The Kek Lok Si Temple (Chinese: 極樂寺) is a Buddhist temple within the city of George Town in the Malaysian state of Penang. Located at Ayer Itam, it is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. The entire complex of temples was built over a period from 1890 to 1930, an inspirational initiative of Beow Lean, the abbot. The main draw in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of the late Thai king Rama VI, which structure is known as the pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 36.57-metre-tall (120 ft) bronze statue of Guanyin (Kuan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy. The 10.000 Buddhas concept belongs to the Chinese Mahāyāna school of Buddhism while Rama VI was ki...Read more

The Kek Lok Si Temple (Chinese: 極樂寺) is a Buddhist temple within the city of George Town in the Malaysian state of Penang. Located at Ayer Itam, it is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists from Hong Kong, the Philippines, Singapore and other parts of Southeast Asia. The entire complex of temples was built over a period from 1890 to 1930, an inspirational initiative of Beow Lean, the abbot. The main draw in the complex is the striking seven-storey Pagoda of the late Thai king Rama VI, which structure is known as the pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas with 10,000 alabaster and bronze statues of Buddha, and the 36.57-metre-tall (120 ft) bronze statue of Guanyin (Kuan Yin), the Goddess of Mercy. The 10.000 Buddhas concept belongs to the Chinese Mahāyāna school of Buddhism while Rama VI was king over a Theravāda country and Buddhist tradition.

Mahayana Buddhism, Theravada Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals blend into a harmonious whole, both in the temple architecture and artwork as well as in the daily activities of worshippers.

The construction of the temple began in 1890[1] and was completed in 1905. It was inspired by Beow Lean, the chief Chan Buddhist monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple at Pitt Street in 1887; he had served earlier in the Kushan Abbey in Fujian in China. The site chosen by Beow, a spiritual location in the hills of Ayer Itam, facing the sea, was named "Crane Mountain". It was established as a branch of the Buddhist Vatican in Drum Mountain in Fuzhou, Fujian Province. Beow Lean was the first abbot of the temple. The buildings of the temple complex were sponsored by five leading Chinese business people of Penang known as "Hakka tycoons": Cheong Fatt Tze, his cousin Chang Yu Nan, Cheah Choon Seng, Tye Kee Yoon, and Chung Keng Kooi. Collection of funds for building the temple was also facilitated by dedicating the structures and artefacts in the name of the temple's benefactors.[2][3][4][5] The main hall, which was completed first, housed a shrine to Guanyin, in a recessed area where many other female goddesses called the Queen of Heaven, the Goddess of the Earth, and Goddess of Childbirth are housed; which is said to represent, on a miniature scale, the island of Potalaka (as Mount Putuo), where there is a large shrine dedicated to Guanyin in the China Sea. People compared this shrine to the Amitabha Buddha's Western Paradise and started calling it the "Kek Lok Si" (Jile Si in Mandarin). There are also many other shrine chambers, which have stately statues, all gilded, of the Buddhas, bodhisattvas, saintly lohans, guardian spirits, and Heavenly (or Diamond) Kings of Pure Land Buddhism.[6]

The consular representative of China in Penang reported the grandeur of the temple to the Qing imperial government. Following this, the Guangxu Emperor invited Beow Lean to Beijing in 1904 and bestowed on him 70,000 volumes (or 7,000, according to other sources) of the "psalms and other sacred works of Buddhism" and also presented him edicts anointing him the "dignity of the Chief Priest of Penang" and also declaring "the Chinese temple at Air Itam as the head of all Chinese temples in Penang".[2][3] On the abbot's return to Penang, a royal procession, carrying the edict in a rattan chair and the scriptures in pony-driven carts, was organised leading to the temple complex. Prominent Chinese dignitaries of Penang in their royal mandarin attire accompanied the abbot in the procession.[3]

 Kek Lok Si pagoda tiers labelled with their architectural styles

In 1930, the seven-storey main pagoda of the temple, the "Ban Po Thar" (萬佛塔, "Pagoda of the Ten Thousand Buddhas"), a 30-metre-high (98 ft) structure, was completed. This pagoda combines a Chinese octagonal base with a middle tier of Thai design, and a Burmese crown (spiral dome); reflecting the temple's amalgam of both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism.[1][7] It represents syncretism of the ethnic and religious diversity in the country. There is a large statue of Buddha donated by King Bhumibol of Thailand deified here.[1][7] King Rama VI of Thailand laid the foundation for the pagoda, so it is also named "Rama Pagoda".[8]

 Statue of Guanyin, inaugurated in 2002 before the pavilion was built

In 2002, a 30.2-metre (99 ft) bronze statue of Guanyin, the Goddess of Mercy, was completed and opened to the public. It replaced the previous white plaster Kuan Yin statue which was damaged due to a fire a few years earlier. The bronze statue is located on the hillside above the pagoda. The statue is complemented with a 60.9 metres (200 ft) three-tiered roof pavilion (with 16 columns made of bronze supporting the pavilion),[1] which was completed in 2009.[9] It was the tallest Guanyin statue in the world.[10] One hundred statues of the goddess Kuan Yin, each of 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) height, are set around the main statue of the goddess. However, its height was restricted to avoid its shadow falling on the Penang State Mosque.[11] This shrine also has other 10,000 statues of Buddha, apart from a statue of 12 Zodiac Animal Signs of the Chinese Calendar.[1]

The temple complex has a large hydraulically operated bell, which tolls with a high pitch at frequent intervals. Wood and stone carvings are profusely seen in the temple. In front of each deity there is a cushion, impressive scrolls, and candles set in very attractive suspended lamps, and with a large number of priests in attendance.[3]

In October 2021, about 70% of one of the temple buildings was destroyed by the fire, with flames measuring about 12m by 15m. The Fire and Rescue Department (BOMBA) were alerted about the incident at 2:56am on a Tuesday morning. The cause of the fire is still being investigated by authorities.[12]

^ a b c d e Harper 2006, p. 189. ^ a b Khoo 2007, p. 37. ^ a b c d DeBernardi 2009, p. 33. ^ Cheah 2013, p. 205. ^ Tourism Malaysia ^ DeBernardi 2009, p. 32–33. ^ a b Davidson & Gitlitz 2002, p. 314. ^ Neo 2014, p. 41. ^ White, Emmons & Eveland 2011, p. 554. ^ The Star 2014. ^ Khoo 2006, p. 227. ^ ROSLI, SYAJARATULHUDA MOHD (12 October 2021). "Kuil di Kek Lok Si terbakar". Sinarharian (in Malay). Retrieved 12 October 2021.
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