|Sanctum sanctorums of
the Thai and Burmese communities
In 1845, a large endowment
of land in the Pulau Tikus area was made to the Theravada Buddhists, principally
Thai and Burmese, whose importance is recorded in local street names to this
day. Today, the extensive lands surrounding the Thai Wat Chaiyamangalaram
are home to a small and thriving kampong of about thirty families (approximately
120 persons) of Thai Chinese and Hindu Indians.(The Changing Perceptions
of Waqf, as Social, Cultural and Symbolic Capital in Penang, Judith Nagata)
B U R M A H
L A N E , P E N A N G
The 'enclave' at Burmah Lane in Pulau Tikus is home
to two magnificent and historical Buddhist temples one Thai and the
other Burmese. The latter was originally known as the Nandy Molah Burmese
Temple, the Dhammikarama was the first Buddhist temple to be built in Penang,
Like a beacon on a foggy day, the ornate gilded
roof of this 200 year old temple beckons from afar as one walks down Burmah
Lane, past the souvenir stalls selling tacky knick knacks. A pair of stone
elephants at the entrance serve as silent reminders of the sanctity within.
Mythical figures and religious icons dot the spacious
and well kept compound - among them bell-bearing acolytes, myriad buddhas,
chimeras and flying beings. Two huge and imposing-looking chi lings (a fabulous
being that is a hybrid of a dragon, horse and a lion) flank the entrance
to the main prayer hall. Chi lings are traditionally used in feng shui to
deflect evil, so one could assume that despite their fearsome appearances,
the presence of the chi lings at the temple are more for auspicious reasons
than sentinel ones! Next to the remains of a disused 200 year-old well is
a huge man-made water catchment filled with carps. Buddha statues in different
meditative poses nestle in grottos marked with the names of individual donors.
A pair of winged chimeras called Panca Rupa look resplendent in the roles
as "Guardian Protectors of the World."
The display to take the breath away is a huge mural
depicting the Great Renunciation of Prince Siddharta. The future Buddha is
'captured' riding his steed Kanthaka in mid-air with his faithful servant
Channa seemingly hanging on for dear life. Evil beings on one side try to
discourage him from his noble quest while the good ones on the other side
welcome him with open arms. It's all done very tastefully and the more
spiritually inclined may even be moved to contemplate at length on this very
significant moment in the history of Buddhism.
Or one could simply choose to make a wish at the
wishing pond or meditate under the boddhi tree.
The main prayer hall exudes an air of peacefulness
- voices are respectfully reduced to a whisper but the quiescence
is occasionally broken by the ringing of one of the several bells found in
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B U R M A H L
A N E , P E N A N G
"I teach the path to immortality."
- saying ascribed to the Buddha
Not the oldest, but certainly the largest Buddhist
temple in Penang. The colossal size is not within reason, for within the
main temple is found the reputed third longest reclining Buddha in the world.
Measuring some 33 metres (108ft) from toe to tip of headgear, Wat Chaiya's
reclining Buddha takes pride of place alongside other Buddha colossi found
in Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia and China.
The Wat Chaiya was built in 1845 on five acres of
land donated by Queen Victoria to the Thai community. The architecture is
authentic down to the last bit of gold paint on the pagodas - so much so
that one feels transported to another place and time when wandering about
the sprawling grounds. Like the Burmese temple across the road, one is likely
to encounter mythical beings and religious icons which dot the grounds.
Walking towards the main temple, visitors are greeted
by awesome looking green-faced beings standing guard before the temple entrance.
'Crawling' at their feet are two huge dragon-headed serpents. Unlike the
culture in the West (read Caucasian), Oriental mythology teaches that serpents
and dragons are propitious beings and not to be feared.
A casual observer might not pay much attention to
the different poses assumed by Buddha, but Buddhists believe that the different
postures signify different meanings - standing, sitting or reclining. The
significance behind the reclining Buddha in the Wat Chaiya, for example,
with the head resting in the palm of the right hand, with the head pointing
northwards, signifies enlightenment or Nirvana. Underneath the reclining
Buddha are niches where ashes of the deceased are kept.
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Raja Abdul Razak