Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (GPS: 5.41433, 100.33756) at Cannon Square in George Town, Penang, is the finest Chinese clan temple outside China. It was founded in 1835, on the 8th day of the 5th moon of the Chinese calendar, when 102 members of the Khoo clan gathered to form an association to look after the welfare of Khoo clansmen in the Nanyang. They put together a sum of 528 Straits Dollars and established their association under the name of their patron saint, Tua33 Sai3 Yeah2.
It was to be similar to another Khoo association in China, the Ee Kok Tong. One of the functions of the association was to keep records of the clan ancestors and descendents. The result of this meticulous exercise is that the Khoos have one of the most complete genealogical charts of all the clans in Penang.
The ancestors of the Khoos can be traced to a common progenitor, one Chan Chian Eng who ironically was given away to a Khoo family of another village, and hence took on his adopted Khoo surname. Chian Eng had a son who settled in the village of Sin3 Kang4 in the Chuan Chew state in Fujian Province, China. The Khoos of Khoo Kongsi trace their ancestry back to this clan village.
Passage into Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
The Khoo Kongsi is in fact a miniature clan village set into the city of George Town. Many of the town houses surrounding the Khoo Kongsi clan temple bear the sign "Sin3 Kang4", as do the gateways leading into Khoo Kongsi. There were originally three access passages to the clan temple. The principal access is via Cannon Street with auxiliary passages to Beach Street and Armenian Street. Apart from the principal access, the other two are narrow alleys fronted by an ornate gate. The Khoo Kongsi Beach Street entrance is the more ornate, while the entrance at Armenian Street is quite plain. These gates can be shut in times of trouble, to prevent intruders from entering the compound.
Since a recent renovation of the temple complex, the two narrower passageways have been sealed off, leaving now only a single entrance into and out of Khoo Kongsi, and that is, the main passageway from Cannon Square.
There is also a clan museum occupying the ground floor of the temple. Visitors now have to pay an entrance fee that goes to the general upkeep of the place. These are waived on celebratory days, such as during the annual Chinese New Year Open House and the George Town Festival.
The land to built Khoo Kongsi was acquired in 1851. It measures 97,035 sq feet. Before its construction, there was a bungalow on the site, and this was converted into a clan temple for ancestor worship. This temple was named Leong3 San3 Tong3, meaning "Dragon Mountain Hall", to commemorate and honour of the Khoo progenitor's village of Leong San in China.
Ceiling of the outer porch of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
Over the years since the acquisition of the land in 1851, the Khoos prospered and established themselves in the upper strata of Penang society. However, as part of defending their rights against the Ghee Hin Secret Society, the Khoo clansmen under their leader Khoo Thean Teik, was involved in the Penang Riots of 1867. The Khoos fought alongside their Muslim brethren of the Red Flag Secret Society, whose leader was Syed Mohamad Al-Attas, against the Ghee Hins. In 1868, Khoo Thean Teik was arrested for his role in the fighting and was sentenced to death. However, he did not meet such a fate, but instead was released from prison after seven years.
In 1894, an idea was mooted to construct a new clan temple to replace the existing structure. It was a highly ostentatious project to showcase the Khoo's newly acquired wealth, and the grand new temple took eight years to complete. Strangely, just 29 days after its completion, on the eve of the Sin Chooi Year, a fire broke up, destroying the whole temple. The only items salvaged from the inferno was a pair of carved bamboo couplets known as "teik lean". These are still on display today in the Tua Pek Kong Hall, to the right of the main hall of Khoo Kongsi.
Ceiling of the Central Hall of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
Clueless over how the fire started, the Khoos attributed it to the wrath of the gods for having erected such a lavish temple for the worship of their patron saints and ancestors, who were mere mortals. A few years after the first temple was destroyed, plans were afoot to built it again.
To avoid angering the gods, the new temple is a scaled-down version of the original. Nevertheless materials for the new temple were shipped from China, and master craftsmen, artists, artisans and sculptors were also brought in from China to complete the new temple, and when it was completed, the new Leong San Tong stood as another Khoo masterpice. It was completed in 1906, at the cost of a hundred thousand Straits dollars.
The ornate façade of Leong San Tong (28 February, 2004)
The Leong San Tong suffered partial damage during the Second World War when it was shelled by the Japanese. The bombing also took its toll on some 20 townhouses within the Khoo Kongsi courtyard. After the war, restoration of the structure took four years and costs sixty thousand Straits dollars.
