Tow Boo Kong Temple
An epic edifice where gods descend on Earth
This is the most famous place of worship in Raja Uda, and indeed in the whole of Seberang Perai. The intricately designed Tow Boo Kong Temple sited on the northern end of Jalan Raja Uda was built in honour of the Nine Emperor Gods.
Originally set up as just an attap-shed shrine in the early 1970s, the temple was rebuilt to its current scale and grandeur in 2000. The majestic archway was completed in 2009.
The worship of the Nine Emperor Gods is prevalent in the southern provinces of China, particularly Fuchien where many folks in Penang trace their ancestral roots. The practise spread from the Chinese provinces to Malaysia, southern Thailand and Singapore from the nineteenth century onwards.
The temple complex boasts an overwhelming and sumptuous assortment of murals, paintings, sculptures and stuccos, with figures like dragons, mythical lions and heavenly warriors adorning the walls, pillars, ceilings and beams.
Beyond its monumental entrance archway, the complex’s elaborate passageway system features a front prayer hall, an inner courtyard, an interior prayer sanctuary and the main sanctum where the central deities are seated.
Because of the sanctified nature of Taoist temples which in principle advocate non-violence, meat and alcohol are prohibited at the premises. There are also a good number of vegetarian restaurants in the surrounding area.
In fact, vegetarianism is a central tenet during the biggest festival here – the Nine Emperor Gods festival – which is celebrated with pomp over nine straight days in September or October. The festival is observed over the first nine days of the ninth lunar month.
This is when the spirit of the Nine Emperor Gods who are believed to dwell in the stars manifest in the mortal world and possess the spirit mediums, putting them under a spell. Many of these mediums can be seen in action, caught in meditative trance, during the festival.
The festival features parades, street opera and countless vegetarian food stalls, as well as spectacular acts of worship such as fire-walking and even piercing of spears and hooks on devotees and religious mediums. Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims, tourists and locals swarm Raja Uda towards the temples during this celebration of epic proportions.
Written by Himanshu Bhatt
Photographs by Adrian Cheah