Among Penang’s most prominent communities were- and still are- the Chinese, many of whom came to this island in the late 1800s as merchants. The Penang Chinese traditionally followed a combination of Taoist, Confucianist and Buddhist beliefs, and built, as religious-cum-community structures, what were known as `kongsi’- the traditional `clanhouses’ of the Chinese. The kongsi usually took the form of temples where ancestor-worship was the focal point, and tablets carved with the names of the ancestors took pride of place. Of all of Penang’s clanhouses, the stunning Khoo Kongsi is one of those you just can’t afford to miss- it’s splendid.
The clanhouse of the prosperous Khoo clan, the Khoo Kongsi dated back approximately to 1851 (when the Khoo clan acquired this piece of land), although the building you see now was built only in 1906, after the first temple got burnt down in a fire (legend has it that the destruction was a result of `divine justice’- a punishment for making too ornate a temple in the first place!) The temple’s still pretty ornate, though- superbly decorated with wooden carvings, delicate paintings and gilt work, with a huge stone-paved courtyard in front of it. In the courtyard crouch two stone lions, and across the temple is a Chinese opera stage- again stunningly decorated and with side screens made of bamboo blinds. It is one of the few permanent Chinese opera stages outside China.
Within the temple, joss sticks, ancestral tablets and candles, along with huge paper lanterns, predominate; below, in the basement, is a small museum tracing the genealogy of the Khoo (the clan originally came to Penang from Hokkien province in China, and portraits of clan elders decorate much of the museum). A series of treasures- especially ceramics- belonging to the Khoo- are also displayed. A touch-screen introduction to the Khoo, the temple, the museum and the opera stage is also part of the museum- a neat summary of the place.
Admission to Khoo Kongsi is free.