Walking on the Street of Harmony in Georgetown, Penang

posted in: Asia, Cities, Culture, Heritage, Malaysia | 70

One of the most interesting things that I found about the Pearl of the Orient – Penang was its confluence of cultures. I suppose this struck me as familiar for quite like India, there were people from different origins who have settled here over generations. From the Chinese to the Indians, some British and even Armenians, the melting pot of diverse culture is what makes the atmosphere so vibrant. And though as diverse as it is, it sure is united in a lot of ways. The best example of this unity as I discovered was the Street of Harmony in George Town, Penang.

Street of Harmony, Penang
Street of Harmony, Penang

The Street of Harmony is called so for this one single stretch is home to a church, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Taoist temple. We were to drive past this interesting street, just after my hair-raising experience at The Skywalk in Komtar Penang. After that adrenaline high, it was only befitting that we had something as calming as this name to experience. However,ย drive-through did not feel right. With a little insistence and united voice of Bloggers, we finally got our guide Gillian to agree for a walk along the Street Of Harmony. And Boy, am I glad we did!

About the Street of Harmony

The Street of Harmony in Georgetown, Penang is actually a stretch between St. George’s church at one end and the Kapitan Kelling Mosque at the other end. It is also, referred to as Pitt Street. Besides these two religious monuments, you also, have Shri Mahamariamman temple for the Hindus and the Goddess of Mercy temple for the Chinese on the street. All these landmarks have been constructed in the 18th century by the migrants from various places.

Owing to its strategic location, Penang was a popular choice for various migrants and conquerors. The British East India Company had this as a base for several years while the Indians, Chinese and Armenians migrated here owing to wars. Over generations, these diverse cultures have mingled and created their own unique space – while at the same time, preserving their heritage faith. The Street of Harmony stands as a testimony of the same.

St.George’s Church on the Street of Harmony

St. George’s Church on the Street of Harmony, Penang

This 18th-century church was built by the British East India Company. An Anglican church, this one has a fair bit of connection to India. For one, the supervisor -Captain Smith, who built the church was a colleague of the architect Col. James of Madras Engineers. These were the same guys who built St. George’s Cathedral in Madras (Chennai) in India. The second is that the church was congregated by Bishop of Calcutta (India). The stark white church against that blue sky did beckon me to get in and start exploring but sadly, it was closed at that time. I would have loved to see the Stained Glass decor inside – And how do I know about it? Well, I do believe every church has one and that frankly, is what draws me inside ๐Ÿ˜‰

Goddess of Mercy Temple, Penang

Goddess of Mercy temple, Street of Harmony, Penang
Goddess of Mercy temple, Street of Harmony, Penang

Further down the same street is a Taoist temple of the Goddess of Mercy. The actual name of the temple isย  Kong Hock Keong which means “Temple of Cantonese and Hokkien Community“. Interestingly, the initial temple was built for Goddess Mazu, who is the Sea Goddess. This was specifically to Thank her for the safe passage on the sea. This is why the temple was built at this place as it is close to the sea.ย However, owing to the communal clashes between the Cantonese and Hokkien community, the Goddess of Mercy Guanyin replaced Goddess Mazu as she was worshipped by both the communities. And thus, the new name for the temple – Kong Hock Keong.

The beautiful roof of the Kong Hock Keong temple on Street of Harmony, Penang
The beautiful roof of the Kong Hock Keong temple on Street of Harmony, Penang
At the Goddess of Mercy temple on Street of Harmony, George Town
At the Goddess of Mercy temple on Street of Harmony, George Town

You are greeted by the sight and scent of huge incense sticks and the smiling statue of the ever Cheerful Laughing Buddha. What caught my fancy was the gorgeous Chinese roofs with Dragons etched on them. Anyone is welcome into the temple and seizing that opportunity, I made my way in to quickly check out the colorful lamp decor. Though dark, the interiors were quite vibrant with the prominent red color and I spend a fair amount of time watching people around the Altar.

The altar of the Goddess of Mercy temple, Penang
The altar of the Goddess of Mercy temple, Penang
The Ceiling in the Goddess of Mercy temple on Street of Harmony
The Ceiling in the Goddess of Mercy temple on Street of Harmony
 Kong Hock Keong temple on Street of Harmony, Penang
A lady offering her prayers at the Kong Hock Keong temple on Street of Harmony, Penang

The other thing that caught my fancy here was the lovely ornate doors. Wandering further in, I even came across a well within the temple. As I checked the same out, one of the local residents kindly explained to me that the temple had three wells – one which was for everyone and was outside, the second one was this one for the monks and the third was hidden under the altar. The three wells were in accordance with Feng Shui and represented a Dragon’s head. ๐Ÿ™‚

The ornate doors of the Goddess of Mercy temple, Penang
The ornate doors of the Goddess of Mercy temple, Penang

Fortune telling by way of dice seemed to be a regular practice and if you do have the time, you might want to see yours. Me – I just was rushed out to move further on the Street of Harmony.

