initiation and attaining Nirvana. It is common that puppet shows and Chinese operas, sponsored by private benefactors in her honor are staged on the granite paved forecourt.

Reflect back to the subject of main deity, are they referring to the same person/goddess? I don't know?.. or an incarnation of Goddess Quan Yin herself.When analysing the relationship between Guanyin and Mazu both bore a striking similarity to another. Mazu is also known as Tian Hou, the Queen of Heaven and like Guanyin is worshipped as a beneficent and compassionate goddess who saves devotees from misery and peril, particularly from the dangers of the sea. 

Also like Guanyin, Mazu is regarded as a patron and protector of mothers and children.  Mazu's assistants (千里眼 and 順風耳) are usually depicted as fierce looking generals while Guan Yin also has two young assistants. 

Guan Yin (traditional Chinese: 觀音) also spelt Guan Yim, Kuan Yim, Kwan Im, or Kuan Yin, is a short form for Kuan-shi Yin, meaning  "The one who hears the prayers (or cries) of the world's suffering."

In Chinese Buddhism, Guan Yin is synonymous with the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, the pinnacle of mercy, compassion, kindness and love.

It is said that Guanyin is believed by Buddhists to be neither male nor female for a bodhisattva transcends gender distinctions and may appear on earth in either male or female form to help others.

Guanyin occupies a prominent place in East Asian Religions, being honored in both Buddhist and Taoist temples. She is often referred to as the Goddess of Mercy. Frequently depicted as a young barefoot maiden with long dark hair and flowing white robes(white is symbol of purity), wearing necklaces of Indian/Chinese royalty.

In the right hand is a water jar (as the Sacred Vase the water jar also one of the Eight Buddhist Symbols of good Fortune) containing pure water, the divine nectar of life, compassion and wisdom, and in the left, a willow branch is used to heal people's illnesses or bring fulfillment to their requests.

The branch symbolizes being able to bend (or adapt) but not break in the process.

 She is occasionally flanked by her two acolytes, Long Nü and Shan Tsai, who came to her when she was meditating at Mount Putuo.

Mazu,  媽祖 also known by several other names and titles, is a Chinese sea goddess. Her other popular titles are Holy Mother Empress of the Heavens above, Heavenly Imperial Concubine, Lady Mazu, Heavenly Princess consort and Heavenly Holy Mother.

Mazu is usually depicted together with two guardian generals.At the Tua Pek Kong Temple in Pasir Panjang Sitiawan, Perak is a very serene place which is overlooking the sea. Upon arriving you will see many giant statues of God and Goddess in front of the entrance. You can find Guan Yin and her two acolytes, Long Nü and Shan Tsai in the same rows with Mazu.

The Chinese goddess Mazu originated with the deification  form of a young girl named Lin Mo Niang. A kind-hearted girl who had performed numerous miracles during her short life with a vast knowledge of Chinese medicine, she was known as a healer, curing the sick while teaching people how to prevent illness and injury.

Her surname is Lin(林) and her name is Mo(默) and is also known as Lin Mo Niang (林默娘). Since the day she was born, she never cried and never creates trouble, thus she was given the name with the meaning "Silent Maiden" - Mo Niang (默娘).

She was thought to roam the seas, protecting her believers through miraculous interventions. Many of the miracles Mazu performed involved quelling the storms at sea, it's no wonder she's is known as the protector of all seafaring people.

Mazu is usually portray together with two guardian generals known as Qian Li Yan (千里眼) - "Eyes that see thousand miles" and  Shun Feng Er (順风耳) . Originally evil spirits, they were brought to heel by Mazu and enlisted the two fearsome-looking demons as her assistants.

Her worshiped spread throughout China's coastal regions and with emigration, the overseas Chinese communities further spread to Taiwan, Vietnam, Ryukyu, Japan, and South East Asia; from the Straits of Malacca to Cape Town and the Caribbean islands.

The newly arrived immigrants who had traveled great distances, crossing the seas built a temple in her honor just like Kuan Yin Teng is Penang, to give thanks for arriving safely.

 It becomes the focal point for Chinese festivities such as the annual feast days for Guanyin and the Jade Emperor's Birthday(拜天公, bài Tiān Gōng, literally "heaven worship") which attracting devotees from all across Southeast Asia.

