South of Jalan Hang Lekir, tucked away on Jalan Tun HS Lee, is the extravagantly decorated Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Incorporating Spanish and Italian tiles, precious stones and gold in its design, KL’s main Hindu temple is an incongruous sight situated between two Buddhist temples at the edge of Chinatown.
This large and elaborate Hindu temple was founded by Tamil immigrants, from southern India, who arrived in Malaya as contract labourers to build the railways and roads or work in the rubber plantations – its primary purpose was to serve as a solace from the rigours of their working life. Construction of the temple began in 1873 with plenty of ongoing restoration and embellishment occurring over the years.
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Significant renovation took place in 1968 with the construction of the impressive 75ft, deity-clad 'Raja Gopuram' tower – said to be the threshold between the material and spiritual world. Indeed, walking through this entryway into the temple is like flicking a switch – outside, on the streets, the air practically steams and the sound of traffic is deafening: inside, there’s a sense of serenity, the floor is cool, the atmosphere is charged and the air is scented with flowers, camphor, ‘dhoop’ and ‘agarbattis’ (incense).
Erected by sculptors from India, there are 228 Hindu idols – frozen in dozens of scenes from the Ramayana – adorning the five tiers of the polychromatic gopuram (entrance gate). Besides the intricate carvings of Hindu deities and gold and precious stone embellishments, the temple is also adorned with hand-painted motifs depicting stories from early Hinduism.
Main Prayer Hall
The South Indian-style temple’s early construction was financed by Thambusamy Pillai, a pillar of old KL's Indian community. The garbagraham, or sanctum sanctorum, is an inner chamber where the chief image of deity Sri Maha Mariamman is located. This hall, where incense spirals up into the air, is where priests perform puja (prayers) – low, deep surging and subsiding chants which disciples take up, filling the hall with sound.
The main prayer hall features a richly-decorated onion-domed ceiling where three shrines are located; four smaller shrines are located peripherally around the main temple building. All in all, these shrines house effigies of Lord Ganesha, Lord Muruga, Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth) and more images. The temple was under wraps recently for renovations and now looks even more dazzling than ever.
The temple was named after the popular Hindu deity, Mariamman, looked upon as protector of Tamils during sojourns to foreign lands. The goddess’s intercession was often sought to provide protection against sickness and ‘unholy (demonic) incidents’. As the oldest, and reputedly the richest, Hindu temple in KL you will join many devotees who, especially early and late in the day, pass through the temple to pay their respects (and give a donation) to their deities. In keeping with Hindu tradition, the temple is consecrated once every 12 years.
A prominent feature during the annual Thaipusam festival is the temple’s large, silver chariot, sporting 240 bells and a pair of horses, dedicated to Lord Murugan (Subramaniam). It’s used to transport the statues of Lord Muruga and his consorts, Valli and Teivayanni, through the city streets en-route to Batu Caves, on the northern edge of the city. A procession that takes place in January or February every year, large numbers of Hindu devotees converge on the temple to participate in the ritual which is usually preceded by about half-an-hour’s chanting, accompanied by music. For the rest of the year, the 21ft chariot – built at a cost of RM350,000 – is kept in a ‘vault’ (in actuality a building at the side of the temple that can be seen as you walk along Jalan Hang Lekir – the first street on the left back along Jalan Tun HS Lee from the temple).
Getting to the Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Originally situated near the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station, the temple was moved to its present site in 1885. It’s always open to the public and is free to visit, although you may want to donate a ringgit or so towards its maintenance. There’s a free facility near the entrance where, before entering the temple, you leave your shoes. Outside the pyramid-shaped entryway are flower vendors selling garlands as well as stalls where sweetmeats and other delicacies can be had. Leaving behind the pillars, the red and gold lacquer, gleaming gongs and polished wood of the temple can be a little jarring: inside is almost a place of waking dreams – outside on the streets is the reality of Kuala Lumpur by day.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
- Opening Hours: 06:00 – 21:00
- Address: 163, Jalan Tun H. S. Lee, Kuala Lumpur.
- Tel: +603 2078 3467