Immerse yourself in the soothing Buddhist realm of Kek Lok Si temple in Penang, one of the most significant religious places to visit in Malaysia.
The largest Buddhist temple in south east Asia, Kek Lok Si’s architecture and artwork is a harmonious fusion of Mahayana Buddhism and Chinese influences and its exploration should be included in all tours in Penang.
Also known as the “Temple of Supreme Bliss” or “Temple of Sukhavati”, this Buddhist temple is located in Air Itam in Penang and is a popular place to visit for people looking for inspiration on what to do in Malaysia.
The initial temple began being built in 1890 on the 10 acre summit of He Shan and was completed in 1904 at a cost of $180,000 Straits Dollars. Inspired by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple, the project received support from the Chinese consular representative residing in Penang.
Subsequently news of the construction reached the ears of the Chinese Emperor Guangxu at the time (1875-1908, of the Qing Dynasty) who gifted a tablet and 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of the Buddhist Sutras. Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty also bestowed some hand-written scripts to the temple. These esteemed gifts helped to raise the profile and infamy of the temple.
Additional donations to help fund the project were received from important members of Penang society including Cheong Fatt Tze, Zhang Yunan, Cheah Choon Seng, Chung Keng Kwee and Tye Kee Yoon. It was with this support from local tycoons that the first phase of the temple construction and landscaped gardens was able to get underway.
The expansive temple features many bell towers and large halls used for prayer and assembly but the structure’s main acclaim is reserved for the stunning seven story main pagoda. Known as the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, it was not built until 1927 but is now of the most iconic sights of Penang. Its architectural elements incorporate a Chinese octagonal base, a Thai influenced middle tier and a crown of Burmese design.
Numerous statues of Buddha, Chinese gods and Bodhisattvas are also strategically placed around the site. Detailed woodwork and a plethora of brightly lit lanterns help to enhance the calming aura within the temple walls.
When fire damaged the white plaster Kuan Yin statue (The Goddess of Mercy – a popular deity in Penang), it was replaced by a more impressive 30.2 metre bronze statue on the hillside which opened for public viewing in 2002. This can be accessed by an inclined lift which carries passengers up the hill.
Generous donations from the Chinese community have enabled the temple to continuously expand with the construction of new buildings. This includes a majestic shelter for the Kuan Yin statue with an ornate design that features 16 dragon carved pillars.
The founder and first Abbott of Kek Lok Si temple was Beow Lean. He was born into a devout Buddhist family in 1844 but when he was 33, he left his job as a businessman to devote his life to the teachings of Buddhism. In 1885, he made Penang his home and put the wheels in motion for the construction of the temple.
During Chinese New Year, Keh Lok Si Temple marks celebrations by being lit with more than 10,000 lights, an auspicious time to holiday in Malaysia.
Adopting an ethical attitude when you travel to Penang and the rest of Malaysia is growing more important as the need to preserve and protect the nation’s heritage and religious treasures grows.
Visitors are reminded to be respectful of local people and pilgrims praying at Kek Lok Si temple, dress appropriately and to help protect the surrounding gardens by leaving them in the same condition as when you arrive.