The architecture is of a typical Chinese temple one would find in Asia.  Southern Chinese architectural influences can be seen on the roof, which is adorned with various figurines. In front of the temple is a large  cobbled square courtyard where it is guarded by two stone lions and a few enormous joss stick burners urn.

Granite slabs from the 218-year-old Goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin) Temple's forecourt.It is hard not to be overcome by a sense of deep nostalgia. The temple is hundreds of years old.

Chinese guardian lions, known as Shishi (Chinese: 石獅; pinyin: shíshī; literally "stone lion") or Imperial guardian lion  can often be seen in front of the gates of traditional buildings. 

The male lion is on the left with his right paw resting on a ball, and the female on the right with her left paw fondling a cub. As the lion is considered or said to be as king of the jungle or king of the animal world,  its image therefore represents power and prestige. The male's right paw is resting on a woven ball that symbolizes the Earth and unity of the Chinese Empire, and the female has a cub beneath her paw, symbolizing nurturing and protecting the inhabitants of the building.

The stone lions were also used to indicate the ranks of officials by the number of lumps representing the curly hair on the head of the lion. The houses of first grade officials had lions with 13 lumps and the number of lumps decreased by one as the rank of the official went down each grade. Officials below the seventh grade were not allowed to have stone lions in front of their houses.

It is interesting to note that China had no lions originally. It is believed that when Emperor Zhang of the Eastern Han reigned in AD 87, the King of Parthia presented a lion to him.

It is one of the unforgettable childhood moments, finding a flock of pigeons in front of the temple courtyard for food where tourists feed them during the day.

Without them is like if you ordered the Char Kway Teow without cockles. For me, I do not like to eat the cockles themselves but will still request for it to be fried together with the Kway Teow for the taste but will pick them out once I get my plate.

Same situation here. Even I don't like the pigeons very much but without them the beautiful scenery is just missing something. Is like the Trafalgar Square situation where the site is now remain free of pigeons. Trafalgar Square's world famous pigeons was a classic sight for decades.

Pigeons are always flocking the area. Reminiscent of Trafalgar Square in London.  Battle of Trafalgar Square's pigeons ends but not here.

You've seen the crazy pigeons in Kuan Yin Teng who wait until you start to make your move before flapping their wings hysterically in your face. Like the call of a bugle sounded these flock of pigeons compelled by his losses to pull back, regroup at the roofs, and wait for coast is clear before come down and continued pecking at feed.

Drum shaped door stone in front of a red entrance. 

Door stones – Dragon Stone drums (椒图抱鼓石)

Drums were originally placed outside of the magistrate’s court house. Over time, it became incorporated into the design of stone to provide supports for the timber entrance door. The spiraling pattern on Kong Hock Keong’s stone drum represents Jiaotu (椒图) one of the Chinese dragon’s nine sons which has a snail-like features and are believed to be good guardians.

The exquisite detail and craftsmanship 

I remember it well when I was small, the crowd continues to grow large, particularly  during one of the major festival days, that you can hardly move about inside the temple without being afraid of getting stabbed in the eye accidentally by burning joss sticks. 

The smoke emitting from the burning incense offered by devotees only serves to make the eyes of anyone inside the temple cause tears streaming down their faces. Perhaps this can makes the person  look a more sincere devotees and deeply in need of help from Guan Yin, therefore can help getting their pray to quickly get their prayers answered.

I was pleasantly surprised when I stepped inside the main hall,  I noticed the main altar hall elaborately had carved amazingly beautiful beam-and bracket roof support but most importantly it's breathable hall not affected by the smoke of lighting joss sticks or burning paper offering.

The temple underwent extensive renovations last year to give it a much-needed facelift. This was the fourth refurbishment works and the last time was in 1964.

It's in the Past Now. No more burning joss sticks are allowed inside the temple grounds - only outside the temple, at the courtyard.. The main prayer hall dedicated to Kuan Yin is also cleaner and less smoky now compared to years ago.

Devotees of the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling in George Town are advised not to bring lighted joss sticks, candles or joss papers into the temple to keep the premises smoke-free.

They have to be placed on the outside for health reasons or maybe to protect the lovely interior decoration from smoke black stain, however it takes away from the atmosphere since the refurbishment which used to exist inside the temple

 This is a good visual example of the effect of cigarette smoke and it's easy to imagine the effect of smoke on lungs,. That is not the case. Decade of heavy smoke billows from burnt offerings and incense resulted this to the big drum placing in main hall shrine.

