The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition @ Muzium Negara, Kuala Lumpur

Southeast Asia was once home to many Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms, such as Angkor in Cambodia, Kedah Tua in modern-day Malaysia, as well as the mighty Srivijaya, Sailendra and Majapahit empires in what is today Indonesia. Their legacies can be seen in the form of ancient temples, relics and artefacts that have survived through the ages. Good news for history buffs – you can see them for yourself at The Lost Kingdoms exhibition, currently running at Muzium Negara in Kuala Lumpur until the end of April 2020. The entrance fee to the main section of the museum is just RM2, and covers entry to this exhibition as well!

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Working with the National Museum of Indonesia and the National Museum of Cambodia, Lost Kingdoms maps out 12 ancient Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Southeast Asia, featuring 103 items that are a mix of real artefacts as well as replicas. Through these items, one can see that there are many similarities between the cultures of the region, from the techniques used to create beautifully carved statues of the gods, to the elaborate decorations found on the hilts of traditional weaponry.

Here are just some of the exhibits that visitors will get to see at the exhibition:

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A 9th century statue of the Hindu god Vishnu, from pre-Angkorian times (on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia).

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Angkorian/Banteay Srei style seated garuda from the late 10th century, carved from red sandstone. Half man and half bird, the garuda is an important mythical figure in Hindu folklore, being the bearer of the Hindu god Vishnu. The garuda features heavily in Javanese and Balinese culture, and is also featured on the Indonesian crest.

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Another statue of Vishnu, this one from the pre-Angkorian period in the Prei Khmeng Style. The statue is made from sandstone and dates back to the mid 7th century. The full, round forms of the face demonstrate the strong Indian influence in the region. Vishnu holds a conch in his raised left hand, a war discus (chakra) in his right, while his lowered left hand rests on the remains of a mace.

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If I’m not mistaken, this is the head of a Kala, a common sight at many Hindu/Buddhist temples in Central Java. The Kala is a mythical lion-like creature – its name in Sanskrit also symbolises ‘time’, which is why the kala is said to devour everything, just as time does.

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One of my favourite pieces from the exhibition is an elaborate relief of Vishnu riding the Garuda, dedicated to the king of Airlangga from the Kahuripan kingdom (9th to 10th century). The image of Vishnu was made in the king’s likeness, to honour his contribution to rescuing and rebuilding Java after the kingdom almost collapsed from war with a neighbouring empire. This is on loan from the National Museum of Indonesia.

 

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Statue of the Hindu elephant god Ganesha made from granite stone, from the Kedah Tua (Kataha) kingdom, 6th to 7th century. Unlike the Hindu Buddhist kingdoms in Java, Indonesia, or even Cambodia, Laos and Thailand, not much remains of the Kataha kingdom in Kedah, other than a couple of candis (shrines).

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Prajnaparamita Statue from the Singhasari Kingdom, 13th century. Prajnaparamita is the goddess of transcendental wisdom in Buddhist tradition, and this particular statue is said to have been modeled after the beauty of Ken Dedes, an ancient Javanese princess who was the consort of Ken Arok, the first king of the Singhasari Kingdom. It is said that the kings that ruled from the Srivijayan to Majapahit eras were direct descendants of Ken Dedes, making her the literal mother of kings.

The Lost Kingdoms Exhibition is running until April 30 at Muzium Negara’s Gallery 2.  Entrance is RM2 for Malaysians (included with the ticket to the main museum).

Museum opening hours are from 9AM – 6PM.

Miaw Yuan Chan Lin Cave Temple, Ipoh

Ipoh is known for its gorgeous cave temples, and there are many tucked within the state’s beautiful limestone hills. Some of the more well known ones include Kek Lok Tong and Kwan Yin Tong, which are popular with tourists. There are also many smaller ones that are slightly off the beaten path, like the Miaw Yuan Chan Lin Cave Temple.

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We stumbled upon this place entirely by accident while looking for another attraction nearby. I can see why it’s not on the radar of the usual tourist hotspots – it’s a little out of the way, and to get there you have to go through a housing area and a small dirt road. We were actually a little confused as to whether this was the tourist attraction we were looking for (Qin Xin Ling), because there weren’t any signs! With not many visitors, the temple grounds were tranquil, shaded from the sun by a large outcropping of rock. I believe they also have facilities for those looking for a meditation retreat, as there were showers and what looked like rooms for guests.

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A shrine with a very realistic, larger-than-life sculpture of a monk. As the temple is dedicated to Thai-Buddhism, there are many Thai elements to its design, such as naga figures and the use of gold.

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The main area, tucked within the limestone cave. The inside was extremely cooling, and you can hear the steady dripping of water from the stalactites.

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(Right) A sleeping figure of Buddha carved into the limestone; a colourful painting of deity (?) in blue next to it; joss sticks and offerings

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Further in was a golden laughing Buddha statue which was surrounded by water, which devotees can use for ablution, as well as a colourful shrine decorated with neon lights, housing seven Buddhas with different postures (one for each day of the week – a common sight in Thai Buddhist temples).

If you’re looking for a quiet temple away from the crowds, or if you’re on the way to the Qin Xin Ling attraction, the Miaw Yun Chan Lin Cave Temple is worth a visit.

MIAW YUN CHAN LIN TEMPLE  

22, Persiaran Pinggir Rapat 5a, Rapat Setia, 31350 Ipoh, Negeri Perak

Visiting Senso-ji, Asakusa – Tokyo’s Oldest Buddhist Temple

Buddhism came to Japan very early – around the 6th century – and the archipelago is dotted with ancient shrines and temples. Unlike regions where the rise and fall of kingdoms have resulted in a change of the major religions (think the ancient Indonesian kingdoms which used to be Hindu, then Buddhist, and now Muslim), Buddhism in Japan has survived the influence of outside forces. Today, many Japanese practice either Shinto-ism or Buddhism, or a blend of both, as the principles tend to complement each other.

