Malaysia: Penang: Wat Chaiyamangalaram Thai Buddhist Temple

The third temple we visited on our tour of the city was a Thai Buddhist Temple, the Wat Chaiyamangalaram, which is the most popular of Malaysia’s Thai-style Buddhist temples.  It’s just across the road from the Burmese Dhammikarama Temple so it was interesting to compare and contrast the Thai and Burmese styles of architecture and statues.


Wat Chaiyamangamlaram Temple, sometimes shortened to Wat Chaiya, was founded in 1845 by a Thai Buddhist monk.  The 5 acre site was given by Queen Victoria as a gesture of goodwill to Penang’s Thai community in 1845. The land was presented to the people by Mr. W.L. Butterworth of the East India Company of Penang. His name is commemorated in the name of the Butterworth Royal Malaysian Air Force base in Penang.

The first monk, Phorthan Kuat, was a Theravada Buddhist monk from Thailand.  He was known as the “Powerful Monk”.  Maybe his power came from the amount of Laksa that he ate!  Legend has it that he was very fond of that local Penang speciality.  Even today some devotees bring a bowl of laksa as an offering to his shrine.


This temple’s most famous feature is a 33 m long (108 feet) reclining Buddha which was built in the late 1960’s.  This one is only half the size of the 66m long reclining Buddha at the Temple in Yangon, Myanmar which we saw on a visit there a few years ago.


Like all reclining Buddha statues, this one depicts Buddha on his death bed, lying on his right side with a blissful expression on his face as he prepares to enter Nirvana.


Behind the Reclining Buddha there’s a wall of funerary urns in niches.


Photos, along with the names of the deceased, adorn each niche.


This Buddha, with a somewhat quizzical look on his face, is meditating in front of the urns of the deceased.  He’s sitting in the so-called adamantine (diamond, or full-lotus) posture with tightly crossed legs, so that the soles of both feet are visible.

His mudra or hand position signifies meditation (dhyana).  It may be made with one or both hands.  When made with a single hand as here, the left one is placed in the lap signifying the principle of wisdom.  Ritual objects may be placed in the open palm of this left hand. His right hand is placed over his heart.


I was interested to see a more modern sculpture of some notable monk.  His hands are in the gesture of meditation (dhyana).  The right hand is placed above the left, with the palms facing upwards, and the fingers extended; the thumbs of the two hands touch at the tips, thus forming a mystic triangle.  His legs are in the half-lotus or yoga position.


A close up shows the method of construction of this sculpture and the unusual and rough way in which the gold leaf has been applied. It’s really rather eye catching.


By contrast, a more traditional style of craftsmanship.  It’s interesting to note that no Buddha images were made during the first few centuries after the life of Lord Buddha. They first appeared during the 1st and 2nd century A.D. in India and, ever since then, a traditional Buddha image needs to be ‘properly rendered’ according to a list of rules.


A wall of stylised Buddhas.


In front of this wall of Buddhas is a rather different depiction of Buddha; somewhat militaristic at first look.  But the hand position is one of prayer; a position common in the namaste greeting gesture that means “I bow to you”.


Gifts of flowers may be given to this white robed Buddha.  There’s a monetary offering box and candle holders at the feet.  In the mural in the background, monks are depicted with their food bowls.  It is customary for temple monks to walk through the streets each morning receiving prepared food in these bowls from devotees.  Some people bring food to the temple as an offering to Buddha, food which is then used by the monks.  They have just two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, with just water in the afternoons and evenings.


A much more colourful rendition.  The right hand is held down in a gesture of charity.


The architecture of main entrance is of modern Thai Buddhist style although the pagoda has retained its original 1910 design and structure.  The entrance way is guarded by two brilliantly coloured, fierce looking dragons and ‘guard soldiers’.


There’s incredible attention to detail in all of the decorations.


The dragons are decorated with brightly coloured mirror tiles that glint in the sun.


And just before we left this temple, there was a message for all those who were born in the year of the monkey!  Having just missed out on being a monkey follower, I guess I also miss out on the virtue of ‘wosdom’ and the possibility of becoming famous. Oh well!

It had been a very interesting morning but we were relieved to be told that we had now concluded our visit to the major temples of Penang.  We were somewhat templed out! However, I hope you’ve found the various facets of these temples as fascinating as I did.

More of Penang anon.


All photographs copyright © DY  of  jtdytravels

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