Photo: Just beautiful.

Hainanese Temple (Thean Hou Kong)

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Thean Hou Kong or the Temple of the Heavenly Queen is the spiritual centre for Penang’s Hainanese community and as well as displaying some of Georgetown’s best stone carvings, it also provides an insight into the history of the people who built it.





Resplendent on Lebuh Muntri, amidst a row of somewhat ordinary urban architecture, the temples’s quality of the carving and craftsmanship is compelling. The ornamentations look as though they have existed since the temple was built at the end of the 19th century, but are in fact relatively recent, added in 1995 in celebration of the building’s centenary. Created in the traditional manner from colourful broken ceramic bowls, the chien nien roof embellishments are extensive, as is the stone carving.

Nothing if not brightly coloured. Photo taken in or around Hainanese Temple (Thean Hou Kong) , Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Nothing if not brightly coloured. Photo: Sally Arnold

It seems almost unbelievable, but the pillars that support the main entrance gate, encircled by imposing dragons, are fashioned out of single blocks of stone. The intricacy and attention to detail—down to every last dragon scale, leaf or hair—is continued across the entire facade of the building itself, where each panel tells a story taken from traditional Chinese folklore in magnificent three-dimensional relief.

The interior of the temple reveals an open central courtyard supported by towering red columns and is festooned with lanterns, flags and flowers, although much of the decorations seems a gaudy contrast to the refined exterior. Revealing much about the heritage of the Hainanese, the temple is dedicated to Ma Chor Po (also known as Mazu), Goddess of the Sea and points to the community’s close affinity with the ocean.

Photogenic, yet often not too busy. Photo taken in or around Hainanese Temple (Thean Hou Kong) , Penang, Malaysia by Sally Arnold.

Photogenic, yet often not too busy. Photo: Sally Arnold

Back on their home island of Hainan, fishing was a major source of income for many of the early settlers, and it was also Ma Chor Po who delivered them to the shores of Penang. It is perhaps no surprise, therefore, that she is worshipped as the temple’s principal deity. Propped up on the main altar, the rather matronly pink-faced goddess is flanked by two demi-gods, or water spirits. It is their job to keep their respective eyes and ears open—look closely and you will see which one is which—in order to report back to her on the latest conditions on ... please log in to read the rest of this story.


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Hainanese Temple (Thean Hou Kong)
93 Lebuh Muntri, Georgetown
T: (0426) 23 752,  (0426) 12 599 
Admission: Free

Location map for Hainanese Temple (Thean Hou Kong)

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