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Sri Maha Mariamman Temple

Built in 1833, the Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple situated in George Town Penang is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, and features sculptures of gods and goddesses over its main entrance and facade. It is located at Lebuh Queen,George Town. It is also known as Mariamman Temple or Queen Street Indian Temple.

Throughout the years, the Sri Mahamariamman temple has also been known by several names: Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple, Sri Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple, Sri Mariamman Temple. All these names refer to the same temple. The temple is open daily from 6.30 am - 12.00 noon and 4.30 pm - 9.00 pm. It became a place of worship as early as 1801 and became a temple on 1833. It has stood at the same place for more than 200 years.

The temple is in central Georgetown on Lebuh Queen (Queen Street) and the back entrance is on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (Pitt Street), in between Lebuh Pasar and Lebuh Chulia. Located in Penang’s Little India, in the capital city of Georgetown, the Sri Maha Mariamman temple reflects the city’s rich cultural heritage.

Visitation to this temple is limited to morning and evening. Temple opens starts from morning 6 am till 12 pm and evening from 5 pm till 9 pm. The temple closes after the prayers are performed at 12 pm and 9 pm respectively. Daily there will be Pujas (prayers), mornings 7.30 am and evening 6.30 pm. Prayers are usually conducted by the temple priests in these times and visitors may observe these prayer sessions taking place. If you wish to enter the Sri Mahamariamman temple, it would be polite to ask permission from any of the priests and please remember to remove your shoes before entering the temple grounds.

The tropical island of Penang lies in the Indian Ocean, just off the north-west coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Penang’s rapid growth as a trading hub in the early 19th century, especially in commodities such as nutmegs, cloves and pepper, attracted traders from Europe, America, Arabia, India as well as China.

Each then established communities and adopted lifestyles similar to their homeland. It was during that time that the Tamil Indians arrived in the island’s bustling harbour and established their own ‘Little India’ community in the city. The early Indian settlers, who came to this island to toil and trade, established an abode for mother, so that her presence could be felt as their guardian deity and guide in their times of trials and tribulations.

Dating back as early as 1801, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple is recognised as an elaborate and spiritual place of worship. Like most Indian temples in Penang, the Penang Sri Mahamariamman began as a small and simple shrine. Not much is known about the early days of the temple or of the persons who founded it. The land was granted in 1801 by the British to Betty Lingam Chetty, who was then the Kapitan (Headman, Kepala or Community Leader) of the Tamils and South Indians. This is confirmed by another grant written in 1831. But, as to how the temple came to be built on this land or who founded it, there is no information.

Caption James Low confirms the existence of a temple in Georgetown in 1835. That the Mariamman temple was founded in 1833 is first mentioned in a notice of 'Kumbabishegam' (consecration ceremony) held one hundred years later in 1933. But except for the date, not much else has been said about its founding in that document.

Built originally as a shrine, it was later that the Indian community found a need for a proper temple ground for worshipping, to accommodate the ever-increasing Indian community presence on the island. This was done to ensure that the Indian community, which includes the merchants, labourers and sepoys, are settled in one particular area, for ease of managing the group. The majority of the people who lived around the temple were waterfront workers who were the backbone of the Penang port. These Indian stevedores were organised in groups called kootam - a member of a kootam is a kootakadai and heading each kootam is a thandal. Together, the Indian community numbered about 2000 workers and they inhabited the area bounded by Lebuh Queen, Lebuh King, Lebuh Penang, Lebuh Pasar and Lebuh Gereja, an area collectively known as Ellammuchanthi in Tamil, or Simpang Lelong in Malay.

The Sri Mahamariamman shrine was enlarged into a temple in 1833. Since this was when it became a proper temple, 1833 is taken as the year that it was founded. At the time of its founding, it was known as the Sri Muthu Mariamman Temple. It was only in 1980 that it became known by its present name, Sri Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple, although the name is often written as Sri Mariamman Temple, Mahamariamman Temple and so on.

From its inception, the temple provided an important place of worship for early Indian immigrants and is now an important cultural and national heritage. In those days, it was done to ensure the Indian community, which includes the early working settlers like merchants and laborers are settled in one area to ease managing them. By 1833, the shrine through the efforts of the Indian settlers, turned to a temple and was renovated to its present form a hundred years later.

According to a document of civil suit brought before the courts in 1904, the names of five trustees who looked after the temple from 1892 till 1904 are Veerasamy, Murugan Chettiyar, Govindasamy Pillai, Veleritta Taver and Meyappah. The temple came under The Mohamedan and Hindu Endowments Board in 1906. From then onwards the temple has been administrated by the management committee appointed by the Endowment Board. It appears that from the beginning of the Endowments Board's administration, a few temples and other institutions have been clustered and left under the care of this management committee: Arulmigu Sri Balathandayuthapani Temple in Waterfall (Hilltop), the Arulmigu Sri Ganesha Temple in Waterfall, the Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Queen Street, Hindu Cemetery and Cremation Ground in Batu Lanchang and a Hindu Funeral Rites Ground in Jalan Air Itam. From 1967 onwards, the board is known as the Hindu Endowments Board, which is currently managing this temple.

The Hindu Mahajana Sangam, which was formed in 1935, has had close association with this temple and other temples under the care of the same management. many members have served in both institutions. They have also been associated with the temple's formation, renovation and maintenance.

Penang Island Highlights

Blue Mansion Captain Francis Light City Hall Esplanade Clock Tower Convent Light Street School Dhammikarama Temple Fort Cornwallis Guan Ti Temple Kapitan Keling Mosque Kek Lok Si Temple Little India Penang Hill Sri Maha Mariamman Temple St. George Church Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram