Monday, February 09, 2009

Chap Goh Meh and Tua Pek Kong

As I do not have to find a life partner by throwing mandarin oranges into a river or carry a lantern to relatives' homes I thought it would be nice to do something different this year by going to have a peep at my friends' temple before dinner time.

There was a brilliant sun to help me take photos. But all too soon the sunset shadows crept up behind us and I felt that there were so many needs to be addressed as the worshippers moved silently but hurriedly about with their joss sticks in hand.

What was happening before me triggered my memories of the many Chinese movies I saw in which the actresses put great significance into the burning of joss sticks. Such scenes would create an atmosphere for something good that would happen as if the dieties could hear their prayers better when they smelled the fragrance of their incense.

It is a fact many Chinese men go to the Tua Pek Kong Temple in Miri to pray for good fortune while women would also pray for the same thing but they are more fervent in praying of harmonious family and successful children. Burning of incense is a must in their rituals while offerings of paper crafts and paper money and also actual things like ducks and pork are common for the altars. According to one of the worshippers the prayers are very individual and they do not pray as a congregation like the Christians. Individuals go alone and appeal to Tua Pek Kong quietly as if thier grief were very p and c.

Nowadays offerings of huge joss sticks are popular especially on auspicious days to obtain the listening ears of the dieties and prayers would be answered. Most families in Miri collectively offer giant joss sticks which are burnt in special places in the temple grounds.

The temple is usually supported by donations from followers. Therefore if the followers are very successful the temple would also gain in size and stature. The Miri Tua Pek Kong temple is supported by a large group of successful Chinese businessmen of Miri the list of which includes temenggongs and pemanchas.

I grew up in a very pristine and disciplined Methodist community where church was the centre of all social activities. Life could have just been that but because of education and career and several interests my horizons widened and I have a more inclusive circle of friends from all walks of life.

Having worked amongst many people who worship fervently Tua Pek Kong for many years I finally accepted an opportunity to see for myself what Tua Pek Kong means to them and what they do in their temple. In the same way many of these friends have been to churches including mine. So I took a small step towards understanding them by visiting their temple on chap Goh Meh when the temple was just so busy with worshippers!!

Tua Pek Kong (Chinese: 大伯公, Da Bo Gong) is one of the pantheon of Malaysian Chinese Gods. It was believed the date Tua Pek Kong arrived in Penang was 40 years before Francis Light. Tua Pek Kong was a man named Zhang Li (张理) of Hakka family, his Sumatra bound boat was struck by wind and accidentally landed on Penang island of Malaysia, which at that time had only 50 inhabitants. After his death, local peoples began worshipping him and built the Tua Pek Kong temple there. Today Tua Pek Kong is worshipped by Malaysian Chinese throughout the country.

Chung Keng Quee was a principle donor to the Haichu-yu (Sea Pearl) Tua Pek Kong Temple (1865 and 1868) in Tanjung Tokong, Penang.

Tua Pek Kong is often mistaken for Tu Di Gong, partially because of their physical similarities.

Source : Wikipedia®

The riverside Tua Pek Kong Temple, Miri has almost a hundred years of history.

According to Miri history an epidemic spread through Miri in 1913 and affected the then 2000 inhabitants who lived in the four rows of wooden shoplots and the vicinity then.

Fear spread amongst them and they believed that the outbreak of the mysterious disease was caused by a vengeful spirit. A Buddhist monk was summoned from Kuching and and a few days of prayers were said. It was indeed inexplicable how all the deaths stopped!! It was as if his prayers were answered. Before he departed he advised the construction of a small riverside temple on the exact spot where he performed the rituals. The community promised to offer prayers on the first and fifteenth day of the month.

The local Mirians are further strengthened in their beliefs in Tua Pek Kong as a protector by the fact that that while many parts of Miri were bombed by the Japanese during the Second World War the Temple was untouched. We would never really know why the Japanese bombers did not strike the temple. Was it due to their own Tao related religion?

The current Temple was rebuilt in 1970s, and was declared a historical building under the Sarawak Cultural Heritage Ordinance 1993.

6 memories:

Greg Wee said...

NEE: Thanks for the interesting story and revelation. i had always wondered why my neighbours two doors away burn such huge looking joss sticks. guess they really really really want their prayers to be heard.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Have a great week ahead. Hope you are now going to rest a little after all the flurry and hurry of CNY celebrations.
There are a lot of interesting stories regarding TPK.

Each temple has a story too!!

Glad you visit. Cheers.

abana said...

Mentioning of the Tua Pek Kong, I have been to this place(In Sibu) many times to take many great photographs.
As time passed by many of the workers there knew me and became good friends.
At this juncture, its not about faith that matter , it's about acknowledging one's other belief and cultures.And as a passionate photographer,I sees no borders.

I Am Sarawakiana said...

Well said!!
At this age we should have transcended all issues and be at peace with each other.

Photography can bring people together. I love to read all about photographers who go to great lengths to bring out the best in the human race.

Hope you continue to do the same.

Bengbeng said...

talking abt photography, it would b nice to have a photoshoot session with u and the other bloggers when u r next around in Sibu. But got to think of a suitable venue

I Am Sarawakiana said...

First week of April in Sibu? I would have plenty to learn from all of you.



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