Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple
The Cheng Hoon Teng temple in Malacca is considered Malaysia’s oldest Chinese temple. The temple is a premier historical monument that has survived the ravages of time. It remains the finest of Chinese temples in Malaysia – a fact underscored by an UNESCO award for outstanding architectural restoration. The temple ranks among the most significant in Southeast Asia, being central to the spiritual aspirations of the Chinese community in historic Malacca. The temple continues to serve the spiritual needs of the Chinese community in Malacca. It is a center for the propagation of San Chiao or the Three Doctrinal Systems of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. The religious order of the temple carries out numerous traditional Chinese rites. It ministers to the spiritual needs of devotees, including divination and prayers for the souls of the deceased.
Historically speaking, Cheng Hoon Teng was founded in the 1600s by the Chinese Kapitan Tay Kie Ki alias Tay Hong Yong. During the Portuguese and Dutch eras, Kapitans were appointed chiefs or headmen of the various ethnic communities. In its early years, besides serving the community’s religious needs, the temple also functioned as the official administrative center and a court of justice for the Kapitans.
Besides Kapitan Tay, other prominent Kapitans included Li Wei King, Chan Lak Kua and Chua Su Cheong. Kapitan Chua was responsible for rebuilding the temple in 1801 while the Kapitans and Teng Choos after him contributed towards the aesthetic and structural additions of the building.
In 1824, the British abolished the Kapitan system and the leader of the Temple, now known as “Teng Choo”, assumed some of the Kapitan’s responsibilities. Subsequently, a Board of Trustees was formed to look after the temple. The pioneers included Tun Sir Tan Cheng Lock, who also initiated the Temple’s unique incorporation under an act of Parliament (Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Incorporation Ordinance 1949). To the locals, the temple is also known as Kebun Datok (Gods’ Garden) and Kwan Yin Teng.
In terms of its architecture, from floor to roof, the structure of the temple can be divided into lower, middle and upper sections. A base plinth of stonework constitutes the lower section. The pillars carry the weight of the roof via a truss system, forming the middle section. The upper section comprises the truss system of wooden brackets which supports the cross beams and the weight of the roof. Exposed structural elements allow air to circulate in halls filled with smoke from joss sticks.
Elaborate decorations grace Cheng Hoon Teng’s interior and exterior. Golden phoenixes and dragons – sculpted in Chien Nien or fine porcelain cut-and-paste shard work – add splendor to the building. Scenes from the Three Kingdoms are depicted in traditional Chai Hui – decorative wall paintings, combining Chinese ink and tempera paints. Exquisite gold gilding enriches magnificent artifacts. Other artistic elements include carvings of mythical dragons and sages of different nationalities in a variety of attire and facial expressions.
To get to the temple, cross the Tan Kim Seng Bridge from Dutch Square. Turn right into Lorong Hang Jebat. At the first junction to the left, turn in to Jalan Tukang Besi, which connects to Jalan Tokong. You’ll see the temple which is on the left side of the road.
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