Monday, 12 June 2017

Sitiawan: The Tua Pek Kong temple

We were lucky to have caught the 4.15pm ferry from Pangkor as we landed back at the Lumut ferry terminal just before five o'clock. With still some hours to go before evening, we decided to visit the Tua Pek Kong temple complex to the south of Sitiawan town, a journey of about half an hour.

Instead of guiding us through the main road, my GPS took us down the narrow roads of Kampong China - supposedly a shorter route - before we finally ended up near the Pasir Panjang coast. Initially, the winding journey made me doubt the reliability of the GPS but eventually, I heaved a sigh of relief when the unmistakable silhouette of a pagoda loomed large in the distance. That must be the temple up ahead, I told my passengers.

Turning the corner into the temple's car park, the grand scene before us practically took our breaths away. Yes, I had seen a picture of the giant statues that stood outside the temple but I never expected that in real life, the whole place was so immensely huge. " big, ah!" exclaimed my friend.

We wandered off in different directions. The centre piece was the Tua Pek Kong deity, sitting serenely and staring off into the distance, which in this case, was the Straits of Malacca, flanked on both sides by other statues, prominent among them were Kuan Yin on the left and Ma Chor Poh on the right.  Interestingly, one of the statues depicted a tiger and I was told that this statue represented the White Tiger of the West or the Hor Yah which is worshiped during the Chinese New Year festivities in Chinese temples all over the country.

The Journey to the West by the Buddhist monk, Hsuan Tsang, and his three guardian disciples - Monkey, Pig and Sandy - depicted in stone

There were more surprises to come when we entered the temple complex grounds. More gigantic statues everywhere, depicting most, if not all, popular areas of Taoist worship. Among them, four statues depicting the guardians of the four corners of the world, Maitreya or the Laughing Buddha of the Future, the Ksitigarbha bodhisattva who teaches or instructs all beings in the six realms between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya, and the Hock Lok Siew trio or the three stars of Prosperity, Status and Longevity.

A huge fountain in the foreground with nine dragons aiming their jets of water towards a central round ball. 

To the left of the grounds rose a newly completed seven-tier pagoda, the first three levels of which were filled with hundreds of small statuettes of Tua Pek Kong, Kuan Yin and Gautama Buddha. Devotees could have their names placed below an image with a donation of RM2,000. We climbed up to the top tier of the pagoda - a total of 134 steps -  and found preparation work still in progress. We looked out the windows. Airy. And the scenery from the top tiers, looking out to the sea and the mangrove swamp in the distance, was fabulous.

Don't ask why the statue has its eyes closed with a red sash. Most probably, the time hadn't arrived for it to be properly activated. There were several statues with similar red sashes across their eyes.

Climbing down, we then went into the old, traditional Tua Pek Kong temple building. This temple is not recent. It has existed for at least some 100 years already. It used to be very ordinary and modest, but some devotees must have struck it rich and made ample donations that had allowed the temple to expand into this complexity.

Behind the temple was yet another vast area worth exploring. A fish pond filled with countless numbers of carp. A statue of Jiang Ziya (姜子牙) sat prominently at one end of the pond with a hookless fishing rod in his hands. For the connection between Jiang Ziya and the origins of the Quah (Ke) (柯) surname, read it here. At the other end of the pond were statues representing the eight immortals (八仙) waiting to cross the sea. And somewhere in the middle of the pond, two cheeky statues of boys peeing an endless stream of water into the pool.

Moving on, we came across a long, colourful dragon hallway of about 100 metres. One enters through the mouth of this mythical beast and exits at the tail. But what's inside the long corridor? Scenes depicting the Halls of Hell where sinners meet with their retribution. Each Hall is ruled by a Judge (presumably the Yama Kings) who hands down the punishments of gruesome tortures. Very educational, if one hasn't seen Hell itself but if you have been to the old Haw Par Villa in Singapore, well, they are pretty much similar.

And finally, our last bit of exploration was to climb an ascending corridor along the perimeter wall of the temple grounds. Here, a long row of stone statues lined the walkway. I did not bother to count the number of statues; the significance of them fails me but each of these life-sized statues featured scholars, government officials, army generals, pugilists and other characters in various poses.

No comments: