Penang’s oldest Hindu temple
Published/Last edited or updated: 2nd October, 2017
At the heart of Little India, small but ornate and intricately decorated Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is the focal point of Penang’s Southern Indian Hindu diaspora.
Built in 1883, expanding upon a smaller shrine at the same location, the temple is believed to be the oldest Hindu temple in Penang. Architecturally it follows the typical Southern Indian style found in other parts of Malaysia with an elaborate tower over the main entrance on Lebuh Queen, and a smaller one atop the rear entrance on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. You’ll have to step back across the street to see the even larger central tower, all intertwined with a host of colourful deities.
The golden entrance arch is flanked by a cubby pink Ganesh and colourfully attired Murugan (aka Kartikeya), his brother, both shielded under golden domes along with smaller reliefs of the goddesses Saraswati and Lakshmi. Interiors too are heavily sculptured with Ganesh and Murugan again taking pride of place on the two main pillars as you enter. The central deity worshiped here is the goddess Mariamman, primarily a Southern India deity associated with Kali and Durga (consorts of Shiva) and often worshiped as a rain goddess.
Take off your shoes to enter the cool tiled temple and walk around in a clockwise direction. Photography is not permitted inside, and remember this is a place of worship, so respectful dress and behaviour is appreciated. We were interested to watch a devotee pour milk over one of the statues inside and mix up a number of coloured powders to make the paste for tilaka (forehead marking).
The temple is open daily mornings 06:00–12:00 and evenings 17:00–21:00. Pujas (prayers) are performed at 07:30 and 16:30. No visitor information is available in the temple itself, but we found the friendly folk happy to answer questions (as long as you don’t disturb anyone while they pray).
The temple comes alive at festival time, with the most colourful being the Navarathiri festival usually held in September or October when a chariot caring Maha Mariamman is paraded through the streets, but lesser (and sometimes unannounced) festivals are just as fascinating to catch.
While you’re in Little India try some delicious samosas from the stall on the corner of Lebuh Queen and Lebuh Pasar, or grab a sit down meal at Woodlands Vegetarian Restaurant.
Sally spent twelve years leading tourists around Indonesia and Malaysia where she collected a lot of stuff. She once carried a 40kg rug overland across Java. Her house has been described as a cross between a museum and a library. Fuelled by coffee, she can often be found riding her bike or petting stray cats. Sally believes travel is the key to world peace.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
Our top 10 other sights and activities in and around Penang