The island of Penang has a well-known temple, Kek Lok Si Temple, dazzling for its size and beauty.
The temple is located just outside George Town, easily accessible by bus.
Its construction began in 1891, and it opened in 1905. However, the temple is still being expanded and embellished. It is one of the largest and most beautiful temple complex in Southeast Asia.
KEK LOK SI – A temple still active
“Kek Lok Si” is a center for Chinese culture and Buddha’s teaching. It is dedicated to MAHAYANA Buddhism, one of the main branches of Buddhism that teaches the way to reach nirvana.
Nirvana (dictionary definition): A state in which the mind, enlightened as to the illusory nature of the self, transcends all suffering and attains peace.
I will not dwell on the subject, because the concept of “Nirvana” is not very clear to me. 🤨
The easy part to understand is that you need six perfections to achieve “Nirvana”. Perfections of generosity, good conduct, patience, vigor and diligence, meditation, and wisdom.
The monks come here to learn how to reach those perfections.
The history of the temple “Kek Lok Si”
Its history dates back to the end of the 19th century. It all began with the arrival of a priest in Penang in 1885, the Venerable Beow Lean. He came to obtain donations for the renovation of a monastery in Ku-san, Foochow, China.
But rather than accede to his request, the administrators of “Kuan Yin Teng”, one of Penang’s oldest temples, decided to appoint him the new resident priest of this temple. Struck by the deep devotion of the Chinese of Penang to Buddhism, the venerable Beow Lean accepted the post.
Later he discovered that a hill in the nearby village of Air Itam had the “feng-sui”‘s right to build a Buddhist monastery. So he decided to construct the temple of “Kek Lok Si”. It would serve as a retreat center for Buddhists.
Visiting the temple
The temple is built on several levels. You can reach the top by stairs or by inclined elevators that connect the different floors. We chose to go up via the elevators to the top and to visit the temple by going down by the stairs.
The temple’s 2 main attractions
The Pagoda of Rama VI or Pagoda of the Ten Thousand Buddhas
Rama VI is the king of Thailand who laid the foundation stone of the pagoda.
This pagoda was completed in 1930. It has 7 floors and is 98 feet high. (30 meters). It was made using 3 types of architecture. A Chinese-style octagonal base, the floors are Thai in design, and the spiral dome comes from Burma.
A Statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy
It is the largest statue of Guanyin in the world, with 99 feet high (30.2 meters). However, its height was restricted to avoid its shadow falling on the Penang State Mosque. It was inaugurated in 2002.
The 200-foot (60.9-metre) high three-level pavilion that protects the statue will be built later. It consists of 16 bronze columns supporting the roof.
The Temple’s ornaments
There are statues representing the 12 signs of the zodiac of the Chinese horoscope…
… other small statues, some of which are quite surprising !…
… and colorful statues.
You can’t miss it! It is located at the entrance to the temple. The other name of the pond is the “liberation pond” because according to Buddhist tradition, by releasing turtles they can gain merits that count for reincarnation. It is even possible to buy plants (Water convolvulus) in the grocery stores next door to feed them. And they have their statues 😁
The goldfish pond
The rest of the tour in pictures
Life in the temple
Despite the fact that it is a highly touristic area, we may keep in mind that it is also a very active place of worship. The temple is an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists in Southeast Asia. They pray in front of statues and make offerings.
There is also a whole life organized around visitors. There are numerous souvenirs stands, often secular, all the way inside the prayer rooms. They even sell Disney products. It was not what I expected! Buying a plastic Mickey next to a pilgrim who prays and places offerings! But perhaps we can consider the purchase as a donation?
The maintenance of the temple is based on donations, and there are diverse ways to participate.
- The most common is to buy a tile, on which a monk inscribes your name with a brush and ink. They will use them during an upcoming renovation of one of the temple’s many roofs.
- You can also buy a tile with a blessing written to protect your home.
- Write a wish on a ribbon and hang it on the wish tree.
- Or simply make a donation.
We finally come to the end of our visit. Just before the exit, we pass through a garden decorated with a curious fountain. This garden is the place where the temple allows the homeless to come and give alms during the day.
Among the temples I visited in Malaysia, this one is one of the most beautiful and surprising. The mixture of diverse styles, all these flamboyant colors, the majesty of the statues, make it a unique and vibrant place. You could spend hours contemplating the details of each building, strolling through the gardens, and discovering plants and flowers. You feel cut off from the external world. There is also a stunning view of the surroundings from the top of the temple.
So many compelling reasons to come and admire “Kek Lok Si”!