Huge bells that rival even those of Notre Dame tell of the temple’s glory while fearsome stone dragons and lions stand guard over the holy sanctuary and its devotees.
Although the temple along Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling is actually called Kong Hock Keong or the Kwangtung Hokkien Temple, few people refer to it as such. It is better known as Kuan Im Teng or Goddess of Mercy Temple among both devotees as well as Penangites of other faiths.
The land where the temple sits was a gift from the East India Company to the early Chinese settlers here. Originally dedicated to Ma Chor Po – a patron deity seafarers and an incarnation of Kuan Im, the temple also houses other deities including the Tua Pek Kong (God of Prosperity), Kshitagarbha Buddha, Hu Ye (Tiger God), Tai Suey (God of the Year) and Boddhisattva Wei Tuo.
During the 1800s, it was among the most magnificent Chinese structures in northern Malaya, boasting of both Cantonese and Hokkien elements in its construction.
On her three birthdays (devotees of the Goddess of Mercy celebrate the 19th day of the second, sixth and ninth months of the Chinese lunar calendar as it is believed that her birthdays fall on these dates), devotees from all over the region will converge here to mark the special occasion and also to seek her blessings.
During these days, Chinese opera troupes would be engaged to perform for the deities for several days. These are the best times for foreigners to visit and pay their respects at the temple but please practice restraint and courtesy when taking photographs. At any given time, Kuan Im’s birthdays draw in hundreds of people jostling to get inside the temple with their joss sticks and offerings so please be mindful of your belongings and do not push!
The temple is also busy during the Chinese New Year period when people come to pray for good luck and prosperity for the coming year.
Constructed in accordance to Feng Shui principles, the temple has three wells – one on the right side of the main shrine, another outside the temple and the third hidden under the main altar of the Goddess of Mercy. The water from the wells is believed to be able to cure illnesses.
During the Japanese Occupation, many lives were saved as people ran into the temple to seek shelter from the bombings. Miraculously, when the Japanese invaded Penang, many buildings were damaged but the Kuan Im Teng was spared from destruction.
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