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Tuesday October 17, 2006
By ONG YEE TING
Located at the foothills of Penang Hill and adjacent to the Penang Hill funicular railway lower station in Air Itam is the newly restored Thni Kong Tnua or Jade Emperor Gods temple. It is of great cultural and historical significance.
This temple is the only one in the country built specifically for devotees to pay homage to Thni Kong (Jade Emperor God) the Supreme Ruler of Heaven.
Built by the Hokkien community in the 1860s, the temple is popular among the locals, especially on the deitys birthday on the ninth day of Chinese New Year.
Welcoming visitors are the 110 granite stairs with a patio in the middle span for people to rest and a dragon motif stone carving near the end of the stairs.
The archway is decorated with century-old stone carvings. The shrine hall is guarded by two beautiful stone lions.
The Kong Hock Keong board of trustees chairman Datuk Seri Khoo Keat Siew said these new additions were part of the RM4.6mil restoration work project.
We chose granite rather than tiles or cement stairs though they cost a lot more because we wanted to make sure that it would harmonise with the historical temple, he said.
The Kong Hock Keong is managing the temple.
Thni Kong Tnua is a unique temple as it combines Taoism and Buddhism elements.
Although it is supposed to be a very Hokkien temple, those who have knowledge about historical and heritage buildings will probably notice some un-Hokkien designs in its architecture.
The boards executive secretary, Toh Kim Kang, said there were a few Hock Chew-influenced elements in the beautiful temple.
Notice the curvy decoration with a split end on the roof top? That is the Hock Chew swallows tail roof décor.
However, Khoo said, these elements did not affect the originality of the temple.
They make it unique. This is the way it was built some 142 years ago and it has remained as it was, he said.
The first shrine hall is the Buddhism section and placed there are three gold-plated Buddha statues.
The Jade Emperor God sits in the main shrine hall, flanked by two palace maids, four deities and 12 assistants.
The influence of Taoism is evident in the strong emphasis of Yin and Yang in the shrine hall where two deities, Tai Yang God (the male) and Tai Yin God (the female), are placed and a Taichi symbol hidden under the Mudan flower (peony) decoration on the ceiling.
Another unique feature found only in this temple is the zaojing (a type of ceiling decoration that depicts the universe) in the ceiling of both the main hall and the portico adjacent to the hall.
There are also several other beautiful areas in the temple compound, which include a small Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) pond which many devotees treat as a wishing pond.
The temple is now applying for Unesco heritage conservation recognition and Khoo said he was optimistic of the result.
Khoo said the tranquillity of the temple was its selling point, added to this would be the serene environment with lush greenery and the surrounding beautiful views
The temple is a new tourism product that will surely lure tourists, especially heritage and cultural lovers, to the state, he added.
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