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Heritage On Fire: Kek Lok Si Temple Monks Of Iconic Temple Escape Midnight Blaze

Heritage On Fire: Kek Lok Si Temple Monks Of Iconic Temple Escape Midnight Blaze

The fire at Kek Lok Si was quickly put out, otherwise we would have lost a beloved Malaysian cultural icon.

Fernando Fong

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Fire is a significant hazard affecting cultural heritage assets around the world.

The latest victim is the famed Kek Lok Si Temple on Penang Island, ravaged by a fire at around 2 am on Tuesday (12 October).

The blaze is believed to be caused by oil lamps placed on wooden tables which caught fire.

The fire damaged about 70 per cent of a building which measured 40 x 50 square foot (12.91 x 15.24 meters).

The media quoted temple abbot Master RiHeng saying that he was awakened by the fire and tried to put it out with his staff.

The fire was quickly put under control. After the arrival of firefighters, they continued to put out the fire.

Abbot Master RiHeng

He added that the fire only affected one per cent of the whole area of Kek Lok Si, and the temple will remain open to the public.

Thankfully, no injuries or deaths were reported.

A National Icon 

Lanterns illuminating the Kek Lok Si Temple at dusk.

While its claim as the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia is disputed, Kek Lok Si is inarguably the most attractive Buddhist temple in Malaysia.

The spacious temple, perched on a hillside, provides stunning views of Georgetown.

Kek Lok Si holds the record in Malaysia for tallest temple pavilion, tallest granite pillar, and tallest statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy.

Kek Lok Si is an essential place of worship for both Taoist and Mahayana Buddhists. 

The fire destroyed about 70 percent of a building in the temple. (Joseph Ng / Facebook)

The temple becomes an impressive sight during Chinese New Year when thousands of lights and candles light up.

It exudes a serene atmosphere that is markedly different from the hustle and bustle of George Town.

If you can’t time your visit during Chinese New Year, try visiting the temple at sunset for an incredible photo opportunity.

For The Love Of Buddha

Volunteers helping to clean up the temple after the fire had been put out. (Joseph Ng / Facebook)

Driven by the need to build a shelter for Buddhists in Penang, the chief monk of the Pitt Street Goddess of Mercy temple proposed and helped raise funds for Kek Lok Si.

The foundation stone for Kek Lok Si was first laid in 1893. 

Leading Hakka Chinese millionaire provided financial support; Penang’s affluent merchant-trader Cheong Fatt Tze and Perak’s Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee contributed generously.

The temple opened in 1905 with 70,000 copies of the Buddhist Sutra from the Qing Dynasty’s Guangxu Emperor. 

10,000 Buddhas Pagoda 

The gigantic statue of Kuan Yin at Kek Lok Si.

The most iconic part of the temple – the 10,000 Buddhas Pagoda – was not built until 1930. 

The pagoda is officially named the “Rama VI Pagoda”  after the Siamese king who laid the foundation stone.

With its Chinese-inspired foundation, Thai middle section, and Burmese tower tops, the pagoda represents a mixture of Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism rarely seen in Southeast Asian temples.

At 291 feet tall, the pagoda is an iconic image in Penang. Inside, the ongoing patronage of the Thai Royal Family is represented by a Buddha statue donated by the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

In 2002, a 100-foot-tall statue of Kuan Yin was added. An intricate shelter was later built around the figure.


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