The Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple (GPS: 5.41728, 100.3382) on Queen Street, George Town, is one of the oldest Hindu temples in Penang. Also known as Sri Mahamariamman Temple or simply the Mariamman Temple, it is dedicated to the Hindu deity Sri Muthu Mariamman, who has a following among the Indians of South India.
The Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple has its back facing Pitt Street (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). Scholars believe the name Mariamman comes from two words, mari meaning power, and amman meaning mother. Sri Muthu Mariamman is considered a motherly power figure, a goddess of mercy and patron deity of the peasants of southern India.
Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple, front façade facing Queen Street (24 June, 2005)
Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple in the morning (5 February, 2013)
Like many other Hindu temples in Penang, the Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple began as a small and simple shrine. According to records, the land on which the Mahamariamman Temple stood was granted in 1801 by the British to one person by the name of Betty Lingam Chetty, who in all likelihood was the Kapitan (headman or community leader) of the Tamils and South Indians. This was done to ensure that the Indian community, which includes the merchants, labourers and sepoys are settled in one particular area, for ease of managing the group.
The majority of the people who lived around the temple were waterfront workers who were the backbone of the Penang port. These Indian stevedores were organised in groups called kootam - a member of a kootam is a kootakadai, and heading each kootam is a thandal. Together, the Indian community numbered about 2000 workers and they inhabited the area bounded by Queen Street, King Street, Penang Street, Market Street and Church Street, an area collectively known as Ellammuchanthi in Tamil, or Simpang Lelong in Malay. This area is known today as Little India.
The crest on the back gate of Mahamariamman Temple (24 June, 2005)
Interior of Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple (21 August, 2004)
The Sri Mahamariamman shrine was enlarged into a temple in 1833. Incidentally, since this was when it became a proper temple, the year 1833 is taken as the year that it was founded. At the time of its founding, it was known as the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple. It was only in 1980 that it became known by its present name, Sri Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple - although the name is often written as Sri Mariamman Temple, Mahamariamman Temple and so on. The Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple has a 23 feet tall sculptured tower, or gopuram, on which are 38 statues of Hindu deities.
During the nine-day Navarithri festival, Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple holds a procession where the deity Mariamman is paraded in a decorated wooden chariot. The procession negotiates the tight streets of Little India.
Shrines within the Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple (21 August, 2004)
You can walk from the Weld Quay Ferry & Bus Terminal to the Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple. Take the pedestrian bridge across Weld Quay and then turn left and walk along Weld Quay until you reach the junction of Chulia Street Ghaut on your right. Take Chulia Street Ghaut, which continues as Chulia Street after the intersection with Beach Street. On reaching the junction with Queen Street, turn right, and you will see the Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple immediately on your left. Admission is free, but remember to remove your shoes. Also, be decently attired. Photography is allowed except for the central sanctum where no photography is allowed.
What to see and do
Admire the South Indian temple architecture, with its gopuram (towers) at the gate. Walk around the temple compound and get to know the different deities inside. Ask questions to the priests if they are not busy, and they will most likely entertain you.
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