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Larry Lam's Guide Note
KUALA LUMPUR

SRI MAHA MARIAMMAN TEMPLE

The Sri Maha Mariamman Temple is founded by Thambusamy Pillai in 1873 and was initially used as a private shrine by the Pillai family. The family threw open the temple door to the public in the late 1920s and eventually handed the management of the temple over to a board of trustees. This is the oldest functioning Indian temple in Malaysia. It is also reputed to be the richest in the country. The Temple was originally sited somewhere near the KL Railway Station. It shifted to its present location along Jalan Tun H S Lee (next to KL's Chinatown) in 1885. The initial attap structure was demolished in 1887 and a brick building was erected in its place. That structure was demolished to make way for the current temple buildings which were completed in 1968. The impressive gateway to the Temple (gopuram) was completed in 1972. This new Temple was consecrated in 1973.

This Temple resembles the form of a human body lying on its back with the head positioned towards the west and the feet towards the east. Visitors to the Temple are greeted by a 5 tiered gopuram. It is the tallest structure in the Temple and corresponds to the feet of the body. It is the threshold between the material and spiritual world. The dramatic 22.9m (75ft) high pyramid-shaped gate tower is decorated with depictions of Hindu gods sculpted by artisans from southern India. The chief sculptor was the late S. T. Muniappa from Tamil Nadu and is credited for creating the 228 idols on the gopuram.

At the rear is the garbagraham, which corresponds to the head. It is a freestanding structure with its own roof and walls and has one entrance that faces east. This is the inner sanctum where the chief deity Sri Maha Mariamman is installed. The priest stands in front of the garbagraham when performing the puja (prayers).

Ganesh is in the shrine on the left and Subramaniam, his brother, is on the right. Ganesh is also found at the entrance as he is the remover of obstacles. The eight female figures inside the Temple are of Lakshmi (Goddess of Wealth).

A silver chariot is housed within the premises. This chariot is a prominent feature during the annual Thaipusam festival. It used during this occasion for transporting the statuettes of Lord Muruga and his consorts (Valli and Teivayanni) through the city streets to Batu Caves. It made its debut in 1983 and was built at a cost of RM350,000 using 350 kilograms of silver. The chariot was made in India and shipped here in 12 parts to be assembled. It is 6.5 metres tall and has 240 bells and a pair of horses on it. Before the silver chariot, a wooden one was used which was made 1930 by Indian craftsmen at a cost of RM50,000.

The Temple opens daily from 6.00AM to 9.00PM. Visitors are remindered to remove their footwear before entering the Temple.

Hinduism reached our shores in the 7th century. It was carried across the Indian Ocean by early Hindu traders. Relics and remains from this period have been found, principally in Kedah (Bujang Valley). But the Hinduism practised in Malaysia today is the Hinduism of the settlers who came into this country in the 19th and early 20th century.

Mariamman is popularly worshipped by oversea Indians, especially Tamils because she is looked upon as their protector during their sojourn to foreign lands. Mariamman is a manifestation of the goddess - Parwatee, an incarnation embodying Mother Earth with all her terrifying force. She is associated with disease and fever and protects her devotees from unholy or demonic events.

Attap - Malay word for 'thatch made from coconut fronds'.
Gopuram
- Sanskrit word for 'temple gateways/portals'.


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