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One of Tokyo’s most important Buddhist temples, also its oldest, is the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Completed in 645, it is dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon, or Avalokitesvara, who is depicted as the female goddess Guanyin (the goddess of Mercy) in Chinese Buddhist beliefs.

The story of how the temple came to be goes that two fishermen found an Avalokitesvara statue while fishing near the river. The chief of their village built a shrine for it, and it slowly grew into a magnificent temple, with worshippers coming from far and wide. During the Tokugawa era, it was even proclaimed as the main temple for the Tokugawa clan.

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Entering from the South end, visitors will first pass through the outer gate guarded by two kami (Shinto deities) – Fujin and Raijin,gods of wind, lightning and storms – and the Buddhist gods Tenryu and Kinryu on the east and west, respectively.

The temple grounds house dozens of stalls selling everything from souvenirs and food to toys and clothes. After a long stretch, you will be greeted by the Hozomon, ie the ‘Treasure-House Gate’, or the inner gate before you enter Senso-ji’s main courtyard. Towering  two-storeys high with a wide berth, the structure is impressive to look at, and features giant lanterns hanging down each of the archways. We arrived right before a typhoon was forecasted for the night, so the main lantern had been rolled up and tethered for safety.

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The main temple is quite a sight, but what we’re seeing is actually a reconstruction – albeit a very accurate one. The original temple was bombarded by air raids during World War II,\ and much of the grounds and its buildings were destroyed. The roof, for example, is made from titanium, but retains its traditional architecture.

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Booths where you can get a fortune reading.

 

 

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Before entering the temple, you can cleanse yourself at a basin by scooping water up with a ladle. There is a proper way to do this with instructions written at the site, but I can’t recall – I think you’re supposed to wash your left hand, then your right, your mouth and finally the handle?

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The main hall, with the goddess Kannon in the centre. The original statue is kept hidden, similar to the one I visited in Nagano. You can make an offering by placing some coins in a large wooden container at the front, before paying your respects.

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SENSO-JI

2 Chome-3-1 Asakusa, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0032, Japan

Getting to Senso-ji 

The temple can be reached by the Tokyo Metro, by exiting at Asakusa Station. The temple is a one minute walk from the station. Alternatively, take the A4 Exit at Toei Asakusa Station, which will take you two minutes, or the Tobu Asakusa Station, which is 3 minutes away.

Opening hours (temple): 6AM – 5PM (Daily). Note: The temple grounds can be visited at any time.

 

Visiting The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple In Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur

Many Buddhist temples in Kuala Lumpur follow the Chinese tradition, so it’s common to see cultural decorative elements such as dragons and phoenixes in its design. The Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple in Brickfields is more ascetic, so it might not be a draw for tourists – but it is still an interesting place to visit if you’re in the neighbourhood and want to learn more about Theravada Buddhism. If you come during major celebrations such as Wesak (Buddha’s Birthday), the place transforms into a colourful and bustling hive of activity.

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Established by the immigrant Sinhalese (Sri Lankan) community in the late 19th century, the temple now encompasses several buildings and shrines. Dharma classes and talks are held weekly, and vegetarian food is served at the canteen after.

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The main shrine in the middle of the compound. It used to be a striking red colour, but has since been painted over in white.

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Buddha statues and ornate decorative tiles adorn the walls.

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Modern building where events and classes are held.

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Free books and CDS (on meditation, dharma talks, etc.) on Buddhism are available in various languages.

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Another shrine houses a small museum of sorts. You can observe Buddha statues from different regions and the different art styles. The statues are accompanied by helpful information on the rise and establishment of Buddhism in countries such as India, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

We were pressed for time so we didn’t get to visit a lot of places in Brickfields, but if you’re ever here, do visit the other religious abodes around the area as well, such as  St Mary of Theotokos (A Syrian Orthodox church), Sri Kandaswamy Kovil (Hindu temple), Church of Our Lady of Fatima (Catholic church) and Sam Kow Tong Temple (Chinese Buddhist temple).

BUDDHIST MAHA VIHARA TEMPLE 

123, Jalan Berhala, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur

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Walked to the Little India neighbourhood nearby and got a Henna tattoo for RM15!

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Lunch for Just RM2.50 in Balakong, Seri Kembangan

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The Malaysian economy isn’t doing very well right now, and doesn’t seem like it’s going to improve… whenever. So aside from working harder to earn more money, we have to tighten our belts to deal with rising costs, a depreciating currency, etc etc. But how do we do that, when even a simple mixed rice from the hawker stall costs at least RM5 these days?

Well guess what? You can get a nice lunch for just RM2.50. 

Unbelievable?

Believe it.

The catch?

There’s no meat in it.

….Well, what did you expect?

Fo Guang Vegetarian Restaurant in Balakong serves a buffet of vegetarian food with rice for just RM2.50 (three dishes). Other than veggies, they also have mock meat items like siew ngor (literally roast goose – but really just fried beancurd sheets), charsiu and even ‘chicken’ drumstick.  They keep the food cheap as part of charity, as the shop also has Buddhist CDs and mantras which patrons can take home.

The staff can be a bit brusque, but I guess it’s coz they’re so busy. ._.

They also have other branches in Puchong, PJ, KL, Subang Jaya and a lot of other places.

FO GUANG VEGETARIAN

Medan Taming 2,
Taman Taming Jaya,
43300 Balakong