Penang enjoys a prominent status among other tourist destinations in Malaysia. Located on the Malay Peninsula’s northwestern side, Penang is Malaysia’s second smallest state, yet one of the most successful in terms of economy, tourism and preservation of national heritage. There are plenty of ancient landmarks and structures that make Penang truly special, and some of them are Kek Lok Si and other Penang temples.
Also known as the “Temple of Supreme Bliss”, Kek Lok Si is found on top of Ayer Itam hills, majestically overlooking the world below it. It is one of the most beautiful, frequently visited and historically significant temples in Penang. It was established by a devout Buddhist named Beow Lean more than a century ago as a retreat area for Buddhist monks and hoping to spread the teachings of Buddha among the island natives. It was constructed from 1891 to 1905 and Beow Lean became its first chief monk.
Upon its completion, the Manchu Emperor Kwang Xi was so impressed that he gave as gifts a tablet, important relics and 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Buddhist Satras. These priceless items still exist today and kept in the temple archives.
Attractions within the temple are the Liberation Pond (or Sacred Turtle Pond), the Four Heavenly Kings, several gardens, and the 7-storey high Pagoda of Rama VI, the tallest pagoda in Malaysia. This prominent structure was built in 1930 and employed Chinese, Thai and Burmese styles of architecture. It is widely referred to as “The Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas” or Wan Fo Pau Ta, for its collection of alabaster and bronze Buddha statues.
The pagoda is found at Kek Lok Si’s middle section; on the temple grounds are the Liberation Pond, souvenir shops, and snack areas for visitors; and on the hilltop are the Statue of Kuan Yin, gardens, and temples.
Other temples in Penang are the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple, Snake Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple and Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) Temple. Dharmikarama Burmese Temple is a typical Burmese place of worship with elephant figures guarding the entrance, a Boddhi tree and wishing pond. People flock to this temple in April for its colorful festivities and events.
Snake Temple, on the other hand, is a Buddhist Temple built in memory of Choo Sor Kong, a Buddhist priest who was believed to have healing powers. The temple’s name came from a local legend, which says a religious man who used to live where the temple now stands provided shelter to poisonous snakes. After the man died, the snakes remained in his house, which eventually became a place of worship.
Meanwhile, one of the oldest temples in Penang is the Sri Mariamman Temple. This ornate Hindu temple was built in 1883. Inside are colorful statues of Hindu deities, including the statue of Lord Subramaniam that is richly decorated with gold, silver, diamonds and emeralds.
Last on the list is Kuan Yin Temple or Goddess of Mercy Temple, a popular Taoist temple that is located on the old Pitt Street near the equally popular Kapitan Kling. Kuan Yin Temple, as well as Kek Lok Si and other Penang temples, has stood the test of time, and is in fact, considered by many as the oldest Penang temple having been built in the 1800s.