In the past the temple need the big exhaust fan to pull away heavy smoke coming from burnt offerings and incense. Look at the roofing side wall, there are four big exhaust fan installed. Roadside stalls selling prayer paraphernalia beside the Goddess of Mercy Temple.

Visitors need to be aware when walking pass the pigeons huddling on telephone line. You never know when you will hit by a “bird bomb".

On the main altar of Kuan Yin Teng. The backrow are the figure of Guanyin flanked by her two acolytes. At forefront, with smaller figurine  of seated Mazu goddess together with her faithful generals Qian Li Yen and  Shun Feng Er.

It has come to my attention that Mazu deity also present in the main altar. I've come to the conclusion that only the name of temple was officially changed but many people assumed the Mazu deity removed right?

A close up look at Goddess of Mercy (Kuan Yin) image after failed attempt to steal diamonds.

An unfortunate incident happens unexpectedly on 29th July 2013. A 35-year-old man who allegedly tried to steal some 200-year-old diamonds from the Goddess of Mercy Temple in here was beaten up by several devotees who heard the glass panel shatter and quickly went to investigate. The police was informed and he was subsequently arrested.

What kind of people break into a temple to steal things. It's clearly they do not fear God and have no respect. Society has deteriorated to the lowest level.

I've Lost Faith In Humanity. Will a man rob God? Yet ye rob Me

Steeped in Chinese architecture, the Goddess of Mercy Temple features swallowtail roof (燕尾脊, literally "swallowtail ridge")typical of Chinese temples and has gigantic doors adorned with paintings of Menshen or door gods are divine guardians of doors, Taoist deities. 

Like two fearsome bodyguards guarding the door.  The Door-Gods (menshen 門神) are deities  doors and gates in Chinese folk religions, used to protect against evil influences or to encourage the entrance of positive ones.

One of the legend on Door Gods comes from a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) Wu Cheng-en, the emperor murdered many people on his rise to power. The emperor was unable to sleep peacefully,tormented by the guilt he begin to hear eerie disturbances of spirit outside his palace chamber at night. 

When his two generals Chin and Yu-Chih volunteered to stand guard outside his palace entrance, the strange sounds ceased and the emperor no longer felt disturbed. Worried that his general cannot keep awake every night during their long duration, he came up with a brilliant idea. He instructed picture of them to be hung on the door entrance and the replacement guardian worked as well the actual sentinels.

Dragon-entwined pillars support the high roof as well, which is decorated with more dragon figurines at its top ridges.

Colorful ceramic figurines in the pavilion scene decoration on the roof of Kuan Yin Teng

雙龍搶珠: A pair of dragons fighting over a pearl. The characteristic roofs complete with dragons made from multi-coated ceramic tiles. 

The exact origins of the ‘flaming pearl’ are unclear, but it is common in architecture art and ceramics all over Asia. From ancient times, dragons in Asia were associated with nature and particularly the weather. In the oldest depictions, the dragon is holding the sun — a red, flaming ball. As time passed, artists started to show the sun as white rather than red, which is actually more accurate if you’ve ever looked at the sun.

 Highly ornate, decorated with Wood Carving at the door of temple

You often see the dragon holding or chasing after a round object covered in flames.  The pearl itself has strong meaning in Asian folklore. Both Taoism and Buddhism use pearls as symbols of wisdom or enlightenment.
The ‘flaming pearl’ itself, however, is mysterious – some may interpret it as representing the sun (dragons were once believed to chase the sun), others interpretation say it is the moon, the North Star or thunder.

The temple was also built or designed according to Feng Shui principles.There are three wells within this square that makes up the Guan Yin Temple.
The most visible well is located near the big tree in the courtyard beside the Chinese Town Hall was designed for public use.

Another is in the forecourt that is now the management office of the temple (for the monks) and the third is right under Guan Yin’s main altar. Urban legend has it that the water from the hidden well has medicinal properties.

One of those well located outside the temple building near the gigantic old tree where one can see many old statues of deities. Now disused.

In the inner shrine hall, there are other Buddhist and Taoist deities being worshipped such as Guan Yu, Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva, to name a few. Further inside, Goddess Quan Yin sits in the centre, opening her eighteen hands to bless her devotees with peace and contentment.

