MENTION temples in Penang and the famous Kek Lok Si Temple will surely come to mind, but actually Penang has more such places to offer.
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 God's 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 deity’s birthday on the ninth day of Chinese New Year.
Welcoming visitors are the 110 flights of 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 had chosen granite rather than tiles or cement stairs though it 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 board's executive secretary, Toh Kim Kang, said there were a few Hock Chew-influenced elements in the beautiful temple.
“Noticed the curvy decoration with a split end on the roof top? That is the Hock Chew swallow's tail roof décor.
“The wooden tanglung (lanterns) hanging on the pillars in the first shrine hall are also Hock Chew-influenced elements,” he said.
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.
“With this recognition and more promotional work, I am sure the temple will soon be another top tourist destination in the near future,” he said.
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.
HOW TO GET THEREFROM Air Itam Road, go straight after the Air Itam roundabout towards the Penang Hill funicular train station.
Take the third right turning after the roundabout into a small road which will lead you to the temple, about 500m from the turning.
Another option is to take the Penang Hill funicular train and hop off at the first stop, which is located halfway between the bottom station and the middle station. An entrance to the temple is located there.