Kek Lok Si Temple in Penang
Standing on a hilltop at Air Itam, near Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. The complex is divided into three zones while the temple grounds comprise the hill entrance, souvenir, food and drinks stalls and the turtle liberation pond. The mid section of the temple houses temples, gardens, the pagoda and the four heavenly kings pavilion; meanwhile the hilltop plays host to an enormous statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin as well as more gardens and temples.
Comprising a series of monasteries, prayer halls, temples and beautifully-landscaped gardens, this national icon was built in 1890 by Beow Lean, a devout immigrant Chinese Buddhist. The ten-acre site was purchased in 1893 and the initial temple structure was built on the summit of He Shan. 20 years later, the two-decade long additional construction of this sprawling house of worship is largely funded by donations from the Penang Straits Chinese community.
The complex is a cornerstone of the Malaysian Chinese community. Also known as the ‘Temple of Supreme Bliss’, it features a maze of souvenir kiosks as well as a turtle and fish pond. The turtle pond – known as The Liberation Pond – was built because according to Chinese tradition, turtles symbolize longevity, strength and endurance and the act of capturing and freeing a turtle is a symbol of spiritual liberation.
Kek Lok Si is both carved into the rock face as well as perched atop the slopes of Air Itam. The main attraction here is the impressive pagoda of Rama VI and at the centre of the complex, the seven-storey, 30-metre high tower is acknowledged as the ‘face’ of Kek Lok Si. Topped with a Burmese crown, Ban Po Thar – the Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda – displays a collection of alabaster and bronze Buddhas and has a Chinese octagonal base while its middle tiers are of Thai design. Meanwhile sited in the Hall of the Devas, are statues of the Four Heavenly Kings – each of the Kings allegedly controls one of the four points of the compasses – Kwang Mu (Guardian of the West), Tou Wen (Guardian of the North), Ch'i Kuo (Guardian of the East) and lastly Tseg Chang (Guardian of the South).
Additionally, there’s a three-storey shrine with a large Buddha icon that was donated by King Bhumibol of Thailand – you can find several temples here as well as shops and a vegetarian restaurant. At the highest level there is a 36.5 metre-high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy; in the future 16 ornately decorated bronze columns supporting a roof over the statue, as well 1000 two-metre high statues of the goddess are planned to be built.
At the apex are a couple more temples, a fish pond, sprawling gardens and 12 animal statues that represent the Chinese zodiac. Kek Lok Si temple houses tablets and imperial Buddhist sutras gifted by Manchu Emperor Kwang Xi and Empress Cixi of the Ching Dynasty; these historic relics are kept in the temple archives. The impressive complex is usually crowded with visitors and is located approximately three kilometres from Penang Hill.
Penang Kek Lok Si
- Location: Air Itam, Georgetown
- Tel: +604 828 3317
- Price Range: Entrance: Pagoda - RM2; Incline lift - RM2