GEORGE TOWN: A famous Taoist temple in Bukit Mertajam, built in 1886, caught fire this evening, razing the entire inner sanctum.
The 133-year-old Hock Teck Cheng Sin temple on Jalan Pasar caught fire at 8.45pm.
Firemen said the fire originated from a storage unit next to the temple.
A Penang Fire and Rescue Department spokesman said the fire was put out in 15 minutes.
The spokesman said a forensic check was being conducted to ascertain the cause of the fire.
Penang executive councillor Chong Eng, who is also a former three-term Bukit Mertajam MP, said the fire had destroyed the entire altar area where the statues were kept.
She said, however, the intricate facade of the building was fortunately still intact.
Penang Heritage Trust Council member Himanshu Bhatt said the temple was tied closely to the history of the town itself.
He said the temple is dedicated to the Taoist god of prosperity, Tua Pek Kong. It is run by a benevolent organisation which founded the top-performing Jit Sin Independent High School and has donated tracts of land for community use.
He said every year, the Hungry Ghost festival is celebrated on a grand scale at the temple grounds.
Bhatt, who extensively researched the temple as part of a Think City project, said the fire at the temple was devastating.
“This is a monumental loss. In a sense, it’s like Bukit Mertajam losing its own ‘Notre Dame’.
“The temple has been a significant landmark, especially with its inspiring ancient architecture.
“It has been a living spiritual centre for the community in Bukit Mertajam.”
Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim said many precious cultural relics had gone up in smoke in the fire.
He praised the people of Bukit Mertajam for coming together to help firefighters put out the fire.