ultramarinus – beyond the sea

TEMPLE BY THE NULLAH, Pak Tai Temple (灣仔北帝廟), Wan Chai, Hong Kong

For a city with 1,113 sq.km of land, Hong Kong has an astonishing 1,178km (some say 733km depending if all 261 outer islands are counted) of coastline. From a fishing village to a global trading port, Hong Kong’s relationship with the sea is the most essential character for the city. Before the arrival of the British, the city was no more than a scattered collection of fishing communities across the territory. Where there were fishing villages there would also be shrines dedicated to guardian deities of the sea. Many of these communities were made up with diasporas from different regions of China, where each has their unique customs and guardian deity, thus bringing a wide range of temples to the city. Popular sea deity in Hong Kong includes Tin hau (天后), a Fujianese sea goddess also named Mazu in Taiwan and Southeast Asia; Hung Shing (洪聖), god of the southern seas originated from a Guangdong official in the Tang Dynasty; Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist cosmological god from Northern China; Tam Kung (譚公), a sea god common in Huizhou of Guangdong; Lung Mo (龍母), another sea goddess from Southern China known as the Dragon Mother, etc.


In Wan Chi, 500m from the Hung Shing Temple (洪聖古廟), Pak Tai Temple(灣仔北帝廟) stands as a much bigger temple complex hidden under the shadows of an imposing old Banyan tree in a public park at the upper end of Stone Nullah Lane. Hidden at the tranquil end of the Stone Nullah neighbourhood, visiting the temple feels like entering a distinct world from the commercial district of Wan Chai, despite the iconic 78 storey Central Plaza and the waterfront skyline are just 800m to the north. Built in 1863, Pak Tai Temple is the largest temple complex on Hong Kong Island, and home to a 400 year old bronze statue and a 160 year old antique bell. Also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮), Pak Tai Temple is mainly dedicated to Pak Tai (北帝), a Taoist god from Northern China that is also called Xuanwu (玄武) or Xuantian Shangdi (玄天上帝). Pak Tai is a powerful god related to the Northern Star and one of the 28 constellations of the north, controlling the power of water in the five elements, and thus he is also considered as a sea god. Apart from Pak Tai, the temple also serves as an one stop worshipping hall for a number of traditional Chinese deities, such as Ji Gong (濟公), Eight Immortals (八仙), Guan Yu (關公), Bodhisattva Guanyin (觀音), City God Shing Wong (城隍), God of Wealth Choi Sen (財神), constellation deities Tai Sui (太歲), Dragon Mother Lung Mo (龍母), etc. Perhaps of its central location, Pak Tai Temple continues to attract worshippers from across the city even in the 21st century. It is definitely one of the busiest temples we have visited in Hong Kong.

Pak Tai Temple is also called Yuk Hui Kong (玉虛宮). [2022]
Adjacent to the main hall stands Hall of Three Treasures (三寶殿), a Buddhist worshipping hall for more quiet prayers. [2022]
A pleasant forecourt links up all the worshipping halls. [2022]
Outside the main hall, two large lanterns are hung from the eaves to mark the entrance elegantly. [2022]
Exquisite decorative woodwork can be appreciated without entering the hall. [2022]
Elegant decorations of the timber beams. [2022]
Lung Sai Bowl (龍洗盆), a copper bowl with two handles which allows user to rub in quick motion until the reverberated vibrations to trigger fierce rhythm of dancing water, is commonly found at entrance of a Chinese temple. [2022]
Through the main gate, the first worship hall with a prominent statue of Pak Tai can be reached. [2022]
Casted in 1603 (萬曆三十一年), the 3m bronze statue of Pak Tai is the oldest artefact in the temple. It was originally housed in a temple in Guangdong, China. A wealthy businessman bought the statue during the civil war years and housed it in his Kowloon villa. After his villa was demolished by the Japanese to make way for the airport expansion, the statue was eventually relocated to the temple in Wan Chai. 2022]
Apart from the bronze statue, the decorations in the temple ate equally splendid. [2022]
A stone plaque with names of early donors quietly sits at a side wall in the temple. [2022]
A traditional drum is often used during rituals that communicate with the gods. [2022]
Before the drum, a bronze bell dated to 1863 is also a tool for rituals. [2022]
The main altar sits by another statue of Pak Tai, flanked both sides by his four generals. [2022]
Apart from calligraphy, the ceiling temple is decorated with rows of lanterns donated by worshippers. [2022]
Pak Tai Temple is one of the busiest temples we have been to in Hong Kong. [2022]
Each of the four generals has his unique outfit, weapon and facial expression. [2022]
The serious expression of the four generals help to create a solemn ambience for the main hall. [2022]
Statues of the four generals are beautifully decorated. [2022]
The detail touches on the statues are not easy to find nowadays in Hong Kong. [2022]

One response

  1. Pingback: MARKET BY THE NULLAH, Wanchai (灣仔), Hong Kong | Blue Lapis Road

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