Kek Lok Si is a Buddhist temple in Penang which is one of the most famous temples on the island. It is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, as well as an important pilgrimage center for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries. This entire complex of temples was built between 1890 and 1930. The main attraction in the complex is the striking seven-story Rama VI Pagoda (Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda) with 10,000 alabaster and bronze Buddha statues and the 36.57-meter tall bronze statue of Kuan Yin.
When visiting Malaysia’s most popular cities, make sure to take the time to explore this outstanding landmark. Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals merge into a harmonious whole, both in temple architecture and artwork, as well as in the daily activities of worshipers. Literally, the name Kek Lok Si translates as “Heavenly Temple”, “Temple of the Pure Land”, “Temple of Supreme Bliss”, and “Temple of Paradise”.
History of Kek Lok Si
The construction of the temple began in 1890 and was completed in 1905. It was inspired by Beu Ling, head monk of the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy on Pitt Street in 1887. Beu chose a spiritual place overlooking the sea in the hills of Ayer Itam and became the first abbot of the temple. The construction of the temple complex was sponsored by five of Penang’s leading Chinese businessmen, known as the “Hakka tycoons”. The main hall, which was completed first, housed the shrine of Guanyin. There are statues of female goddesses — the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Earth and the Goddess of Fertility. People compared this shrine to Western Amitabha and started calling it “Kek Lok Si”. There are also many other temple chambers with majestic statues, including gilded Buddhas.
The Chinese consul in Penang reported the greatness of the temple to the Qing government. Thereafter, the Guangxu Emperor invited Beu Ling to Beijing in 1904 and bestowed upon him 70,000 volumes on “Psalms and other sacred works of Buddhism” and issued a decree appointing him “Chief Priest of Penang”. Upon the return of the abbot to Penang, a royal procession was organized to the temple complex. Eminent Chinese dignitaries of Penang, in their royal mandarin attire, accompanied the abbot in this procession. In 1930, the seven-story main pagoda of Kek Lok Si Temple, the Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda, was completed at a height of 30 meters. It combines a Chinese octagonal base with a Thai design and a Burmese spiral dome. Kek Lok Si represents a syncretism of ethnic and religious diversity in the country. There is a large Buddha statue here, given by King Bhumibol of Thailand. King Rama VI of Thailand laid the foundation for the pagoda.
In 2002, the 302-meter bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin was completed and opened to the public. It replaced a previous white plaster statue that had been damaged by a fire a few years earlier. The bronze statue is located on the hillside above the pagoda. The statue is complemented by a three-story roofed pavilion 60.9 meters high with 16 bronze columns, which was completed in 2009. This is the tallest statue of Guanyin in the world. One hundred statues of the goddess Kuan Yin, each 2 meters high, are installed around the main statue of the goddess. However, its height was limited to avoid the shadow falling on the state mosque of Penang. This temple also has a large hydraulic bell in the temple complex that rings at frequent intervals. The temple is richly represented by wood and stone carvings. Each deity has a cushion in front of it, impressive scrolls and candles set in very attractive pendant lights.
Festivals at the Temple
The temple is the site of festivals for the Chinese community in Penang. The Chinese New Year celebration is especially impressive. For 30 days after the Chinese New Year, the temple stays open late into the night as thousands of lights turn the landscape into a sea of light. During the days of the festival, the complex is decorated with thousands of lanterns representing donations from supporters of the religion. Another festive feature is the long marches led by hundreds of monks from Thailand once or twice a year. These festivals are one of the many reasons to visit Malaysia and have a great time.