Religion has been a source of inspiration for making of remarkable architectures and artworks, but the ideas need the devotion of followers to turn into a reality. Peak Nam Toong (Chinese name: 碧南堂), one of the most beautiful Chinese temples in Sabah, is a perfect example of such outcome.
Chinese people are highly adaptive and willing to adjust their lifestyle to blend into the local society, but their cultures and religion are the cores that always remain intact. Therefore, a visit to a Chinese temple is a good starting point to see the dragon in their hearts.
Even if you are a non-believer or atheist, your world view and values are more or less influenced by religions. For example, the karma, you wish good people go to heaven and your ex goes to hell right.
History of Peak Nam Toong
Visitors would be impressed by the magnificent golden temple and 9-tier pagoda of Peak Nam Toong, so it’s hard to believe that Peak Nam Toong was just a humble stilt house in the water village of Tanjung Aru Beach about half a century ago.
However, this first temple in the sea was so popular that it had to expand to accommodate more devotees. The temple was moved to Taman Fortuna less than 5 KM from Kota Kinabalu City and operated in 1984, this time it’s upgraded with bricks and cement structure. In the beginning, the new location was mostly empty ground. Now the temple is fully surrounded by residential housing.
Wherever Chinese lives, there is a temple. In the bygone era of North British colonization, thousands of Chinese sailed across the South China Sea to work as labours and farmers in Sabah. Away from their hometown and working in a foreign country, religion gave these ancestor pioneers from China some hopes to protect themselves against insecurity.
Most of the Chinese immigrants are Hakka and Hokkien from Guangdong and Fujian provinces respectively, so naturally Guanyin (观音), Tua Pek Kong (大伯公) and Guang Ze Zun Wang (广泽尊王) are the three most common deities being worshiped in Sabah.
The Golden Temple
Taoism has a vivid vision of how a heaven looks like, so their temple is a mini replica of the palace. Peak Nam Toong fully incorporates the design of traditional Chinese architecture. The auspicious red and gold form the main theme colours. The area between the arch and temple are guarded by dozen of dragons and lions.
The most prominent structure of Peak Nam Toong is the 9-tier pagoda, one of the tallest in Sabah. For Chinese, a 9-tier pagoda is a Feng Shui tower that can transfigure negative energy. Pagoda is a symbol of stability and wealth too because it was used to be a place for safekeeping of sacred relics, literature and treasures. This 200-feet-tall pagoda is a spectacular sight at night when its colourful LED light glows.
The front of Peak Nam Toong is facing at the direction of the sea. For people who’ve never been to a Chinese temple, there would be many things that pique their interest. Every elements in the sculptures, murals, motif, reliefs, statues, all have a story or meaning.
Peak Nam Toong welcomes all visitors, even to non-followers who are respectful. The colourful statues of 12 Zodiac animals and Eight Immortals (八仙) at the compound are favourite spots of visitors for taking photos. For praying to the deities, the opening hours of the main prayer hall is from 6am to 6pm daily.
Under financial constraint, the construction of new Peak Nam Toong would be impossible without the support by the community through fund-raising, donation, and sponsorship. Just a trivia. When deciding the scale of the temple, the committees determined to go grand, as Taoism in Sabah needs a majestic landmark to project their faith and status.
Main Prayer Hall
Taoism is a polytheistic religion, so there are about 16 deities housed in three altars and different areas of Peak Nam Toong. Sitting in the middle altar is Guang Ze Zun Wang (广泽尊王 / 圣王公), the main patron deity of Peak Nam Toong, together with his wife, Miao Yin Xian Fei (妙应仙妃) and 13 children, Thirteen Taibao (十三太保). You can find 24 drawing on the wall of the main prayer hall about the journey of Guang Ze Zun Wang to becoming a deity.
The altar of Qing Shui Zu Shi (清水祖师) is at the right and Guanyin (观音菩萨) is at the left. They are accompanied by other deities such as Goddess Tian Hou (天后娘娘), Qi Xian Niang Niang (七仙娘娘), Lord Guan (关圣大帝), Tua Pek Kong (大伯公), Nezha (哪吒三太子), Kṣitigarbha Bodhisattva (地藏王菩萨) and Daode Tianzun (太上老君).
Each deity acts like an officer in heaven and has different roles and ranks. Most of them can answer general prayers about wealth, health, relationships, and some can handle specific requests like academic achievement and getting a baby. (Tip: For money matters, ask Tua Pek Kong.)
Usually devotees pray to Guang Ze Zun Wang to wish for blessing and a peaceful life. Guang Ze Zun Wang also has the power to ward off the evil spirits, and able to travel between heaven and hell. There are 13 Guang Ze Zun Wang temples in Sabah.
Taoism believes that kind-hearted human can transform into a deity, if she / he practices Taoism and does a lot of charitable works to help the people. Many deities were used to be a Taoist or legendary figure who is deeply respected as a philanthropist or hero.
Events & Celebrations
Peak Nam Toong would organise special celebrations on important dates to pay homage to the deities. If you enjoy watching vibrant cultural events, you could check out the following grand events:
- Pray to Tian Gong (拜天公)
- Birthdays of Guang Ze Zun Wang (广泽尊王), Qing Sui Zhu Shi (清水祖师), Guanyi (观音)
- Hungry Ghost Festival (孟兰节)
Some events come with entertainment programmes including dragon, unicorn and lion dance, music and dance performances, grand parade, offering of various popular Chinese dishes to the deities, etc.
Thank you Kapitam Lee Hing Boo (甲必丹李宏武) for sharing the stories of Peak Nam Toong.
Photos taken in Kota Kinabalu City, Sabah, Malaysia Borneo