In the yesteryear, China Street would form a straight line from the Kuan Yin Teng Temple, enabling an uninterrupted view of the sea from the temple. During its construction, the sea reaches Beach Street (Currently known as Lebuh Pantai), as the name suggests, it was once a coastal road, stretching along the eastern shoreline of George Town. At present day, the shoreline had been pushed further east due to the land reclamation in the late 19th century; Weld Quay has since become the new eastern coastal road in George Town.

Between the beach and the temple is China Street(Lebuh China), lined at that time with traditional Chinese shophouses. The street function as a funnel where all the goodness to flow inwards with the tides.

Where China Street meets the shore, a ghaut led downwards into the sea, allowing for free movement of goods to be easily unloaded from boats into bullock carts and goods being brought overland into the town.

The layout of China Street was considered as good Feng Shui by the Chinese community, and it certainly has helped to propel their prosperity. In the late 19th century, a massive land reclamation project established a new eastern seaboard at Pengkalan Weld (Weld Quay).

With the land reclamation, put an end to all that good vibes in the place.

China Street was extended out. However, the extension, called China Street Ghaut (Gat Lebuh China) was not a straight line from China Street. This change in landscape of China Street resulted the Kuan Yin Teng no longer enjoyed the panoramic sea view.

Information Board of Kong Hock Keong Temple provide visitors about their historical context.

Do you believe in miracles?! Yes!  'Hand of God', "Save the day".

No! We're not talking, of course, about the 'Hand of God', as Maradona dubbed the opening goal himself after punching an aerial ball past England ..

Many of folklore are folk tales, legends, myths and these stories were told by our late parents, grand parents and beloved uncles and aunts. When I was little, my mom used to tell me the legend of Kuan Yin Teng temple.

Long Long Time Ago. Looking at her early years, which were far from glamorous.The humble beginnings of Kuan Yin Teng's rise to greatness, beautiful, and famous. 

Touching Story of Test of Faith..

The Japanese Occupation of Penang was a period of Japanese military rule over the State of Penang between 17 December 1941 and 3 September 1945 in World War 2.

Japanese warplanes began the first air raids on Penang Island. Bombs were dropped on the city. During this time, many distressed souls of women and children feeling despair at threat of bombs had found refuge under this temple. The phenomena survivors probably retold the story many times about the bombs were planted to destroy the temple.

The pilot worked his bomb release mechanism with the intention of destroying but the bomb fell did not hit the target.

Not an inch of this temple was shaken, which itself feels like  the Merciful Goddess Kuan Yin’s divine intervention and the circumstances surrounding it remain a mystery.

The temple remained unscathed.  Indestructible temple defy Japanese aerials bombs under 'God's invisible hand'. Surely enough, whether by chance of otherwise, The Bomb did not explode.

Is This Story True? Pearl Harbor Pilot Couldn’t Bomb Hawaii Temple. Story of divine miracles protected the temple.

Mom used to riding her bike to temple. Back then there was not so much traffic 

 She learned this story from my grandmother who told her about the  a large number of Penangites took shelter in the Kuan Yin temple during the war. On 9 December, Japanese warplanes began the first air raids on Penang Island. Bombs that drop onto this temple during a bombing raid did NOT go off.
A gust of wind simply appeared from nowhere blew it away, in an instant carried them away and landed safely on the temple forecourt. I believed the goddess Quan Yin, who is often pictured with a willow branch,  waved away the bombs to avoid civilian casualties.

It is believed that Kuan Yin frequently appears in the sky or on the waves to save those who call upon her when in danger.

Too good to be true?

For those still having doubts, the temple again survived,come through threats, unscathed, time and again. Not only did it survive a bomb dropped by the Japanese invasion of the Second World War,but also other threats over the years, including the fire of 1846, the terrorist grenade attack on the Penang power sub-stations at Pitt Lane and the Chinese Town Hall next door to the temple, and the middle of the night blaze that destroyed the roadside stalls selling oil and joss paper.

So, till these days, the temple is popular not only to locals but also foreigners. Well, if you are in need of God's mercy, perhaps the time was right to visit and pray to Kuan Yin.

A video link of YouTube about Goddess of Mercy Temple (Kuan Yin Teng), George Town. Also a documentary on the fall of Penang during World War II, screened over the History Channel.( If you understand Hokkien, in one of the interview of the survivors mentioned about the temple miraculously survived bomb attack dropped by Japanese planes)

 I am not the owner of the videos. All credits goes to the rightful owner.

No comments:

Post a Comment