Sunday, April 29, 2012
Wong Tai Sin Temple 黄大仙祠 – Hong Kong, China
Do you believe in fortune tellers? As a Christian, I do not believe in fortune telling for I believe that our life is in God’s hands. So, we must not believe in what fortune tellers say about out future, but rather we have to entrust our life to the Almighty Creator. During my trip to Hong Kong, I visited the most famous and grandest Taoist temple that is renowned for its accurate fortune telling and for the many prayers answered called Wong Tai Sin temple. The purpose of my visit there definitely was not to have my future told, but instead just to explore another side of the city and learn the history. The easiest way to get to the temple is via the MTR. Get off at Wong Tai Sin Station and take exit B2 or B3.
Outside the temple area, there is a line of shops selling various praying ornaments.
Michelle and I at the temple gate
Dedicated to the god of fortune “Wong Tai Sin”, the temple is one of the most famous shrines in Hong Kong. It is also the only temple in Hong Kong that performs Taoist weddings. The temple used to be a private shrine limited to only “Pu Yi Tan” Taoists and their family members. However, in 1934, the government decided to open the temple for public during Chinese New Year. The historians considered the temple a miraculous structure for surviving the Japanese occupation in 1940s.
Occupying an area of 18,000 m2 in a tranquil natural setting far from the nearby housing estates and the bustle of the streets at the southern side of Lion Rock in the north of Kowloon, the temple is an exuberant place of worship and a religious center built in 1921 by the Sik Sik Yuen organization. Since it promotes three religions under the same roof, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, it is famous among Chinese who live in Southern Asia, Europe and America. A Taoist organization, the Sik Sik Yuen, administers and manages the temple. The temple is open between 9 am to 4 pm. Although the admission to the site is free, donation is expected to support the temple’s maintenance.
The name of the temple is originally taken from the name of a Taoist deity, Wong Tai Sin, who was believed to have the power to heal and grant people’s wishes. According to the local legend, Wong Tai Sin or Wong Chu Ping was a shepherd boy from Zhejiang province who was born in 328 AD and taught by an immortal at the age of 15 how to refine cinnabar to produce a medicine to cure all diseases. From that time, he soon became a Taoist follower. It took him 40 years to perfect this technique that made him become a famous healer at his time. Then at the age of 55, at mount Heng Shan he reached enlightenment and gained immortality. He was given the power to rescue the dying, heal the sick and punish evils. Since then on, he was referred to as Wong Tai Sin. The locals believe that he could grant whatever wishes they ask to him. Moreover, Taoists revere him to be the god who can heal not only physical health but also relationships and businesses.
The fame of Wong Tai Sin as a healer and wish fulfiller has attracted numerous pilgrims from all over the world to come to this temple and make wishes. Every year on Chinese New Year’s Eve and the celebration of Wong Tai Sin’s birthday on 23rd day of the eighth lunar month, it is estimated that over three millions of worshippers from Hong Kong and surroundings flock around the temple before midnight and rush in to the main altar to worship Wong Tai Sin with their glowing incense sticks. They rush to be the first to offer to the deity because they believe the earlier they offer the incense, the better luck they will have that year.
If you visit the temple, there is a saying that says “What you request is what you get” through a practice called Kau Cim. Kau Cim is done by worshippers who come to the temple by kneeling down before the altar, lighting their incense stick, making a wish or thinking of a question and shaking the bamboo cylinder containing 100 bamboo fortune sticks until a fortune stick falls out. Then, they will exchange the number on the stick with a paper that shows their fortune. They need help from soothsayers or fortune tellers to interpret the writings on the paper. In total, there are 142 fortune tellers ready to serve the customers whose booths can be found on each floor in uniformly sized cubicles lining up on both sides of the aisles. The fee of a fortune teller varies from HK$150 to HK$300.
The visitors are also very eager to have their fortune told by the fortune tellers who locate their booths at the ground of the temple. The most popular questions asked to the soothsayers during the Chinese New Year might be about when to hold a wedding, what to name a baby or where to open a business. Some booths at the lower ground also offer palm and face readings, and consult astrological charts and tong sing. Since there are many soothsayers and fortune tellers reside in the temple, the temple is also called the “fortune-tellers” temple. The fortune tellers try to offer their services by beckoning or calling to passers by while others sitting back awaiting their next clients. Some stalls also post signs proclaiming “air conditioning” or “English spoken”. Many are actively engaged. Those whose wishes are granted often come back to thank Wong Tai Sin whose picture can be found near the main altar.
Typically built following Chinese temple architecture, visitors can notice the obvious similarities between Taoist temples in China Mainland and Wong Tai Sin temple. The main temple boasts large, ornate red pillars and a magnificent gold roof. The roof is decorated with blue friezes, many carvings of various colors, and ornamental lattice work. The major attractions in the temple are Nine-Dragon Wall similar to the one in Beijing, the extravagantly colorful Good Wish Garden lavishly decorated with many exotic examples of Chinoiserie where visitors like to gather, Sansheng Hall, and Daxiong-baodian or Grand Hall.
Other important fixtures include the Three Saints Hall dedicated to goddess of mercy Kwun Yum, martial god Kwan Ti and immortal Lui Tung Bun, the Bronze Pavilion (females excluded) serving as the resting place for Wong Tai Sin, the Archives Hall, the Library Hall that keeps the teachings of Wong Tai Sin, the Earthly Fountain, the Yue Hing Shrine where the Buddha of the Lighted Lamp is worshipped, the Unicorn (Confucian) Hall where the ancient Confucius philosopher and his 72 disciples are worshipped, and a Taoist charitable organization. The temple grounds also feature three memorial archways that store the spirit tablets of the deceased members of the Sik Sik Yuen. The first one is outside the temple and carved with the name of the temple.
When I visited the temple, it was not crowded. Of all the features in the temple, I found this altar to be the most crowded one. So, I guess this should be the main altar where a large number of devotees usually gather, light their joss sticks and worship Wong Tai Sin. Here is also hung the sacred portrait of Wong Tai Sin that was originally brought from Guangdong province to Hong Kong in 1915 by a Taoist priest named Lian Ren An. At this altar, people pray for divine guidance and good fortune.
Michelle and I in front of the main altar
Devotees lighting their joss sticks and incense
Rams statue inside the temple’s garden
The beautiful Good Wish Garden, a replica of the Yi He Garden in Beijing, is filled with turtles and fountains.
The garden consists of several small pavilions, stream, waterfall and ponds.
Aunt, Michelle and I at the Good Wish Garden
The Banyan tree at the garden
We did not spend much time in the temple. After visiting the temple, we continued our journey to the Nan Lian Garden. Visit the temple only to learn the history of the Hong Kong city, but do not visit it to have your fortune told. Remember that no matter how accurate a fortune telling is, only God determines our final fate.
Personal experience and additional information from other online articles