Shri Mahamariamman temple, Penang

The Small Shrine of Ganesha on Street of Harmony, George Town, Penang
The Small Shrine of Ganesha on Street of Harmony, George Town, Penang

Walking along the Goddess of Mercy temple, I happen to spot a small shrine of our Good Luck God – Ganesha. It seemed obvious that the next in line on the Street of Harmony was a Hindu temple. And yes, I was right. The Shri Mahamariamman temple stood high and beautiful across the road with its temple bells ringing rhythmically. For me, it was a sense of Deja Vu for the temple was a typical Dravidian styled Indian temple – specifically found in South of India.

Shri Mahamariamman temple, Street of Harmony
The main entrance of Shri Mahamariamman temple, Street of Harmony

This was an obvious design considering that the Indian population in Penang is dominated by people from Tamil Nadu and South India. The temple was built on a land granted to the head of South Indians in Penang – Betty Lingam Chetty. The population of this sect consisted of Money Lenders, Sepoys, Merchants and Labourers. The initial structure was just a small shrine dedicated to Goddess Mariamman – who basically is the Goddess of Mercy and Power. (Mari in Tamil means Power)ย Later, as funds poured in, this temple was reconstructed to the present form.

Little India in George Town, Penang
Little India in George Town, Penang

What we first saw on the Street of Harmony was the back entrance of the temple while the main entrance lies on the other side. A quick hop over to that lane, also, helped me glimpse the area called Little India – complete with hawkers and street food.

Kapitan Keling Mosque on Street of Harmony

Kapitan Keling Mosque on Street of Harmony, Penang
Kapitan Keling Mosque on Street of Harmony, Penang

The final stop on the walk along the Street of Harmony is the Kapitan Keling Mosque built in the 1800s. The name of the mosque is after the head of the Indian Muslim community – Caudeer Mohuddeen. Kaptain essentially refers to Captain and Keling refers to the Indian place where he hailed from. The gentleman was the first superintendent of the mosque. Like most of these other monuments, this one too was a small structure which later was constructed to its present state – a beautiful white mosque that glowed orange against the setting sun.

Kapitan Keling Mosque at Sunset on Street of Harmony, Penang
Kapitan Keling Mosque at Sunset on Street of Harmony, Penang

Yap temple, Penang

Yap temple, Penang
Yap temple, Penang

We continued a little further down the mosque and discovered another small Taoist temple – Yap temple. This is unmissable for you tend to start your Street Art tour on a Trishaw from here. Quite unlike the Goddess of Mercy temple, this one belongs to a clan and is called the Choo Chay Keong temple.ย  Though a small one, this one is quite a colorful addition to the Street of Harmony.

Glimpses of Heritage homes & Street Art

Chinese mansions along the Street of Harmony, Penang
Chinese mansions along the Street of Harmony, Penang

All through our walk on the Street of Harmony, I came across plenty of interesting sights. Chinese mansions with their sloping roofs, wrought iron street art and colorful lanes. There just seemed so much to see and absorb that the 800 m walk could have lasted another hour or more for me. And that does not include the Street Art tour, which itself is a separate walk.

The Street of Harmony in George Town, Penang
The Street of Harmony in George Town, Penang

The magical thing about the Street of Harmony is that it is not just the marriage of cultures but also, the way the heritage has merged with modern day. It’s fascinating to see how the heritage homes are interspersed with modern art and the old landmarks of faith are still alive and buzzing with people. It is precisely this that makes the Street of Harmony one of the must do things in Penang. Don’t you agree?

Street of Harmony

Getting here

  • There are plenty of airlines like Malindo Air that fly you straight into Penang – either from the other cities of Malaysia or from major cities of the world.
  • You can even drive into Penang from Kuala Lumpur.
  • Map the Street of Harmony on your mobile or hand device by clicking here. You can reach the place by cab or Trishaw in Georgetown.

Travel Tips

  • Start the heritage walk of the Street of Harmony at the St. George’s Church and continue further down as indicated on the map.
  • Though the distance is just 800m , there is plenty to see around. Hence, this will be a slow walk.
  • You can even hire a Trishaw to take you along the street but the essence of the place would be quite lost.
  • Only Hindus can enter the Mariamman temple. Remember that you will have to remove your shoes before you do.
  • Similarly, only Muslims are allowed into the Mosque during the prayer times.
  • There are no entrance fees at any of these places.
  • Keep plenty of water with you during the walk.
  • Rest rooms and restaurants are in plenty along the Street

I was here as a part of my visit organized by Penang Tourism Board and Malindo Air.

