The Khoo Kongsi (Khoo clan house) is perhaps the largest of the many clan and congregation houses in Penang. It is, like many of the clan houses, sort of hidden in the center of a block surrounded by ordinary shophouses. The entrance is just off Lebuh Cannon, near the Malay Mosque.
The Khoo clan that built this Kongsi originated from Sin Kang village in the Hokkien province of China. They actually began migrating overseas in the sixteenth century. They came to Penang sometime in the late eighteenth century, and by 1835 their numbers were large enough that they formed a clan group and purchased the land and building for the first Kongsi.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the clan had grown to be the most powerful clan among the Chinese community of Penang. So, in 1894 the clan bought in master craftsman from Fujian province in China and began construction on the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. After eight years, the opulent new clan house was completed. But soon after the building was practically burned to the ground.
The clan was not to be deterred and decided the following year to rebuild the clan temple. Some thought that the fire was due to the building's overly grandiose design and finish, so the new building was supposedly 'toned down' from the original. If that's true, its hard to imagine what the first building must have looked like given the amount of gold leaf and cut-and-paste sculpture lavished on the second version.
In 1906, the new Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi was completed. Although the building was damaged during a Japanese raid in World War II, what you see today is still more or less the same building that was completed nearly 100 years ago. Extensive restoration was carried out in 1958, and again between 1999 and 2001.
The temple building is in three parts: The two story temple is fronted by a mid-level porch called the prayer pavilion. On the left side of the building is a single-story kitchen originally built to serve meals to those gathered for special events. The ground floor of the temple building is now a museum. You enter to the right of the prayer pavilion and end up in the old kitchen, which now has a sort of diarama depicting how it might have looked 100 years ago.
Entry to the prayer pavilion is guarded at the top of the stairs by statues of turbaned men appearing to be Sikhs. In a stand on the pavilion several 'spears' are displayed that were used to lead parades and control crowds.
Taking the central stairway up from the pavilion brings you to the open veranda which fronts the three halls of the temple. The central hall is the largest and the main place of worship. The two incense burners are dedicated to two great heroes of 4th century China, Ong Soon Yah and Tua Sai Yai. Other statues are meant to depict Kuan Im, the Goddess of Mercy, Poh Seng Tai Tay, the God of Medicine, and Mah Chor Pho, the Goddess of the Sea. The walls and ceiling of the main hall are richly decorated. Expect to finish a visit to Khoo Kongsi with a sore neck!
To the left of the main hall (as you face the building) is the main ancestral hall, Ee Kok Tong. The altar of this small hall contains many gold and black tablets of the Khoo ancestors appropriately arranged top-down in order of their ranking in the family. Along the sides of the hall are a number of large plaques displaying the names of various Khoo ancestors and the high rank they achieved or been awarded. You'll note that even graduating from university is considered a high honor for the clan.
The hall on the other side of the central hall is called the Hock Teik Soo and is dedicated to the deity Hock Teik, the God of Prosperity. The walls of this hall are also lined with plaques, but as the size of the clan has increased, along with a higher percentage graduating from college, the size of the plaques have been downsized considerably to make sure there is room for the honors of future generations. You will however note that one thing hasn't changed: Only male members of the clan are honored.
In the large courtyard, facing the temple, is an ornate stage for Chinese Opera. Performances are usually held around Chinese New Year and other important holidays. The stage is also available for special events.
Admission to the Khoo Kongsi is 10 Ringgit (2.04 USD).