Bell unscathed by temple fire

GEORGE TOWN: A bell, said to be able to bring good luck to visitors at Kek Lok Si Temple, is the only artefact left unscathed after a fire gutted one of the buildings of the historic temple.

The bell fell to the floor after the ceiling was charred. Despite almost everything else being burnt to ashes, the bell remained unharmed by the heat and suffered no more than a layer of soot from the smoke.

The fire, which gutted the annex section of one of the newer structures, also did not spread into the adjoining shrine hall where three large, golden Buddha statues sat.

Temple trustee Datuk Seri Steven Ooi Teik Heng said the fire was believed to have been caused by an oil lamp.

“As there was renovation going on at the shrine hall, some items were moved to the empty area next to it, near the entrance where visitors are welcomed.

“We believe a rat knocked down an oil lamp and caused the fire to spread.

“No artefacts or statues were damaged in the fire, and the building remains intact,” he said.

Ooi said the room that caught fire is less than 1% of the entire Kek Lok Si Temple complex.

“It only looks messy due to the sand and water that were used to put out the fire, and black soot on the walls and ceiling,” he added.

In a statement, the Fire and Rescue Department said it received a distress call at 2.56am yesterday.

Covered in soot: Volunteers cleaning the affected area after the fire at Kek Lok Si Temple.Covered in soot: Volunteers cleaning the affected area after the fire at Kek Lok Si Temple.

It added the fire was put out in around three hours.

Ayer Itam assemblyman Joseph Ng, who visited the temple, said volunteers have cleaned up the area and there was no serious damage.

“This is an important heritage site and iconic structure of Penang.

“We were worried when we heard about the fire, but fortunately it was put under control quickly,” he added.

Local historian Clement Liang said he was alarmed when he was told of the fire because Kek Lok Si Temple keeps a tablet and volumes of Imperial Buddhist Sutras bestowed by Emperor Guangxu of the late Qing Dynasty.

“The sutras were the only copies brought out of China.

“These manuscripts are never revealed to the public and I hope the temple can assure everyone that they are safe,” he said.

As for the bell, Liang said traditionally, monks rung bells just to announce the passing hours before the act evolved into symbolising auspicious moments.

Located in Ayer Itam, Kek Lok Si, which translates into Temple of Supreme Bliss, is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in South-East Asia, and arguably the most famous in Penang.

The hills in that area have traditionally been regarded as having all the right “feng shui” for a temple.

The temple’s construction began in 1893, inspired by the chief monk of the Goddess of Mercy Temple at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

The Manchu Emperor Guangxu approved of the project, bestowing a tablet and gift of 70,000 volumes of the Imperial Edition of Buddhist Sutras.

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