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Thni Kong Tnua (Jade Emperor's Pavilion)

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Jade Emperor Pavilion (Thni Kong Tnua), Air Itam, Penang (26 January, 2012)

Thni Kong Tnua, or Jade Emperor's Pavilion (GPS: 5.40982, 100.27699), (Traditional Chinese: 天公壇, Simplified Chinese: 天公坛; Pinyin: Tiāngōng tán, Penang Hokkien: Thni3 Kong3 Tnua2), is a Taoist temple at the foot of Penang Hill in Air Itam, Penang. It is located to the right of the Penang Hill Railway Station.

As the name suggests, the Jade Emperor's Pavilion is dedicated to the worship of the Jade Emperor, or Thni Kong. The term Thni Kong means Heavenly Grandfather, and is the common title for the Huang Shangdi, or Pure August Emperor of Jade. This is the most important deity in the Chinese Taoist pantheon, and is regarded as the ruler of heaven. The worship of the Jade Emperor is traced to as early as the 9th century AD, when he was the patron deity of the imperial family.

The Jade Emperor Pavilion is on the map of Jalan Pokok Ceri

Thni Kong Tnua archway (28 January, 2006)

Central sanctuary of Thni Kong Tnua (26 January, 2012)

As with most Taoist deities, the origin of the Jade Emperor is shrouded in mythology. He is said to have been born a crown prince of one "kingdom of pure felicity". Upon the death of his father, he ascended the throne. He underwent 1750 trials, each taking 120,976 years, after which he attained Golden Immortality. After another one hundred million years, he finally became the Jade Emperor.

According to Taoist myth, it was the Jade Emperor who created men. He fashioned men out of clay, and left them to harden in the sun. However, it rained, causing the men to deform, and thus introducing the origin of sickness and physical abnormalities. This is just one of the many stories featuring the Jade Emperor that are popular in China, and with Chinese practising Taoism.

Outer shrine of Thni Kong Tnua (26 January, 2012)

A number of beliefs that are commonplace among the Chinese can be traced to the Jade Emperor. One of them was the Chinese zodiac. In this story, the busy Jade Emperor summoned all the animals on earth to pay him a visit, because he has never visited earth personally, and has not seen how animals look like. The cat asked the rat to wake him on the day of the visit. However, the rat was worried that he would compare unfavourably to the cat, so on the day of the visit, he did not wake the cat.

As a result, the cat missed the chance to meet the Jade Emperor, and his place was taken over by the pig. The Jade Emperor was delighted to meet all the animals, and hence he named the years with each of them. The cat was furious when he learned that he missed out, and from that day, the cat and the rat were enemies.

Grand Staircase to the Jade Emperor Pavilion (26 January, 2012)

The Thni Kong Tnua or Jade Emperor's Pavilion in Air Itam is one of those rare temples dedicated to the worship of this august deity. The temple in its present form dates back to 1905. It was built by the same Cantonese-Hokkien temple trustees as the Kong Hock Keong, better known as Kuan Yin Teng. A Taoist shrine is said to have existed on that particular site since 1869, and for that reason, the present Jade Emperor's Pavilion is regarded as being over 140 years old.

Before the renovation of 2002, the Jade Emperor's Pavilion received its last major facelift through the efforts of the philanthropist brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, of Haw Par Villa fame. That was back in 1931. Among the structures built at that time was an octagonal pavilion that is still standing.

Main entrance, Jade Emperor Pavilion (26 January, 2012)

The Jade Emperor's Pavilion sits on a horse-shoe knoll called Fong San, or Phoenix Mountain, a particularly auspicious position, for it represents the four sacred creatures of Taoism - green dragon, white tiger, black turtle and red peacock, each guarding the temple in four cardinal directions.

The Thni Kong Tnua is unique in that it is a Taoist temple managed by Buddhist monks. One of the more imminent was Abbot Jing Ming, a Mahayanist Buddhist monk who also taught Zen Buddism. He was the abbot of Thni Kong Tnua from 1905 to 1915.

The Thni Kong Tnua underwent extensive renovation and restoration which began in January 2002. As the craftmanship is not available locally, artisans from China had to be employed. They include 33 craftsmen from Fuzhou. The people involved in the restoration is also the ones who worked on the award-winning Thian Hock Keng Temple in Singapore. The restoration of the Thian Hock Keng Temple received an award from Unesco for cultural heritage conservation.

Door gods on the reverse side of the main entrance of the Jade Emperor Pavilion (26 January, 2012)

The Jade Emperor's Pavilion is particularly busy on 8th night of Chinese New Year, because it is thronged by devotees coming to celebrate the Jade Emperor's Birthday, which falls on the 9th day of Chinese New Year. As I am neither Buddhist nor Taoist, I document the Thni Kong Tnua from a purely secular, heritage and cultural perspective.

I photographed the Jade Emperor's Pavilion on 26 January, 2012, during Chinese New Year, when the temple was still in the midst of the renovations. Later I organised a site visit to it for the Penang Heritage Trust, but unfortunately I myself was unable to attend as I was away overseas. Nevertheless, it gave the participants of the visit a glimpse at one of the few temples to be erected for the Jade Emperor. I understand that the temple trustee are keen to submit it for Unesco consideration for heritage culture conservation.

Outer shrine of Thni Kong Tnua with three Buddha images (28 January, 2006)

Getting there

Take Rapid Penang Bus U204 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. The lane is called Jalan Pokok Ceri. Take that lane. A short distance up that lane, Go straight up until you see the Jade Emperor Pavilion perched on the hill side. The hill railway viaduct passes right behind the temple.

Side building at Thni Kong Tnua (28 January, 2006)

What to see and do

The Jade Emperor Pavilion was recently restored. Go inside and admire the pavilion itself, which has the largest tragrams dome of any Taoist temples in the region. The temple is resplendent in its crimson lacquer.

A line of Chinese mythological personalities. (28 January, 2006)

Updates on the Jade Emperor Pavilion

Thni Kong Tnua 2012 I revisited the Thni Kong Tnua on 26 January 2012 during the Chinese New Year, to view how the place now looks like. See my latest pictures.

The Inner Shrine of Jade Emperor Pavilion (28 January, 2006)

Multi-handed Bodhisattva, Jade Emperor Pavilion (28 January, 2006)

The Jade Emperor (28 January, 2006)

Ceiling of the Inner Shrine of the Jade Emperor Pavilion (28 January, 2006)

The Jade Emperor's Pavilion is on the map of Air Itam

List of Chinese Temples in Penang and Chinese Temples in Malaysia

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