Our time remaining in Penang is under a week so one of my “must-sees” was the Kek Lok Si Temple, that teased us months back when we visited Penang Hill. Luckily, a visit from a friend gave me a partner to check out “yet another” temple, as James thought.
The temple’s name translates to “Temple of Supreme Bliss” and construction began in 1890. The hill was chosen for its good good feng-sui for a temple. It hosts a 99 foot (30.2 meter) bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. The statue is so large that we can see it from “our” coffee shop, about 6 miles away. It also has a seven story pagoda, that may be visited (but we missed).
Our taxi dropped us off at the main entry and we entered the temple sheltering three large golden Kuan Yin statues. Hundreds of smaller ones were set into the wall and the ceilings and upper walls were dotted with swastikas and beautiful paintings of the goddess and/or other deities. The large room was otherwise empty besides tables selling various souvenirs and a brightly colored tree of ribbons.
The colorful ribbons were “wishing ribbons”, each with their own phrase. Some were clearly more popular as the slots for “Family To Be Safe”, “Success In Everything”, and “Safety and Health” were empty. My friend purchased a ribbon for each of us and we copied a woman near us by writing a note before adding them to the large wishing tree.
Various stairs lead us through a small cement garden area with a Buddha statue surrounded by disciples then up another set to a beautiful garden area. (Once we had our photo taken with the random woman who asked, which happens occasionally, “cheese!”)
The gardens sat behind colorful walls lined with Buddhas. Greenery dotted the rest of the gardens with bursts of color from flowers. It was very peaceful and yet I kept an eye peeled for snakes (for some reason I am obsessed with them lately). So carefully, I left the inner garden to take in the lovely view of the surrounding area from this hilly temple.
While enjoyable, I was being called to my single focus of the tall Kuan Yin statue. She is accessible by a tiny hike or cable car. We opted for the 3RM ride up and were quickly deposited in another gift shop.
These gift shops are as plentiful as the Kuan Yin or Buddha statues and appeared throughout the temple grounds. While they felt a bit tacky, since EVERYWHERE, they were easy enough to ignore (especially since I’d been pre-warned on how copious they are).
The large statue was very impressive in person, with a very peaceful face to gaze upon. Tales about her are interesting. She is a Bodhisattva, having reached enlightenment but remaining here, in service to people of the world, in need of saving. In one of her forms with thousands of arms:
“she represents the omnipresent mother, looking in all directions simultaneously, sensing the afflictions of humanity and extending her many arms to alleviate them with infinite expressions of her mercy, while the thousand eyes help her see anyone who may be in need.”
The pillars of her shelter are adorned with dragons and other inscriptions. Some construction appeared to be in process as scaffolding decorated one section. There was no access to get a closer look of the goddess within her shelter, which was complete in 2009. It is a fitting home for the goddess to gaze out on the city below.
This level also had a small temple, with a multi-armed Kuan Yin statue (and gift shop). The doors to the temple were very pretty of metal and again decorated with a swastika sign. The pond outside also caught my attention as it swirled with the hungry koi being fed by a visitor.
We walked down to the main temple and then back to town. This route passes the “Liberation Pond” teeming with turtles in murky water. It is a common tradition to release turtles, fish, birds, etc to gain merit so there were no less than a hundred turtles in the pond of different sizes. Where it filled me with sympathy for these imprisoned turtles, they appeared to at least be well-fed.
Our tour of gift shops was finally over as we reached the bottom of the tunnel from the temple. Stalls with various items had dotted either side of the walkway.
The size of the Yuan Kin statues made it worth visiting to me and I loved being able to gaze at the green hills that surround the temple. Penang continue to delight in all of its greenery!
Other pictures from my visit –
- Free to visit, with plenty of opportunities to donate or buy knick-knacks.
- Hours: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Buses for Air Itam: #201, #203, #204. The 204, is around 2RM and will take a windy snail’s pace from Komtar there and back.
- We took a taxi from Gurney Plaza for 30RM, while expensive, much more direct and worth it for our taxi driver’s narration of local attractions.
- Temple website: http://kekloksitemple.com/