 

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70 Responses

  1. Abhinav Singh

    I didnโ€™t know that Penang is so multi cultured. Street of Harmony sounds like an interesting place. Shri Mahamariamman temple is a surprise. I didnโ€™t know Penang has a Hindu presence as well! Travel indeed is the best teacher ever.

    • Ami

      A huge Presence of Indians from Tamil Nadu, especially the Chettinad area. This place is a fantastic medley of cultures and am sure you will love exploring it too.

  2. Ryan Biddulph

    Excellent Ami. Your post brought me back to Penang, as we spent a month there a few years back. This town is about harmony, together-ness and oodles of culture. Like a big old melting pot. Love it. You see Japanese, Indian, Chinese, Malaysian and other cultures leaking into one another, with different religions snaking their way into the meld too. What a fascinating and funky place. We enjoyed our time there, big-time.

    Ryan

    • Ami

      I can sense the nostalgia in your comment. I would feel the same too. This place is just that kinds. Thanks for stopping by Ryan

  3. Sandy N Vyjay

    The street of Harmony not only is fascinating but also so appropriate for the times that we live in. I wish that the world was a street of harmony where people of all religions and nationalities co-existed. Would make the world a better place. The Taoist temple is what really piques my interest and I would love to visit.

    • Ami

      It sure is a perfect gesture and one that is so significant today. The Taoist temple piqued my curiosity as well and is well worth a visit. Thanks for the comment Sandy and Vyjay

  4. Agness of a Tuk Tuk

    The Street of Harmony seems so colorful and versatile, Ami. I fell in love with this place thanks to your pictures. How many days would you recommend staying in Georgetown?

    • Ami

      At least 3 – 4 days, though frankly I think that too might be less ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by

  5. Neha Verma

    Such a nice presence of different communities on the street of harmony. No doubt it is named as such, where all of them exist in Harmony. All the places of worship are unique and beautiful. So is the vibrant colors on the street. Definitely something not to be missed

  6. Divyakshi Gupta

    It feels so nice to see harmony of religions and each one respecting the other! This is something the Malaysians should be very proud of! Loved the colours in your post Ami! Such pretty pictures of the Kapitan mosque and the ceiling of the goddess of mercy temple! ๐Ÿ™‚ Hope to see this someday! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Ami

      I would want to go back again Divsi. Somehow this one walk was not enough. And I hope we can do this together.

  7. Neil Alvin Nicerio

    Great article. I love the photos that came with it. I did not know that Penang has more to offer than food. Thanks for sharing such detailed write up. ๐Ÿ™‚

    More power to youe blog.

    • Ami

      Thank you Neil. There is so much more to Penang and the food for me, was just a bonus. Thanks for stopping by with this lovely comment.

  8. sumit

    hi
    such a lovely article and gorgeous visuals , the depth of the article was so much to make one visualize the images as you walked through the street , i am sure i could spend an entire day out here soaking in the stories of each of the religious places of worship

    • Ami

      I am sure you will find plenty to do here for a day. The street has some very interesting sights and experiences to offer. Thanks for stopping by Sumit.

  9. dennisallacross

    I really enjoyed your nice story, very well written. It reminded me of my time in Penang which I loved! Such an amazing place. Your article perfectly describes the atmosphere of the whole island – a perfect blend of various cultures. So much culture, tradition and heritage in one single street, absolutely amazing! Thanks for this!

    • Ami

      Thank you Dennis for those lovely words. You are right about the whole island having these vibes. This one street is like a birdseye view of the whole place.

  10. Alexander Popkov

    Lovely street! Definitely a lot of things to see! Good variety of architecture.

  11. Travel Tips

    Very interesting. How many cultures there living together. It is Always nice to see that diffrent religions sharing life together.

    • Ami

      Indeed it is and that is one of the reasons this street is so unique and symbolic. Thanks for stopping by

    • Ami

      Yes, it a lovely place and the diversity is what makes it even more unique. Thanks Ann for stopping by.

  12. Katchutravels (@Katchutravels)

    Penang sounds similar to places in KL or SIngapore. A good number of folks from Tamil Nadu are there, co-existing with China Towns. As much as religions share spaces with each other, the fact that an outsider from a religion cannot go into another prayer place is a bummer. I would want to see all the spaces, but that’s how it is!

    • Ami

      It is very different from KL and Singapore if you take out the Multiethnic culture. The place is a city with the old world charm still intact and that frankly, is what makes it very different. You can visit the Church and the Goddess of Mercy temple but yes, the others are out of bound. Still better than nothing I would say ๐Ÿ™‚

  13. Followingtherivera

    This really is a street of harmony, what with all the temples and churches! I’ve yet to visit Penang, but have heard so many good things about it. I love all the different churches temples and mosques in this area, a real sign of the cultural mix.

