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Through stairways and slopes – Kek Lok Si Temple, Part 1

Posted by on May 5th, 2009
Filed Under: Featured, Penang, Photos, Sights

The Kek Lok Si Temple (Penang Hokkien for “Temple of Supreme Bliss” or “Temple of Sukhavati”) is a Buddhist temple situated in Air Itam in Penang and is one of the best known temples on the island. It is also the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia.
Mahayana Buddhism and traditional Chinese rituals blend into a harmonious whole, both in the temple architecture and artwork as well as in the daily activities of worshippers.
Source: Wikipedia

My thoughts through the lens

“Rain rain go away, come again another day.” This ditty seemed to echo in my mind as I stepped out from the house and into the car. Although cloudy skies bring dramatic effects to an image, many photographers would agree that the rain could also be one of the photographers’ biggest adversaries. Nevertheless, I had packed my backpack and was ready to take my chances, hoping that the sun would make its presence later.

Miraculously, when I arrived at the gate of the Kek Lok Si temple, the rain had turned to a drizzle and the skies were beginning to clear. The moody-looking clouds seemed to make way for the white clouds and even the skies gradually turned blue. I thought that I would be confined to taking indoor shots of the temples but I think Lord Buddha had other plans for me…*wink wink*..

I was excited, to say the least.

I am sure the Kek Lok Si temple is synonymous to most Buddhist devotees around this region; in fact, the Temple is also featured in Shenzhen’s Window of the World Theme Park in China, making it an iconic symbol that has received acknowledgment around the globe. I was in Shenzhen in December last year and this had me pleasantly surprised.

In this assignment, my intention is to showcase this magnificent landmark in a two-part (possibly three) series. I am pleased to take this photographic journey and will walk with you through the stairways and slopes, and hopefully, be enlightened along the way.

To all devotees and readers, Happy Wesak Day!

All photos and texts by Calvin Kwok
p/s: The series will take a break next week and will most probably be back the following week.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

The Pagoda of A Thousand Buddhas looking majestic and seem to dwarf the hundreds of visitors on that particular morning. Being a long weekend, the temple was one of the ‘must visit’ sites in Penang which saw local and foreign visitors making up the large crowd.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

To reach the pagoda, you would need to make a slightly steep ascend starting from the covered walkway seen on the right side of this image.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

One of the first of many places to visit in Kek Lok Si is the prayer hall. This shot was taken hand-held with no flash as I intended to capture the statue of Lord Buddha being illuminated by the flames of the pineapple-shaped candles on the altar.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

The Sanskrit name “Avalokitesvara” is interpreted in many ways: “The One Who Hears the Cries of the World”; “The Lord Who Looks Down”; “The Lord Who Looks in Every Direction.”

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

On your way up to the mid level of Kek Lok Si, be prepared to catch your breath and the surrounding sights as well. Even a humble-looking stone staircase and wall could present a beautiful photographic moment, as this couple would attest.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

A row of Buddha’s statues greeting visitors as soon as they complete their ascend to the mid level of Kek Lok Si temple. On the background is the ever-present Pagoda.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

A set of Buddha’s statues lining up one of the corners of a smaller temple within Kek Lok Si. I was drawn to the carvings of the dragon (foreground) and thought it would make the image interesting by framing it between the red pillar and Buddha’s saffron robe.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

A large statue of Lord Buddha being surrounded by lotus candles placed by devotees and visitors. This smaller temple, located at the mid level of Kek Lok Si temple, is a popular pit-stop for visitors wanting to get some fresh air and purchase memorabilia to bring home apart from the memories.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

An aerial view taken from one of the corners of the temple. After making the ascend to the mid level, visitors will get a chance to take a breather and admire the scenery of the nearby Air Itam town.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

A young boy praying in front of an altar at the prayer hall. Notice the lighted candles in the form of pineapple (‘ong lye’ in local Hokkien dialect) vases. With messages tied around the neck of the vases, devotees often pray for the blessings for the entire family to have a bountiful and prosperous year.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

Bathing of the Buddha: The Kek Lok Si temple is a hive of activity, especially in the run-up to Wesak Day on 9th May this year. There was an air of serenity as devotees took turns to bathe the statue with some taking home the fragrant holy water for consumption.

Penang Kek Lok Si Temple

This shot was captured using a very low shutter speed (1/6 seconds, hand held) which resulted in some intentional blur or softness. The little girl in blue suddenly pirouetted in front of my camera, resulting in a welcomed streaks of blue which rendered some elements of Impressionistic art to the overall image, in my opinion, and making it appear dream-like and mysterious.

Malaysia Travel Guide Photographer

Born, bred and schooled within the vicinity of George Town; Penang has been my home for over twenty years. As a way of saying ‘Welcome to Penang’, I would like to share scenes of Penang with you from my perspective as a keen amateur photographer. More [+]

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12 Responses »

  1. very nice Calvin. I’ve never been to this temple before, seen lots of photographs from the outside, never from the inside.

    Not too crowded, was this a weekend?

    I like the photo of the Buddha statues lined up, it has a very soft touch to it.

    Thanks for sharing these with me.

  2. wow! the temple is very beautiful.
    i only went to kek lok si temple up till the turtle pond only. huhu~
    and you photographs are magnificent!

  3. Thank you, Grace. I hope you could pay a visit to this temple someday :O

  4. Thank you, Bubbles..
    You should see the temple during Chinese New Year, especially at night with the lanterns.

  5. Hey, Calvin. No more updates for your column? Been looking forward to your photos.

  6. Hi Grace,
    Thanks for your message and good to hear from you again :O)
    I was on holiday the previous week and been pretty occupied with personal assignments too for the past 2 weeks. Getting ready to document a wedding this weekend so I’m trying my best to find some extra time to continue with the photo essays for this site.

    In the meantime, I’d like to invite you to view my blog which was just created a few weeks ago:
    It’s just a simple blog and hope to have your comments & feedback.


  7. Hi Calvin,

    I was searhing for Penang and its visiting places when I pop by your site here displaying beautiful photos of Kek Lok Si. Thanks for sharing so much nice pictures of the temple and it certainly makes me want to visit any sooner!

    Ur a photographer?

    Nice pix Calvin!

  8. Hi Apple,
    Thanks for your kind comments – glad to know that you are keen to visit Penang, especially Kek Lok Si Temple, sometime soon :O)

    p/s: I’m a keen amateur photographer and do different kinds of photography as well.
    Just wish to share some images of my hometown from my own perspective and hopefully this could somehow encourage more people to visit Penang.

  9. whatever i ‘m muslim but i wish to travel to the place like this where in malaysia , i can see many type of art. Islam art, Buddhist art and hindu’s art. its all is very beautiful

  10. Hi Lukman,
    Indeed, we live in a multi-religion community and it’s a beautiful thing.
    If you were in Penang, do visit the Jalan Mesjid Kapitan Keling area (at the heart of George Town) and you will be greeted by a harmonious row of Kapitan Keling Mosque, The Goddess of Mercy Temple and the St. George’s Church, all located very nearby to each other.

  11. Hi

    all the photos are very nice. It induces me to go one round to that temple (pagoda)

  12. Thank you, Ram Aruna 🙂