Bat Cave Temple (蝙蝠洞大伯公), Air Itam

Bat Cave Temple (3 September 2008)

The Bat Cave Temple (蝙蝠洞大伯公; Penang Hokkien: Bit3 Poh3 Tong33 Tua33 Pek1 Kong1 ) is a unique Tua Pek Kong temple at the foot of Penang Hill, a short distance from the Jade Emperor's Pavilion and below the old Penang Hill quarry.

I explored the Bat Cave Temple for the first time in the company of an expatriate Mat Salleh who brought me there. Although I have heard of the temple before, this was the first time I visited it (yeah, there are many places in Penang I haven't visited yet, okay?) It is one of the many temples dedicated to the worship of Tua Pek Kong, the local god of prosperity. The average worshipper might not be able to tell you who Tua Pek Kong is, other than he worships the deity for well-being and prosperity. To trace the origin of Tua Pek Kong, refer to the Tanjong Tokong Tua Pek Kong Temple, which is the mother temple of all Tua Pek Kong temples in the country.

Front entrance of the Bat Cave Temple (3 September 2008)

It is not uncommon to see that the worship of a deity for material gains borders on gambling. In the case of the Bat Cave Temple, while the average local Chinese might not know its whereabouts, a good many who do know where it is and turned up to offer prayers are those who came seeking wins, whether on the race track or elsewhere. In fact, I was told that the expansion of the temple was a result of thanksgiving funds from those who won big. I am not sure how true this is, or perhaps they are from devotees who were blessed in more upright ways.

The temple is very old. A guidebook printed in the 1977 mentions that the temple was built a good sixty years ago, meaning it would have been built in 1917, if not earlier. The guidebook further stated that a hermit once used the bat cave for meditation, and that Buddhist monks guard the bats against human interference. I am not sure how true this would be, considering the temple is not a Buddhist temple, but a Tua Pek Kong temple, which is more closely related to local beliefs.

The altar to Tua Pek Kong (3 September 2008)

A different version of the legend tells of a feng shui master who reared a couple of white cranes. He chose to live in the cave with his two cranes. The feng shui master was the one who started the worship of Tua Pek Kong in the cave. Eventually, he passed away and subsequently so did his cranes. After he had died, bats began to take over the cave.

Getting there

Take Rapid Penang Bus 204 which goes to the Penang Hill Railway station. Check the Rapid Penang Bus Routes for details. From the bus stop, walk a short distance down the road till you reach a lane to your left with a big arch. The arch is for the Jade Emperor's Pavilion. Take that lane. A short distance up that lane, there is a right branch. It has a sign pointing the way to the Bat Cave Temple. Follow that branch and it takes you to the temple, which is about 50 meters from the sign.

Statue of the Auspicious Tortoise - rubbing it will rub some luck on you, so believed some (3 September 2008)

What to see and do

The bats are the sole attraction of this temple. They hang from the ceiling of the cave like dry leaves. At first, you might not notice them for the darkness, but as your eyes get used to the dark, you will start to see them. Some times, the temple is kind enough to turn some lights on, but not too much as to scare the bats. The wall of the cave is black, so the temple people painted a line on the wall, to help prevent people from knocking their heads. It is almost impossible to take photos of the bats, as it is very dark in there.

Bats inside the cave temple (3 September 2008)

Another shot of the bat on the wall (3 September 2008)

This is not an upside-down road, just a white line drawn to prevent people bumping their heads! (3 September 2008)

Bat Cave Temple at duskBat Cave Temple at dusk (26 January, 2013)

List of Chinese Temples in Penang and Chinese Temples in Malaysia

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