Sacred space for the gods 212-year-old temple retains charm

By CAVINA LIM | Aug 17, 2012

Sacred space for the gods 212-year-old temple retains charm

WITH a pair of granite lions greeting visitors and devotees, the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Penang, remains a popular landmark.

Popularly known as Kuan Yin Teng among devotees, the temple was established in 1800, making it one of the oldest Chinese temples in Penang.

Kong Hock Keong board of trustees vice-chairman Datuk Seri Khoo Keat Siew said the temple was established because early Chinese settlers from the Fujian and Kwangtung provinces in China needed a religious and community centre.

“The Chinese immigrants came to this island to seek a better life because they were experiencing hardship and poverty in China.

“The East India Company gave a plot to the Chinese settlers, and they built the temple on the land,” he said.

He said the early pioneers who landed in Penang in the 18th century erected a shrine in honour of the goddess Ma Chor Po, who was the main deity of the temple before goddess Kuan Yin, on an elevated site located close to China Street, looking towards the sea.

“Ma Chor Po was their patron saint who had protected them on their hazardous journey to the island.

“It is believed that the goddess Kuan Yin replaced Ma Chor Po as the main deity, probably in 1824 when there were resident Buddhist priests in the temple. There were also fewer immigrants to the island then,” he said.

The Goddess of Mercy Temple was originally named Kong Hock Keong and is still known as the Kong Hock Keong Temple among locals.

Temple executive secretary Toh Kim Kang said the 212-year-old temple now housed many statues of other deities alongside the premier goddess Kuan Yin, including Tua Pek Kong (God of Prosperity), Tai Suey (Grand Deity) and Boddhisattva Wei Tuo.

French tourists Adeline George and Brice Richard, both 28, described the temple as “authentic and full of heritage”.

The Goddess of Mercy Temple will be one of the sites that will be passed by non-competition Starwalkers in the original 6km route of Penang Starwalk apart from traditional landmarks such as Fort Cornwallis, St George’s Church, Kapitan Keling Mosque and Sri Mahamariamman Temple.