Sian Chye Tong Temple (善才堂) is a Mahayana Buddhist temple located on a hill slope in Hye Keat Estate, in Air Itam, Penang. It was built for the veneration of the Kumara Sudhana Bodhisattva, or Sudhanakumâra (善财童子), known in the local vernacular as Sian Chye Phor Sat or Sian Chye Tong Choo, and loosely translated as Child of Wealth or Baby God. Sudhanakumâra appears in Buddhist, Taoist and Chinese folk stories, as the acolyte or attendant to the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, who is known in the local vernacular as Kuan Yin, and loosely translated as Goddess of Mercy. Tales of Sudhanakumâra appears in the Avatamsaka Sutra, one of the major Mahayana sutras of East Asian Buddhism.
Sian Chye Tong Temple was founded the late Khoo Guan Seong, PPM, PJM, a spirit medium who often went into a trance when possessed by Sian Chye Phor Sat. Born in Penang and educated at the Penang Free School, Mr Khoo moved to Singapore to make a living in the 1930s. The year 1930 is taken as the founding year of Sian Chye Tong.
According to an article in the Sian Chye Tong 80th anniversary commemorative book, he fell into a trance for the first time when an evil spirit took possession of a lady house mate, and the spirit of Sian Chye Phor Sat entered Mr Khoo to restore the lady. From then on, Sian Chye Phor Sat frequently possessed Mr Khoo who became a medium.
Upon returning to Penang in 1937, Mr Khoo set up a shrine for Sian Chye Phor Sat at a house along Maxwell Road. As the number of believers increased, he relocated to Naning Street. The present temple in Hye Keat Estate was built in 1955 on land granted to it by the Kuan Im Kok Temple. It was inaugurated by Mr Suphot Phiansunthon, the Thai Consul in Penang on 2 April, 1956. Since then, the temple has attracted a horde of devotees, among them the late Madam Teh Pyan Hong @ Mrs Aw Boon Haw who single-handedly funded the repair of the driveway to the temple.
Apart from his role as medium, Mr Khoo is also well-known for his skill in preparing vegetarian dishes. He first gave up beef in the 1930s, by the order of Sian Chye Phor Sat who visited him in a trance. He became a full vegetarian on 15 January 1951, on the birthday of the Buddha. From then on, he brushed up his culinary skills to whip up a variety of vegetarian dishes.
The feast day (or birthday) of Sian Chye Phor Sat is on the 23rd day of the first lunar month. This is a 3-day celebration commencing on the 22nd day and continuing to the 24th, when monks recite chants from the sutras. There used to be a candlelight procession during the Feast of Sian Chye Phor Sat. Now it has been replaced with a grand celebration, staged once for every five years. It draws devotees from various countries of the world.
With Mr Khoo Guan Seong having passed on in 1985, the temple is today under the care of his son, Eddy Khoo Gim Siew, PJK, PJM, who is the second generation medium of the temple. Eddy's son Gary, the third generation in line, is also playing an active role, having been the Vice Chairman of the 80th Anniversary celebration of Sian Chye Tong and providing the temple with a lot of online exposure.
In conjunction with its 80th anniversary, the Sian Chye Tong Temple embarked on a renovation project in 2010. This culminated in the 80th anniversary celebration which was officiated by the Chief Minister of Penang, the Right Honourable Tuan Lim Guan Eng on 20 February, 2011.
The first phase of renovations involved the construction of an archway. This was completed in time for the anniversary celebrations. The second phase of renovation continued thereafter. It involves the construction of a new roof over the front porch as well as renovations to the main entrance. These are expected to be fully completed for the 2013 Chinese New Year celebrations. At the time of my initial visit (18 January, 2013), construction appears to have been completed and the scaffoldings are expected to be dismantled within the next couple of weeks.
Sian Chye Tong Temple is located off Persiaran Taman Cantik. If you drive there, turn into Jalan Khoo Hye Keat from the Air Itam Roundabout. Then turn left to Lorong Khoo Hye Keat (incorrectly labelled Lebuh Khoo Hye Keat on Google Maps), before continue on Jalan Taman Cantik. Take the side road next to Sin Fah Thong Temple to reach it.
If you are coming by public transport, take Rapid Penang Bus 204 to Hill Railway Road, then walk along Persiaran Taman Cantik, with the Desa Bendera apartments on your right, and after that Kedai Makanan Laut Happy Family on your left. Take the bridge across Sungai Air Putih. You will see Sin Fah Thong Temple on your left. Take the road next to Sin Fah Thong Temple and you will see Sian Chye Tong Temple on a knoll.
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