KUALA LUMPUR: Even in the context of the multicultural harmony that Malaysia is known for, it’s surprising to hear of someone professing one religion dedicating much of his or her life to the service of another belief system. But that’s what Ranjit Kaur, 61, precisely does.
Ranjit, a Sikh, is a constant presence at Kuala Lumpur’s Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in the city. She works there as a sort of caretaker.
She has had an association with the place since she was born and therefore sees her presence there as the most natural thing in the world.
“All my siblings and I grew up in this temple,” she told FMT Lifestyle.
Her father worked as a watchman there for decades until his death. Ranjit’s brother succeeded him in the post.
Having grown up among the Chinese custodians there, Ranjit is fluent in Cantonese and will sprinkle some words from the dialect every now and then in conversation.
She was at one time a nurse in KL and Seremban, but she didn’t like the long hours and late nights. Eventually, after getting married in 1990 and having her daughter seven years later, she went back to the temple.
That was in 2006 and she has remained there since.
Her day starts at 6am, when she replaces the cups of water offered to the deities and boils fresh tea for them.
After the temple is opened, you can see her ushering visitors to the places where they could pray or burn their offerings. She also guides them with regard to the deities to pray to, depending on their wishes.
“For example,” she said, “the Jin Jua Fu Ren here is the deity of fertility. Women would come and pray to her in hopes of conceiving a child. Hua Fen Fu Ren is the deity of beauty. Young girls would come to wish away the blemishes on their faces.”
At the end of the day, she clears up the ashes and old joss sticks around the altars and sweep and mop the floor to get it ready for the next day.
During a conversation with FMT Lifestyle, she talked about an experience she had during the May 13 riots in 1969.
“My mum asked me to deliver food to my dad, who was working a second job in the Sungai Besi area.” She recalled that she didn’t expect any trouble but found herself caught amidst rioting and had to stay in Sungai Besi with her father for one week.
A police vehicle sent them back to the temple and she was nearly shot when they were walking from the vehicle to the temple.
She and her father reunited with her mother and siblings and were safe behind the locked gates of the temple. They stayed there for a time with the Chinese caretakers, who shared food with them.
Ranjit grew up with nine siblings. After her brother died in 2021, she was the only one who stayed at the temple.
She doesn’t think there’s any conflict between her religious life as a Sikh and the performance of her duties at the Taoist temple.
“I live next to the Gurdwara not far from here and every morning I pray before I come here,” she said. “At the end of the day it’s about your heart and what you believe in.”
As she got ready to head to a nearby shop to buy materials needed for the deities’ new clothes in preparation for the coming year, it was clear to see that Ranjit enjoys her job immensely.
“Even when I want to take leave or go on holiday, my heart will still be thinking of this place,” she said.
Sin Sze Si Ya Temple
113A, Jalan Tun H S Lee,
City Centre, Kuala Lumpur