Within a 600 meter radius of Sri Mahamariamman Temple, you will find a church, a mosque, a cathedral, a Teochew temple and a Buddhist temple. If there’s one reason why tourists take a tour in Penang, Malaysia, it would be to experience the astounding culture the state has to offer. Also known as the Queen Street Indian Temple or by its full name, Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple, this marvelous Hindu structure located in Georgetown is a testament to Penang’s deep multicultural and multi-religious background.
Still Standing Strong
This Hindu temple was erected in 1833, but its roots go back all the way to 1801. It started out as a simple shrine, but as the Hindu community in Penang grew, greater need for a temple arose. Not much is known about the founders of the temple. However, we can ascertain that Betty Lingam Chetty, the Headman (or as known by the locals: Kapitan) of the Tamils and South Indian community received a plot of land from the British in 1801. On this plot of land, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple stands today.
More importantly, the construction of the temple is one of great cultural significance. 200 years ago, the makings of a multicultural society were set in place. As Indian immigrants began setting up their livelihoods in the state of Penang, the buildings there began to reflect their presence. Merchants, laborers and sepoys (Indian soldiers in British service) flocked to what we know today as Penang, Malaysia. Being the first Hindu temple in the state, Sri Mahamariamman Temple opened a new chapter in the history of Penang.
Today, the temple still stands strong as ever before. It is currently being managed by the Hindu Endowments Board. Every now and then, the temple undergoes consecrations and renovations. Being a cultural heritage, the temple is a one of the many unique places to visit in Malaysia.
One-of-a-kind Religious Festivals
If by any chance, you visit and notice yourself stuck in a merry crowd of over a thousand individuals, you might just be in the good fortune of experiencing a Hindu festival firsthand. Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the central point of thousands of Hindus who wish to celebrate festivals such as Navarathiri and Thaipusam.
Navarathiri is celebrated towards the second half of the year, around October. The word Navarathiri literally means ‘Nine Nights’, in English. The celebration is one the main events for the temple. Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated nationwide, is also associated with the temple. The festival is usually held in January and February and is an excellent showcase of Hindu culture. During this period, you can catch glimpses of devotees carrying kavadis weighing more than 50 kilograms each. An awe-inspiring procession can be seen in the streets outside Sri Mahamariamman Temple on the day of the festival. For any tourists wondering when to travel to Malaysia, try to plan your schedule as to experience these cultural phenomena in person.
Part of a Bigger Picture
Located in an area that locals dub Little India, Sri Mahamariamman Temple is merely one aspect of a multicultural population. As mentioned earlier, many religious buildings of varying faith can be found in the vicinity of this Hindu temple. These religious buildings include Han Jiang Ancestral Temple, Kapitan Keling Mosque, Goddess of Mercy Temple, St. George’s Church and the Cathedral of the Assumption. Malaysia has always been proud of its multicultural yet harmonious society. Georgetown, Penang has established itself as cultural hub where religions can coexist peacefully and cultures can coincide without any conflicts. Sri Mahamariamman Temple is a proud part of that cultural hub.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple is located at Queen Street, also known as Lebuh Queen, Georgetown, Penang. The temple is open every day from 6.30 a.m. to 12.00 p.m. After that, there is short gap before the temple is reopened at 4.30 p.m. to 9.00 p.m. Being a holy place, be prepared to take off your shoes before entering the temple. As a warning, the temple can get quite crowded during festivals, so be careful and be prepared for a squeeze. When deciding when to travel to Malaysia, try to gauge if you would prefer a more upbeat yet tiring trip or a relaxed one, as festivals tend to add a lot of life to the country.
Ornate Hindu architecture, a rich history and the chance to experience a significant part of Penang culture makes Sri Mahamariamman Temple an excellent place to incorporate in your tour in Penang. A cultural heritage, this temple should be on your list of places to visit in Malaysia.