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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Burma Lane's twin gems

Sony Ericsson K800i

It's been well over a month since the inscription of our very own George Town and Malacca on UNESCO's World Heritage List, where these 2 former British Straits Settlements were jointly inscribed as Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca. Now as a World Heritage Site, I foresee an influx of both domestic and international tourists to George Town to savour its unique cultural blend of East and West.

George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

In July, my parents and I visited George Town's famed Burma Lane, where 2 imposing Buddhist temples flank the narrow lane on both sides. Though sharing the same Buddhist tradition, both temples were built in completely different architectural styles. On one side of the lane stands Penang's oldest Buddhist temple, the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple 缅佛寺. On the other side of the lane is the more modest-looking Wat Chaiyamangalaram 泰佛寺, a Thai Buddhist temple that houses a 33-metre long reclining Buddha, one of the longest of its kind in the world.

Burma Lane, George Town, Penang
Left: Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple; Right: Wat Chaiyamangalaram

Our last trip here was at least a decade ago, and I could hardly remember it. Due to our confusion with the street names (we mistook Burma Road for Burma Lane), we ended up taking multiple turns along Burma Road in search of the gilded temples. It was not until we asked for directions from a local that we realized we had made this stupid mistake. And the funniest thing is that Burma Lane was just around the corner, so narrow and inconspicuous that one could easily miss it.

Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, George Town, Penang

Founded in the year 1803, the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple is a stunning piece of religious landmark. I especially love its golden stupas and façades, which are typical of the Burmese temple architecture. Hey, you don't always get to see Burmese temples in this country, do you? Despite the tourist flocks, the temple remains a peaceful and tranquil sanctuary for city folks who desire a short break from the hustle and bustle of city life. The calm and serene atmosphere is certainly ideal for those looking for some inspirations in life.

Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, George Town, Penang

The Sāsana Vaṃsa Sima Shrine Hall is possibly the centrepiece of the temple. It was built in honour of the Sāsana Vaṃsa, a work by the 19th-century Burmese monk Paññyāsāmi that dealt with the history of the Buddhist order in his country. Once inside, visitors are immediately greeted with a huge statue of Buddha, depicted in the traditional Burmese style. The head and feet of the statue were made of carved marble stones. And yes, one can spot a lot of wood carvings in and around the hall. Very impressive indeed.

Wat Chaiyamangalaram, George Town, Penang

Wat Chaiyamangalaram, located just opposite the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple, is another popular tourist haven. However, this Thai Buddhist temple pales significantly in comparison to the elaborate architectural style of its Burmese counterpart across the lane. The entrance to the temple's main hall is guarded fervently by sacred beasts. Most tourists come here for only 1 reason: to see the famous giant reclining Buddha. It's interesting to note that, despite Malaysia being officially Muslim, many of the world's tallest and longest Buddha statues can be found within the country, with quite a number of them found home in the Islamist-ruled state of Kelantan. Isn't this ironic?

Everyone knows Burma/Myanmar and Thailand are neighbours geographically. Those who haven't been to Burma Lane would definitely be surprised to find these 2 being neighbours again in George Town, Penang!


rainbow angeles said...

chup! long time no see! i'm going home soon ;-)

kyh said...

5 chups!

Going home feels absolutely syok! :D

Furkids in Hong Kong said...

I love historical places and what you've shown me looks very interesting indeed. A must-visit if I should ever go to your wonderful country.

Also loved your previous post about pronunciation. Here in Hong Kong, a lot of people say "Tax", instead of Taxi, and "Pur - Chay - Sing", instead of Purchasing. :( But I wince whenever I hear people say "Weh-Jeh-Ta-Bow", instead of Vegetables. Yikes!

Have a nice Sunday!

kyh said...

Oh my, you're back! 3 chups for ya! :D

Do come to Malaysia then! ;) And oh, Hongkie English is cute and hilarious at the same time! What I know best is they ought to say tip-see for tips! :P

day-dreamer said...

Haha. I been to those places before. :P

kyh said...

1 chup!

Nice, right? Love how they shine and shimmer under the golden sun!

RennyBA said...

I do agree: a stunning piece of religious landmark!! and thanks for taking us with. What beauty, what architecture - just master piece of the world!

kyh said...

My pleasure! :D

Planning for a trip here any time soon? ;)

C K said...

Glad to know of George Town and Melaka's elevated status. Great pictures (as usual). Just curious, how do you differentiate a Thai, Cambodian or Burmese stupas?

Btw, what's "5 chups"?

Zhu said...

I must say I don't know the region well, nor its history. But learning!

Anyway, the pictures are wonderful.

kyh said...

C K: Thanks! :)

I don't really know how to explain it, but some differences between them do exist. From some perspectives, they might look somewhat similar due to their close proximity to each other and their mutual cultural and historical heritage.

As for the chups, you can read up more about it here. ;)

Zhu: Learning is never too late! ;)

Doreen said...

Another nice piece of information and good photos too! You're good!

kyh said...

Thanks, thanks! :)

claudie said...

Love really these temples and would like to visit them! I am sure people can find serenity in that beautiful and religious place!

kyh said...

*nods in agreement*

eastcoastlife said...

I visited this temple years ago! I remember the sleeping Buddha. :)

How are you? Long time no see.

kyh said...

Me? Currently I'm having a week-long semester break. Been very busy with my school stuff because the assignments keep rolling in! :O

khengsiong said...

I don't care whether a Buddhist temple is magnificent. The important thing is: whether it is a working monastery or just a tourist attraction.

My favorite monastery is Metta Forest Monastery in California. Its architecture has nothing to boast about, but it is a great place for retreat.

kyh said...

I guess all Buddhist temples in this country are functioning as a place of worship. Haven't heard of them closing down or whatsoever.

Chen said...

The first time i visited those places was way back in 1999. The second time was in 2005.. when i had visitor from "abroad" - Kepong. Hence I brought him there jalan-jalan :P

Might be I should pay my 3rd visit there soon :)

kyh said...

Why didn't you bring me for jalan-jalan too? :P

eastcoastlife said...

Very busy hor. ;)

GMG said...

Hi Kyh! First of all many thanks for your comment on my post of 08.08.08 at 08h08 at Blogtrotter, now in Kos, Greece! It was great to read you there. Second, sorry for the long delay to come here, but August was a terribly busy month, as everybody else seems to be in vacation… ;))
Anyhow, I found sometime now to land here and enjoy your blog. Lovely pictures, but naming Melaka (Malaca) as a British settlement may be somehow controversial,to say the least... ;)
Wish you a great weekend!

kyh said...

eastcoastlife: Yeah... :(

GMG: I'm very busy too, so you're not alone! ;)

Controversial? Why did you say so? :O

Shantanu said...

I loved the unique architecture and the ambiance of the temples when I visited Bangkok last year. Somehow I have never thought of these styles as 'Burma temples'. Didn't Buddhism/Hinduism come direct to Thailand from India? While many of the mythological characters are the same, Indian temples look quite different, maybe because the two evolved seperately for several years.

kyh said...

Burmese temple architecture refers to the ones that originated in Burma/Myanmar. ;)

Oh yeah... Those faiths did come to Southeast Asia from India, and hence why you can trace some Indian elements in Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat and the numerous early Hindu-Buddhist temples that are scattered throughout the region.

The reason why they might not look totally the same as the ones in India is that indigenous architectural elements have been incorporated into the temple architecture over the years.