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Penang temples

Tow Boo Kong in Butterworth & Cheng Kon Sze Penang


The Tow Boo Kong temple at the beginning of the eveningI have visited many temples in Malaysia but I think the Penang temples belong to some of the best and most extensive in the country. Everyone visits the Kek Lok Si temple in the hills at Ayer Itam. But Penang has so many more temples. Too many to name them all in one page.

I was lucky to be quests of friends living (at the time) on mainland Penang

They introduced me into the festivities of the Nine Emperor Gods festival and it's center was the Tow Boo Kong temple in Butterworth.

The Tow Boo Kong is a relatively new temple, only finished in 2000.

Inside are three levels, the first part dedicated to the Nine Emperor Gods, the second was the inner sanctuary and the last part, after a courtyard was dedicated to the mother of the Nine Emperor Gods.

It is a Taoist temple. I was immediately impressed with the artwork. For example, the pillars at the entrance were made of one solid stone slob and beautifully carved out. Inside the temple there were many examples of fine stone and wood carvings. It was clear this temple was made with love.

We met a lady, Mrs. Girlie, who turned out to be the Lor Chu for this year. A Lor Chu is a person who takes care of the most sacred thing in the temple: the Holy Urn.

Artwork in and around the temple
Temples in Penang: Artwork in and around the Tow Boo Kong temple

This Urn is taken home by the Lor Chu during the whole year but during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival it is inside the Inner Sanctuary, a place that is only assessable for the Lor Chu and his/her helpers.

Mrs. Girlie invited us to visit the Nine Emperor Gods festival. In nine days we would see various expressions of faith and, as she promised us, some examples which would be hard to believe if not seen yourself. I was intrigued.

Hooks in the flesh of the back of the medium
Hooks in the flesh of the back of the medium during the Nine Emperor Gods Festival

I couldn't be there the first two days when the gods were collected from the Butterworth beach. During the next days I saw a spear ceremony where nine mediums would go in trance and get a spear skewered through their cheek. One of them had a set of hooks set in the flesh of his back. No blood was spoiled, but how this could be, I can't tell. The mediums would then go on the main road, and one went even into spinning.

On the 7th day we witnessed a firewalk. Many devotees went barefoot over a path of steaming coal. How people can do these things without getting burned feet, or, in the case of the spear, the mouth is not severely wounded, I can't tell. Mrs. Girlie told me it was all about faith and I guess she's right.

Cheng Kon Sze

On a Sunday, we went to another Nine Emperor Gods Temple, the Cheng Kon Sze, one of the many temples in Penang, is located further up the hill of the Kek Lok Si. This temple turned out to be very different. Was the Butterworth temple full of beautiful art, new and clean, the Cheng Kon Sze is old, dusty and very atmospheric. It is dedicated to the same gods as the Tow Boo Kong. At day time there were no special activities apart of devotees praying and offering to the Nine Emperor Gods.

The two temples of Taoism were some of the best and most beautiful, both in very different ways I had ever visited. When cycling back to my home in Sitiawan, after nine days of festival, I was still digesting what I had seen, what was according to western standards not possible but nevertheless happened. I will be back next year to experience more of the Nine Emperor Gods Festival.

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