Malaysia’s most spectacular places of worship
Be it temples, mosques or churches, Malaysia plays host to some of the region’s most impressive religious sites. Sandeep Dhanoa scours the country for the most spectacular places of worship
Kek Lok Si, Penang
Set on the Air Itam hilltop, the spectacular Kek Lok Si is Malaysia's largest Buddhist temple. The temple's massive complex consists of the temple grounds, the centre point and the hilltop. Walk through the main entrance and past the turtle pond and stalls selling souvenirs and snacks to the temple’s centre, which contains the pagoda and the Four Heavenly Kings pavilion. Meanwhile, the iconic Kuan Yin statue and beautiful gardens can be found on the hilltop.
Built in 1890 by Venerable Beow Lean, the temple has transcended its humble origins to become a national icon. In 1891, the earliest building of this temple was completed, the Hall of Bodhisattvas, followed by the construction of the Hall of Devas, the Hall of Devawira and the Tower of Sacred Books. Subsequently, Venerable Beow Lean was then ceremoniously installed as the Chief Priest of Kek Lok Si during a visit to China. In addition, he was also presented with several handwritten scripts and relics that belonged to the Emperor. These meticulous writings are now proudly displayed at the Hall of Devawira and at the archway of the spectacular 100-foot tall Pagoda of Rama VI, which showcases an exquisite combination of Chinese, Thai and Burmese architecture. This magnificent construction incorporates a Chinese octagonal base, a middle tier of Thai design and a Burmese crown with statues of Buddha at its peak.
Also known as the Temple of Supreme Bliss, Kek Lok Si accommodates a monumental bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, at its peak. Standing at 30.2 meters tall, the statue is undoubtedly one of Penang’s most prominent landmarks.
Christ Church, Malacca
Undoubtedly one of Malacca’s most significant landmarks, Christ Church was built by Dutch conquerors in 1753 to replace the ageing St Paul's Church or Bovenkerk.
Originally painted white, the church and the neighbouring Stadthuys were repainted their trademark brick-red colour in 1753. Its rectangular plan, massive walls and Dutch-tiled roofs are typical of 18th century Dutch architecture. Inside, plaques honour fallen Dutch and local soldiers. Don't forget to look down - bizarrely, the floors are paved with tombstones which bear ornate Portugueseinspired carvings. In addition, the church bell features an inscription that mysteriously dates back to 1698, fuelling speculation that the bell served another purpose prior to the completion of this spectacular church.
Putra Mosque, Putrajaya
Overlooking the picturesque Putrajaya Lake and located within the same vicinity as the Prime Minister’s office, Putra Mosque is certainly Putrajaya’s most distinctive landmark. Covering an estimated 1.37 hectares, this massive complex accommodates up to 15,000 worshippers at any one time. Named after the nation’s very first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra Al-Haj, this mosque was built in 1997 and its doors opened on 1 September 1999, before it was handed over to the Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (JAKIM).
The most prominent feature of this mosque is its spectacular pink dome, which is primarily made from rose-tinted granite. In addition, Putra Mosque plays host to three main function areas, an elegant prayer hall, a scenic courtyard and several multi-purpose function rooms. Its prayer hall is supported by 12 pillars and embellished with intricate designs and architecture, with the highest point being a staggering 250 feet above ground level. Furthermore, the panoramic courtyard is adorned with several water features that breathe serenity and calmness. Not to be left behind, its imposing minaret was influenced by that of the Sheikh Omar Mosque of Baghdad, and stands at 116 metres, accommodating five tiers that symbolise the Five Pillars of Islam. Hence, it’s without a shadow of doubt that Putra mosque is one of the region’s most iconic Islamic monuments.
Batu Caves, KL
Set away from KL’s concrete jungle and among majestic 400-million-yearold limestone hill caves, Batu Caves is arguably one of Malaysia’s most popular religious sights. K Thamboosamy Pillai, an Indian trader, decided to promote the caves as a sacred location for Hindus from all walks of life when he noticed that the cave opening mirrors the shape of the vel, the divine spear of the war god Lord Murugan.
Named after the Sungai Batu (Batu River) that flows past the caves, this divine place of worship plays host to a jaw-dropping set of 272 concrete steps leading up to the main entrance of the cave system. The biggest of these caves is the Temple or Cathedral Cave, which serves as the main prayer area with several Hindu shrines beneath its 100-metre high arched ceiling. Meanwhile, the other caves accommodate an art gallery and a museum cave that pays homage to Lord Murugan’s glorious victory against the demon Soorapadman. In 2006, a monumental 140-foot statue of Lord Murugan, the tallest of its kind in the world, was placed at the entrance of this sacred ground. In addition, Batu Caves underlines its importance to the Malaysian Indian community as the temples in its complex are managed by the Board of Management of Sri Maha Mariamman Temple Devasthanam, which represents the oldest Hindu temple in KL and acts as the Hindu Religious Consultant to the Government of Malaysia in determining the Hindu yearly calendar.
Crystal Mosque, Terengganu
Set in Wan Man Island, this impressive mosque is one of Southeast Asia’s most spectacular places of worship and was constructed between 2006 and 2008 by the Sultan of Terengganu, Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin. Standing alongside replicas of the world’s most significant Islamic monuments in Terengganu’s 250 million ringgit Islamic Heritage Park, the Crystal Mosque is undoubtedly one of Malaysia’s most iconic religious sites.
Terengganu’s jewel plays host to four majestic minarets that act as a trademark of classic Islamic architecture. In addition, a mammoth crystal chandelier serves as the centrepiece in the main prayer hall which accommodates 1,500 worshipers. Nevertheless, the main appeal of this mosque is undoubtedly the sublime use of crystals
in its interior and exterior architecture, as almost the entire structure was built using crystal and steel materials. Furthermore, come nightfall, the enchanting display of vivacious lighting transforms this mosque into a spectacle that is truly a sight to behold. As the icing on the cake, this mosque sticks true to its modern concept as it is the nation’s very first ‘intelligent mosque’, with the entire building equipped with WiFi access and built in IT facilities.
Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman Glass Temple, Johor
Founded in 1922 as a simple shelter on land that was provided by the Sultan, this is one of the oldest temples in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor. In 1996, Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman was rebuilt and officially opened, courtesy of Guru Bhagawan Sittar, the temple chairman, chief priest and driving force behind this place of worship after inheriting it as a modest hut in 1991. Following a trip to Bangkok in which a fascinating glass temple had caught his keen eye, Guru Bhagawan Sittar was inspired to build a magnificent glass temple in Johor’s own backyard. Construction of this iconic place of worship was completed in October 2009.
The Athma Lingam sanctuary acts as a centrepiece to this humble establishment, playing host to Lord Shiva’s lotus. Here, devotees can be seen performing rituals that are often accompanied by the pouring of pure rose water into the lotus. This unique sanctuary is designed with
rudraksha beads that have been imported from Nepal, each one accompanied with a prayer prior to embedding it into the walls. In addition, this temple is illuminated with the reflection of lights from crystal chandeliers as well as an assemblage of blue, white, yellow and purple mosaic glass. Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman also features several beautiful marble statues of various religious figures, including Mother Teresa, Gautama Buddha and Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Furthermore, this temple also accommodates an array of gold-finished sculptures, altogether symbolising the cycle of life, from the joy of a newborn to the mourning of death.