Kek Lok Si – the temple of boom

You’re not supposed to talk ill of the dead……..but I’m sure Buddha has broad shoulders.
In his name and honour Penang hosts one of the most unforgettable temple complexes in the world, Kek Lok Si. It is magnificent yet monstrous, awe inspiring but appalling. By turns it takes your breath away and then leaves you nauseous.
From a distance it is stunning. The largest Buddhist temple in the country is presided over by an immense figure, Kuan Yin, Goddess of Mercy. Standing a colossal 30 metres in height under a giant canopy, the bronze statue imoposes magisterial command over the area. imageIt is high atop a complex which in turn is built upon a hill. From miles around Kuan Yin dwarfs the physical world of mankind. Spiritually she has an even higher standing.
The statue forms one part of Kek Lok Si. Below, but no less imposing, is a seven story wonder called the Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas. It is so spectacular that it seems almost unreal.
The base is Chinese and octagonal, the middle tiers Thai and the golden crown Burmese. It too stands over temples and ornate gardens. It is a candy-land extravaganza of colour and shapes.
Kek Si Lok translates as the Temple Of Supreme Bliss and at times the pagoda and its surrounds look like an epic piece of confectionery. It is that striking.image
The originator and first abbot of the temple was the Venerable Beow Lean. Born in the mid 19th century he left his original occupation to devote his life to the teachings of Buddhism. The abbot was originally a businessman. He and his shrewd descendants have been employing these skills ever since. Today it is a growth industry. What Beow Lean started in the late 19th has become a sprawling complex, much of it built post 2000.
The Kuan Yin statue was only opened in 2002, a reconstructed replacement for a smaller version which was fire damaged. The completion of the Guan Tong Great Hall and the Aghast Hall are all recent. A new incline lift, an air conditioned box on rails, will take you serenely uphill to the   Goddess herself.
All around is renewal. New tiles for the dazzling roofs and painting of the temples.
Kek Lok Si has always been a place which knows which side its bread is buttered. The temple houses “The Big Five”, life size sculptures of its original key benefactors. Their wealthy contributions rewarded and immortalised. The complex is a cornerstone of the Chinese community, they are  unstinting  in their generosity.image
But here’s the rub. For a place that is so handsomely bestowed there are signs that it’s losing the plot. Walking to the temple from the foot of the hill takes you up through a seemingly endless trail of narrow walkways crammed full of hawker stalls selling tat. The temple elders may have no say in this. But in the centre of the complex, at the bottom of the incline ride, is a huge and monstrous gift shop. You can buy all manner of cheap, gaudy, rubbish here. And at the top of the incline……you guessed it, almost a replica gift shop dealing in much the same.
Posters inform you that  profits go to the temple but it seems like commercial overkill. The most grotesque sights are  stalls selling the same rubbish within temples.  Who the hell this side of creation could have thought to offer a battery powered cat with moving paws in the middle of a shrine. Disrespectful or dreadful greed?
And it continues in different forms. Outside the magnificent prayer hall where hundreds are devotedly going through their rituals are instructions on donor opportunities.image
Finally, there sat piously at a stall is a monk. His role seems to be to bless some of the religious artefacts bought by the faithful. A donation was involved. Next to him are roof tiles which you can sponsor, have inscribed with your name and have the monk bless.
It is endless and it is awful. This is not a place short of a shilling or two but the pursuit of growth and renewal seems to have overcome any sense of good taste, decency and piety.
At Chinese New Year Kek Lok Si  is lit by 10,000 lights. It is apparently staggering to behold. Even better news, you can sponsor a light bulb.

Categories: Malaysia, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Kek Lok Si – the temple of boom

  1. Bill Logan

    Thanks Arthur. Takes me back to my RAAF days at Butterworth. Have you been to the Snake Temple yet? Will be glad to see you return as I cannot win any money from David or Bruce.

    • Hi Bill. Glad it brought back good memories. I think the place has changed a bit over the years.
      Sorry about your golf bets. I find it’s cheaper to travel the world than play with those sharks!

  2. Roger

    Your story of Kek Lok Si reminds me of the walk to the Grotto at Lourdes – endless stalls of tacky plastic souvenirs. There is a need in all such sights to strip away the crass commercialism and view it for what it truly is. Continue to live the journey. See you in Croatia. I come bearing gifts!!!!

    • Yep, the God of commerce seems to rule. Shame as it overpowers what it’s selling.
      Enjoy your travels and I look forward to the pots of gold or whatever the gifts are.

  3. Judy

    Shopping and tat – you must have thought you’d died and gone to heaven!

  4. Arlene

    Another great blog, very informative, just back form a temple myself, this one had a cloth you could sign your name on – for a donation, which was then going to be wrapped around the temple.

  5. Satomi

    Well…growing up in Zen culture, I cannot believe those multi coloured candy like buildings represent same guy, Mr Buddha…never ever seen him sitting amongst fake sunflowers and colorful plastic shelves full of cxxp! Oh, and we have a few large goddesses of mecry in Japan, too, but they are usually standing in the middle of nowhere on mountain side with no canopy or pagoda, and they’re plain white…poor ladies. They’ll protest and stop looking after us if they find out the golden one here is so well looked after. Very interesting story. Thank you! Xx

    • Thank you very much. Yes, you’d be more of an expert than me. I’m sure the Japanese put the spiritual side a long way ahead of the commercial side. X

  6. B Bay Womyn

    Don’t be too down on that poor cat…it’s symbol of prosperity. I wonder where all that crap is made!…thank goodness China’s manufacturing sectors are starting to decline and so hopefully run out of crap.

    • Oh yes I get the cat as a symbol of prosperity, they are all over the place. But in a temple with t shirts and key rings etc etc.
      I’d like to think the manufacturers of cheap tat are about to run out……but I doubt it. Can’t blame them for making it, it’s about the authorities who decide how and where to sell it.

  7. Vaughan and Trish Rostron

    Certainly a visit that involved a host of mixed emotions, but none the less a great adjunct to your journey, I would think. I am sure that a battery powered cat plays an important role in the practice of Buddhism, otherwise it wouldn’t have been on sale there????

    • Thanks very much. yes it was certainly interesting. The cat is important but the vast majority of temples etc that I have been too have the decency to sell the things outside. Still it keeps the makers of batteries in business! Hope you are both really well.

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