MALAYSIA HINDU TEMPLES
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A bit of history
Hinduism arrived the shores of
Malaysia (then called Swarnabumi) during the Pallava (4th - 9th
century) & Chola (9th - 13th century) empires. Archaeological
findings on more than 30 sites in the state of Kedah by
Dr. Quaritch Wales indicates continuous occupation of the region by
people of South Indian origin.
A stone tablet
inscription from the Chola age found in Bujang Valley,
A statue of
Ganesha found in the Bujang Valley
Images with thanks from:
Today's name Kedah for the state
was derived from the Tamil word Kadaram. The word "Melayu" referring
to the Malay race was said to have been derived from "Malaiyur"
which meant a mountainous country.
There were many inscriptions
that showed Hindu and Buddhist influence during the early days
particularly in Kedah.
These temples and shrines were
destroyed either by weather or by sheer ignorance and lack of
maintenance during the subsequent periods when Malaya was occupied
by other empires from the West. The Malaysian government has
protected many of these artefacts and displayed them in the Bujang
Valley Archaeological Museum built in 1978 near Bedong, Kedah at the
foothills of Mount Jerai.
Today's Hindus in Malaysia
The Hindu temples and culture
that we see today in Malaysia are predominantly developed during the
British era when indentured Indian labourers were brought in to work
in the railway and plantations. Many also came to work in
supervisory and administrative jobs that ultimately saw many Indians
who held high positions in government service as well as in
Thus several forms of temples
developed in Malaysia during that era:
temples: Mainly built by small Chettiar communities in areas
where they dominate. Such temples can still be seen in Malacca,
Ipoh and Penang.
Clan temples: Mainly
built by North Indians (Gujeratis, Punjabi Hindus and others)
whereby the temple would feature the North Indian flavour. One
such temple is the Laxmi Narayan Temple in Jalan Ipoh in Kuala
City temples: These
were usually initiated and built by the efforts from Indian
government employees and businessmen who work and reside in
towns. Such temples include the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in
Kuala Lumpur and many similar ones in the country.
The Sri Maha
Mariamman Temple in KL that was founded in 1873
Cave and hill temples:
These were the result of some priests, holy men or "lonely" men
who meditated or frequented the place and eventually built a
place of worship. This may include the Sri Subramaniar Temple of
Batu Caves, the Sivan Temple of Bukit Gasing, the Vinayagar
Temple of Pudu.
Subramaniar Temple in Batu Caves
Most plantations would typically have a Mariamman temple built
by the estate (plantation) management for the benefit of the
large Indian Hindu labour population. Then some larger
plantations would see the creation of Muniandy temples, Kali
temples and others that are built by the workers to serve their
needs or sometimes to feed the ego of a split community due to
different clans or different castes.
The Sri Maha
Mariamman Temple in an estate in Johore
Home temples: There
are a minority home temples that sometimes evolve into a
regional temple. This are mainly some religious families that
build a shed in front of their houses or under a tree and the
followers gradually increase.
These are a specific category where a priest (mostly those who
would act as a medium, come into a trance) offer solutions and
guidance to the followers who approach him/her with various
problems ranging from illness right up to wanting lucky numbers.
Whatever temples that remains
active (whether legally registered or not, whether sitting on
properly owned land or squatting on "un-owned" land) are from one of
the above origin. It is said that there are more than 17,000 Hindu
temples in Malaysia where the Hindu population is probably
approximately 1.2 million.
Given the scenario above, the
changes and developments taking place in Malaysia are so rapid that
there are many temples that are caught in a dilemma when it comes to
the legalisation process.
Modernisation of Malaysian
The most affected category of
temples are the ones that were once a plantation temple. These are
temples that often become "orphaned" due to re-settlement of the
population and development of the plantation into new towns or
construction of highways and the like.
The city temples that had been
there for more than 100 years are stable due to it having its own
land, a Board of Trustees and proper registration with the Registrar
The plantation temples
frequently become abandoned. Meanwhile there are many surviving ones
where the remaining devotees of the area and newly settled Hindus
try to revive the temples. This becomes tricky when the temples have
been sitting on plantation-owned land and would have now become a
new town where the developer then owns the land! This immediately
makes the temple an illegal structure sitting on squatter land!!
thought is this: There is no meaning in trying to protect and
revive all such temples as many would have served its purpose
during the heydays of the plantation sectors glory. And if the
remaining devotees in that area have shrunk it is in the best
interest of everyone to merge such temples with a legally built
One step towards modernisation
may be to enlist all remaining temples squatting on illegal land and
plan a proper merger and relocation so that Hindus can enjoy the
existence of larger and better managed temples that serves a wider
This change cannot be avoided as
the original scope of those plantation temples were merely to serve
the basic prayer needs of the people living in that particular
estate while now the population has migrated out and needs a
different religious foundation.
objectives of a temple: With modernisation of the country,
the Indians have equally changed into urban dwellers and many are no
longer associated with plantations. The community is no longer
living in a small confined territory of an estate, instead the
Indian population fills a broad area in the urban cities.
What we need today are community
temples that are strong in patronage and involvement. If temples are
merged and built with the required infrastructure such as community
hall, meeting centres and religious libraries; then it would serve
the present purpose while also keeping the objective of being a