    • Ami

      A very unique street and one worth a visit. And since you love these landmarks, this one is up your alley

  14. Anna

    Aw this brings back memories for me! one thing i miss about Penang is the street Food! it was awesome! Great post lovely ๐Ÿ™‚

  15. WanderWithJo

    I did this too – SO much fun. Loved the goddess of mercy temple so much. Such intricate detailing all over ๐Ÿ™‚ Also, enjoyed the fact that all the places of worship from different cultures could be covered in literally just 30 mins (if you just walk around and not photograph/ go inside hehe). Looks like we should go back to Penang for more leisurely walks – its a lovely place to walk around, ain’t it?

  16. No Hanging Around

    How can one street seem so incredibly interesting? And you say it is only 800 meters? Amazing. I have yet to visit Penang but can relate to (or at least understand) some of the issues raised in the comment above re the religious aspect. In fact, when I was living on Zanzibar, I felt a little excluded in a sense that some of the local laws were pretty strict and unfair toward tourists for various points of interest. That being said, it is what it is and we should respect their wishes.

    I look forward to visiting this street in Penang, thanks for the write up!

    • Ami

      Glad you liked the post Derek. Even though you cannot get into the religious places, even watching it from outside is amazing. Don’t miss this in Penang.

  17. Gel

    Penang is one of the places I want to visit in the future. I am also eyeing to visit St. George Church. Thankyou for this information!-

  18. kopikang

    i feel the residents of Georgetown are incredible devotees their ancestral homes street arts would largely depict something religious. or is it that because the place houses different temples or houses of worship? nevertheless, i think it indeed a must visit place with unique attractions!

    • Ami

      The town is a UNESCO heritage site and that would explain a lot of leaning to their ancestral homes.

  19. eclecticgal

    Your post really makes me want to go back to Penang again – I was last there when I was tiny and I don’t remember much of it. But, Georgetown and Harmony street do look fascinating – there looks to be plenty to see just walking along the street

  20. Brianna

    I’m glad you convinced your guide to go down Harmony Street too. It’s encouraging to see all these Houses of Worship coexisting peacefully so close together.

    • Ami

      And the best way is to walk. A drive will never do justice here. Thanks to the united voices of the bloggers ๐Ÿ™‚

  21. Scribbling Geek

    Your pictures are wonderful and atmospheric. Penang really does have that old-time, small city flavour. Probably my favourite place in the whole of Malaysia.

  22. vukojevic

    The goddess of Mercy Temple looks stunning! There’s so much detail on top of that roof, I can’t imagine how long it took to complete! It’s great to know that there are no entrance fees to the temple, looks like a great budget friendly trip!

    • Ami

      There is not a penny that you spend unless you want to eat street food ๐Ÿ˜‰ And which is yummy!

  23. amit

    I love visiting places around the world that almost disorientate you from the mix of cultures that have settled there over the generations. Being from England it’s common to see here, but when you’re in foreign countries and see it, it can sometimes throw you. I can imagine seeing the mix of churches, Chinese temples and Hindi temples was an incredible experience.

    • Ami

      It’s pretty normal even in India but to see a single stretch of road with all on it – and all heritage is rare. That is what makes the street of harmony so special.

  24. carolcolborn

    How cool is that? The Street of Harmony is a place I would love to see. The mix of cultures, exemplified by the variety of temples, in such a short stretch of road is amazing!

  25. Silke

    This is the first time that I read about the Street of Harmony. What a beautiful name for a 800m stretch of street that combines peacefully all world religions. The different houses of worship all look very beautiful, as if in competition with each other. If only the world would be so harmonious everywhere! I will keep this part of Georgetown in mind now if I ever get to visit. Thanks for pointing it out!

    • Ami

      It sure is a great symbol for the world. An example of how everything can coexist peacefully. Thank you for your lovely comment

  26. lukeandmeagan

    This is one of the coolest things I’ve seen in awhile! Thanks to our current climate, all you really think of is clashes when it comes to religion, but it’s amazing seeing all these houses of worship standing so close to one another without issue. Each of them is lovely in their own way, for detailed to classical. Lovely writeup on each, as well. Thank you!

    • Ami

      Thank you and I am so glad that you enjoyed the write up. This was a unique find and am glad I got to witness it.

  27. Paige Wunder

    Harmony Street definitely seems like a great example of the beautiful mix of peoples and cultures in Malaysia. It’s not often that you can experience so much culture, religion and architecture by zipping down one street. I would also love to do the street art walk you mention as well. I stopped in Georgetown to catch a bus and I’m so wishing I had stayed a while.

  28. lucywilliamsglobal

    Penang looks like a great city to visit and so interesting. I like the temples as they are so colourful. The Taoist temple of the Goddess of Mercy, the Yap temple and the Shri Mahamariamman temple look amazing!

    • Ami

      Thank you Lucy for stopping by . Penang is a very interesting city. You should check out some of the other things it has to offer – you will be very surprised.

Would love to know what you think