Timothy Tye
Dato Koyah Shrine (Keramat Dato Koyah)

Dato Koyah Shrine in 2012 (30 August 2012)

Dato Koyah Shrine, or Keramat Dato Koyah, is a shrine to a Muslim saint along Transfer Road in George Town, Penang. Dato Koyah, sometimes also written as Datuk Koya, is the popular name for Syed Mustapha Idris. He arrived in Penang from the Malabar coast in southern India (in present-day Karnataka and Kerala), where he was a mendicant, wandering from place to place, teaching, healing the sick, until one day, an incident happened that forced him to flee. Accused of a murder he did not commit, he had to leave the Malabar coast. Dato Koyah arrived in Penang some time in the early 19th century.

In Penang, Dato Koyah settled down under a tree at the site where his shrine stands today. At that time, Jalan Transfer was not yet built. Instead, a canal extends from North Beach - the coast where Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah is today - right down to where it meets the Prangin Canal, where Masjid Titi Papan is today.

Dato Koyah became a laborer to earn a lifelihood, but to the Malayalee and Tamil Muslim community, he was respected as a spiritual leader and teacher. There are legends about him that he could do miracles, including feeding the masses from the porridge of just a small pot, of producing candies for children seemingly out of thin air, and on one occasion, of getting out of a locked jail. It happened when Dato Koyah was arrested along with the fellow labourers for demonstrating against the beatings inflicted by their British superiors. Somehow, he managed to walk out of the jail very next day. Not only that, while the workers were incarcerated, the road work that they were to do had been miraculously completed.

Eventually Dato Koyah won the respect of the British authorities. When he passed away, he was buried and Keramat Dato Koyah was erected by his followers. It stands on the spot where he lived under the tree. The British honored him by naming Jalan Dato Koyah after him. That road leads from Lebuh Clarke, behind Keramat Dato Koyah right down to Penang Road. A Malabari settlement once existed in this area, from the shrine, along Jalan Dato Koyah, and continued across Penang Road into Kampung Malabar.

Followers of Dato Koyah would observe his feast day, which falls on the 5th day of the second Muslim month, Safar, at which time alms were distributed to the poor. On normal days, devotees - mostly Tamil Muslims - would visit the shrine, especially on Thursday nights. They place flowers on his grave, burn incense, and ask for favors.

The architecture of the Dato Koyah Shrine reflects south Indian architecture. It is similar to other Indian Muslim shrines in the region, particularly the Nagore Shrine along Chulia Street and the Nagore Shrine in Singapore.

Getting there

Keramat Dato Koyah is located at Transfer Road. If you are coming from the Weld Quay Ferry & Bus Terminal, it is best to alight the bus at Penang Road and then walk to the shrine. Rapid Penang Nos. 10, 103, 11, 101, 104, 201, 202, 203 and U204 pass through Penang Road. These buses will pass by Jalan Transfer on their way back to Weld Quay Ferry & Bus Terminal.

Dato Koyah Shrine under restorationDato Koyah Shrine under restoration (25 November, 2017)

The grave of Dato Koyah (30 August, 2012)

Keramat Dato Koyah in 2006 (28 May 2006)

Keramat Dato Koyah (28 May 2006)

View of Keramat Dato Koyah along Jalan Transfer (28 May 2006)

Dato Koyah Shrine on Google Street View

Location of the Dato Koyah Shrine on the map

List of Mausoleums in Penang and Mausoleums in Malaysia

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