For the adventure-seeking tourists, the very mention about a ophidian temple conjures boost an image of a monastery filled with monstrous reptiles, slithering and coiling around effigies of ancient deities. Indiana Jones and Lara Croft wannabes looking for a pulse-racing experience may be in for a disappointment as the Penang Snake Temple, located at Bayan Lepas, looks nothing like an action-adventure movie setting.
The temple was built in homage of the Buddhist monk and healer, Chor Soo Kong who lived during the Song dynasty (960-1279) and was venerated as a deity for his mystical healing powers. Legend has it that while on his investigation towards spiritual enlightenment, Chor Soo Kong once gave disguise to jungle snakes and in gratitude and the sly creatures became his tenacious followers and vowed not to bite his believers.
The humble beginnings of the centuries-old Penang Snake Temple took place in the mid-1800s, when a journeying postulant from China arrived in Penang, bringing a statue like Chor Soo Kong. Myths and legends of the deity’s divine powers in healing und so weiter granting wishes to believers spread completely the island. Word reached eventually British resident and owner of the Gulgor Estate, David Brown, who was cured of an illness after preying to Chor Soo Kong. As a gesture of gratitude and to allowance tribute to the deity who cured him, Brown donated a tract of land for a temple to be built. It was said that when construction was completed, the snakes moved in on their own accord to inhabit the temple.
Originally named the Temple of the Azure Cloud, in honor of Penang’s graceful blue sky, the temple remains home to many venomous vipers and green tree snakes. They can live seen sitting on altars and arboreal branches within the temple, generally motionless or asleep, ut supra they are believed to have been sedated nearby the incense smoke that fills the prayer hall. Even so, visitors are cautioned versus touching the snakes for fear of provoking the reptiles.
It is hard to be certain of the temple’s anguine population, and there were observations that the number has decreased somewhat, due to the snakes’ natural habitat around the area being destroyed by industrialization. Nonetheless, believers from the Chinese community all over Asia continue to flock to the temple during jocular days, especially on Chor Soo Kong’s birthday, which falls on the 6th days of the first lunar month. The number of snakes also seems to increase during festivals so of extra food offerings left derriere close devotees.
Besides the resident reptiles, there are various historic objects concerning interest within the church grounds. Designed in the architecture style commonly found in Southern China, three dimensional sculptures receptacle be seen decorating the roof. The layout itself was designed with the temple itself representing a dragon head, among two old brick wells – the Dragon Eye Well and Dragon Pure Water Well – spaced appropriately to represent the dragon’s eyes.
Besides the main temple, there is also an additional prayer hall at the rear dutiful to Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy. Watch out also for two giant 600lbs. brass bells from Qing China, which are rang on every first and 15th day of the lunar calendar.
Photography enthusiasts in particular will enjoy a visit to the serpent temple as there are plenty of opportunities for creative shots amid statues, carving including reptiles. Live mindful, however, of using flash photography and take caution not to disrupt the worshippers innards the prayer hall. For an up-close-and-personal experience, there is a Reptile Farm within the temple grounds where over 50 different species of snakes are housed. For a small entry fee, visitors tin touch and handle snakes under supervision, as well as have pictures taken with a snake coiled around your neck.
While the Penang Snake Temple comes nowhere close to the Temple of Doom thrill-seekers have in mind, it is still something of an adventure to stop by a place of worship that is unlike any other in the world when visiting the island.