October 16, 2023
KUALA LUMPUR – A recent discovery of a date behind the cover of a handwritten sutra (scriptures book) kept at the Tow Boh Keong Temple here has revealed that it dates further back than what was originally believed.
Temple committee member Lee Leik Senn said the temple, considered to be the oldest in Penang, knew that the scriptures book has existed for more than a century, but now there is proof that it dates back to 1821.
“Now we have an accurate date and know that this book is at least 202 years old. The book tells us about the Nine Emperor Gods and we use it annually for the festival, which started today (yesterday).
“Through the book, we realised that it was written during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) as it is mentioned,” he said when met at the temple in Jalan Cheong Fatt Tze (formerly Hong Kong Street) during a press conference yesterday.
Lee said the current owner of the book was a sixth-generation devotee and his ancestor Khoo Ma Cheng was the person who wrote the book.
“We have also made another discovery as we realised that the oldest wooden percussion instrument that we have here depicts a man praying to the dragon in the sky. The Wooden Fish (a percussion instrument) shows the Northern Dipper kneeling and facing north to pray for well-being and longevity.
“This Wooden Fish was brought to Penang by the temple’s founding ancestor Qui Macheng (Khoo Ma Cheng),” he said.
This instrument was used during prayers, he added.
“We know that it is almost 200 years old. When you turn it upside down, we discovered that you can see a person kneeling and praying,” he said.
The temple, which is open to the public during the Nine Emperor Gods festival, welcomes all those who wish to pray during this period, which ends on Oct 23.
The temple will hold a procession on that day which will make its way around the George Town area in the evening.
The nine-day festival, observed by Taoists, is dedicated to the nine sons of Tou Mu, the Goddess of the North Star, who is believed to control the Books of Life and Death.
Her sons, deified as ren huang (human sovereigns), are said to have the ability to cure illnesses and bless devotees with luck, wealth and longevity.
Devotees believe that the gods come through the waterway and processions are usually held from the temples to the river or seashore as a symbolic gesture.