The splendour of Khoo Kongsi lies in its highly detailed wood carvings, wall frescoes and roof decorations. The whole roof structure is said to weigh 25 to 50 tons, and is the best example of the chien1 nien2 cut-and-paste technique, where shards of ceramic bowls are used to form patterns, beasts, mortals and immortal beings.
Khoo Kongsi roof ornamentation (7 July, 2012)
Layout of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
The clan temple consists of two floors, the ground floor and the top floor. The ground floor was previously occupied by the Toon Boon Tong, or the Parentage Society, which was founded in 1884. Nowadays, it is used as the Khoo Kongsi Clan Museum. To the left of the museum is a small giftshop.
Khoo clan museum (28 February, 2004)
Access to the Parentage Society of Khoo Clan at Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
The top floor is accessible by the grand staircase. Flanking the staircase are the Two Monks. The one on the right is called the Crying Monk. On the other side is the Laughing Monk. Now why is the monk laughing? If you look under him, and you will find that there is a small copper coin embedded beneath the handrail. Thus this monk is laughing because he is sitting on money!
The Laughing Monk - he is happy because he is sitting on money (28 February, 2004)
There are three main halls on the top. They are the central hall, the ancestral hall to the left, and the hall to the god of prosperity to the right.
The Central Hall is the biggest and most ornate chamber of Leong San Tong. Flanking its entrance is a pair of guardian lions with rolling marble balls in their mouths. The central hall is dedicated to the Khoo's patron saints, known by their honorific titles, Ong Soon and Tai Sai. They are deified mortals who were warriors involved in defending China against invaders from the north.
The main altar at Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
As you look up to the ceiling of the Central Hall, you will see lanterns and other receptacles hanging down from above. These have been in place since 1906. On the walls of the Cental Hall are ink frescoes detailing the deeds of the 36 legendary heroes and heroines of Chinese mythology. Also on display are two green marble plaques inscribed with the names of the 102 Khoo clansmen who founded the association, along with photographs of past and present Trustees of Khoo Kongsi.
To the left of the Central Hall is the Ancestral Hall. This somewhat more subdued chamber holds the ancestral tablets, or Sin3 Choo1 Pai2. These are tablets inscribed with the name of a dearly beloved member of the Khoo clan who had departed. In front of the tablets is an ornate altar table for ancestral worship. On the walls, on both sides of the Ancestral Hall are plaques congratulating various members of the Khoo clan who have gained academic excellence or have received recognition for their service to society.
Ancestral Hall, Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
To the right of the Central Hall is the Tua33 Pek1 Kong1 Hall, or Hall to the God of Prosperity. There is also an altar table here, this one for the worship of the God of Prosperity. If you compare it to the one in the Ancestral Hall, you will find that it is placed slightly to the front. This is to indicate the superiority of the deity over the departed mortals. As with the Ancestral Hall, the walls of the Tua33 Pek1 Kong1 Hall is lined with congratulatory plaques.
The Tua Pek Kong Hall, with its altar table (28 February, 2004)
Located right across from the Leong San Tong Clan Temple is the temple stage. This is where performances are staged for the pleasure of the patron saints and departed ancestors, and also for the enjoyment of the audience.
Khoo Kongsi stage (2 February, 2013)
As one of the grandest buildings in George Town, the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi receives a steady stream of tourists every day to admire its exquisite craftsmanship, from the majestic roof ornamentations to the lavish interior designs. It stands as one of the must-see sights within the George Town World Heritage Site.
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, on a festivity night (13 February, 2005)
Ink murals cover the walls on the rear side of Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (28 February, 2004)
What to see and do there
Enter Khoo Kongsi through the main entrance at Cannon Square. After paying for your admission, go around the temple stage. The Dragon Mountain Hall, or Leong San Tong, is in front of you. Visit the clan museum at the ground floor, and then proceed upstairs to admire the exquisite prayer halls. Remember to look for the Laughing Monk. If the back portion upstairs is open to the public, go and admire the ink frescoes on the wall.
The Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi at night (7 July, 2012)
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi is the biggest and most beautiful clan temple outside China. This clan association was established in 1835. This temple was completed in 1906. The Khoo Kongsi temple is a two-storey building. On the upper floor is the ancestral hall. Over here the Khoos worship their ancestors. There are many ancestral tablets here. There are also altar tables for the Khoo to worship their deities.
On the group floor is the Khoo clan museum. Over here, people can get to know the history of the Khoo clan in Penang.
If you wish to enter Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, you have to pay at entrance fee at the outer gate. Entrance fees are waived on festive days.
Penang Hokkien Video Reading: Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
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