Lost in the jungle of Sarawak, a hidden Hindu temple is discovered after half a century later.
One day in 1968, a Bidayuh/Melanau hunter, Abi bin Benggali accidentally stumbled upon a deserted building in the middle of the Matang jungle when he was looking a shelter during a thunderstorm. He was surprised and intrigued by his findings. The belian interior was sturdy yet undamaged despite being abandoned for more than half a century!
As Abi explored into the temple's compound, he discovered a fancy wooden craved elephant statue, which clearly indicates that it was a Hindu temple. Attracted by the statue, he took it home. Turns out to be a traumatic experience for him! According to the story reported by the Borneo Post, Abi's house shook violently that night (they believed that the thunderstorm is targeting the house) and had dreamt that he must return the statue to the temple.
Horrified, Abi return the statue to the temple the very next day. He shared his strange encounter and quickly the news on the lost temple in the jungle reached the local community of Hindus in Kuching. The community immediately started a campaign to restore the lost temple in 1968.
The elders from the Hindu community also revealed that they had heard of this temple from their parents. This lost temple is interlinked directly with the arrival of the forefathers of the present-day Indians of Sarawak. The Mount Matang Mariamman Temple was believed to be built by Indian and Ceylonese workers recruited by Charles Brooke, the second White Rajah of Sarawak in 1867. According to the reports by Kanggatheren-Manogaran, some of the workers were banished from South India to work in Sarawak's coffee and tea estate through the Kangani system in the mid-nineteenth century.
The temple was mainly built by the Tamil Hindus workers dedicated to the Mother Goddess Sri Maha Mariamman (Amman). Upon completion, a priest was brought from India to consecrate the temple.
Following that, more workers were brought in from India and Ceylon (now known as Sri Lanka) to work in the six hundred acres land. Some reports of more than 2,000 workers were recruited to work at that time. During that time, the tea and coffee industry was at its economic height. It is also said that the workers are poorly paid and often oppressed by the foremen (known as Kanganis). It was definitely not easy for these workers back then.
As the numbers grow, there was more worships location were erected including The Chapel for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Murugan temple and two other prayer places. Until today, the two other prayer house remain lost to the jungle as reported by Kanggatheren-Manogaran.
Due to poor management of the estate, the plantation was closed in 1912. The workers were given a choice to stay to work in the road construction in Kuching or return back to their respective countries. Majority of them choose to return to their own country due to their bad experience in the estate. According to the elders, only fifty families chose to stay back.
The generation that stayed back brought the main bronze statue of Mother Goddess Sri Maha Mariamman (Amman) to a small shrine in the Kuching. In 1991, a big temple dedicated to the deity was built on a piece of land at Jalan Rock. The statue was then moved there where it remains until today.
The restoration champaign of the lost temple started in 1968 by the local Hindu community. The three-kilometres path built during the Brookes' era leading to the plantation was cleared, and it turned out to be a very well built small road meandering up a gentle slope. Craftsmen from India were also brought in to carve intricate patterns on belian doors, walls, pillars and furnishings of the temple and fashion statues and motifs bearing elaborate details. The lost temple reopens for prayer on 4th December 1970.
It was also reported there are also a lot of Chinese merchants devotees who have contributed to the temple through various donations. The community have also constructed an elephant-headed Hindu god Ganesha shrine at the foothills at the mountain, which costs between RM70,000 and RM80,000 to construct with a significant portion coming from a single donor. According to a report by the Borneo Post, the donation was made by a local Chinese businessman as a token of his gratitude after experiencing much good luck following a visit to the Sri Maha Mariamman temple.
Finally, the restoration was completed was in 2011 and was celebrated with a poojai (high mass) which was attended by five hundred devotees. The ceremony was also attended by James Lionel Brooke and Jason Desmond Broke, the grandson and the great-grandson of the last White Rajah, Charles Vyner Brooke.
Since then devotees regularly offered prayers there, and it was put under the care and administration of the Kuching Hindu Temple Association Ban Hock Road.
- Facebook/Mount Matang Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
- Wikipedia - Kangani System
- Borneo Post