The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta

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The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
Tan Seng Ong Temple with its incense burner and two guardian lions, in front of the temple. Photo credit: Fino Simarmata/private collection.

IO – The Tan Seng Ong Temple is a clan temple which was specifically built for the Tan clan which is also known as the Chen clan. In Mandarin the temple is known as the Chen Shi Zu Temple. Clan temples are rare in Jakarta but have existed there since the 18th century. Another clan temple in Jakarta is for the Lin or Lim family namely, the Ma Co Po or Thian Hou Temple where the main god is Ma Co Po or Ma Zu, the Goddess of the Sea. She was originally a young girl from the Lim clan who was later deified. The Temple was established by merchants and sailors who asked the Goddess to protect their ships at sea but Ma Co Po was also the protector of the Lim clan and the temple belongs to a member of the Lim family said to be living in Semarang.

These two temples are the oldest ancestor worship temples in Jakarta. Both clans come from Fujian where there are many Tans and Lims. Many of them migrated to Java.

There are three areas in China that have very much influenced the gods and goddesses found in Daoist temples in Jakarta. The three areas are South Fujian, Guangdong or Zhangzhou and North Fujian. Chinese people from these three areas immigrated to Jakarta – or Batavia as it was then known – and brought the local gods that they worshipped at home with them to Jakarta. The first gods to appear in temples in Jakarta were from South Fujian and amongst the first to arrive was Tan Seng Ong or Chen Yuan-guang as he is known in Mandrin. I shall refer to him here as Tan Seng Ong as he was originally known in Jakarta for in the past the Hokkien language was the language most spoken by the Chinese living in Batavia

Centuries ago, most Chinese temples in Jakarta were built for certain specific groups in society such as for example local Chinese officials who were members of the Kong Kuan or Chinese Council of Batavia. They established the Jinde Yuan temple. There are temples like the Ma Co Po temple which was established by sailors and fishermen and whose main goddess is the Goddess of the Sea, or the Lupan Bio for wood craftsmen. Another category of temple was temples built for a kongsi or merchant guild such as for example Vihara Padi Lapa which was a place of worship specifically for the paddy and coconut oil merchants. Clan temples are another variety although sometimes as with the Ma Co Po temple, a temple could be a combination of clan temple and temple built for a specific group in society. Now most of these temples are no longer for specific groups or clans and are open to the general public.

The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
The roof of Tan Seng Ong Temple with 3 of itd dragons visible. In the centre is the pearl. Photo credit: Fino Simarmata/private collection

Tan Seng Ong Temple is located on Jalan Kemenangan III, Gang VI number 97 in Taman Sari on the banks of the Blandongan canal. A small road separates the temple from the tree lined canal. There are many tiny passages with small houses sharing their walls with each other in the neighborhood around the temple. It has a typical swallow-tailed temple roof. On the red curved roof stand two yellow and red dragons and in the center of the roof are two yellow and green dragons with a pearl set between them. A red-painted iron fence encircles the temple itself. On either side of the entrance stand two red posts with yellow lamps. The entrance leads to a relatively large outer yard. There is a brown oven for burning paper offerings on the left side of the yard. In the center of the yard right in front of the temple, stands a small pavilion with eight red posts carrying a red roof with yellow trim divided into eight sections rather like an umbrella. In the middle of this pavilion is a large round stone pedestal, again divided into eight carved sections, on which rests a stone incense burner with two lions’ heads.

In front of the pavilion, stand two large stone guardian lions known in Chinese as shishiShi means lion and these go back to imperial times when such lions were placed in front of imperial palaces, tombs, temples and government offices which is why they were referred to as imperial guardian lions. Guardian lion statues were already in existence during the 6th century BCE. They are to protect the temple from bad spiritual influences as well as bad people and the two lions represent the principle of ying and yang. The male lion which represents yang should be placed on the left side and the female lion or ying energy should be placed on the right side, if they are looked at when facing them. The male lion has his paw on an embroidered ball which represent world supremacy and the female lion has her paw on a lion cub. It is believed that she has a nipple in her paw and she represents the nurturing element.

The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
statue of the male guardian lion of the temple Photo credit: Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand, CC BY 2.0 (https:// creativecommons .org/licenses/by/2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

There is an inscription in the temple that states that the temple was built on the 13th of December 1757. However, it is said that in fact the temple was already in existence in the early years of the 18th century but later destroyed during the Chinese Massacre of 1740. It was then rebuilt in 1757.

In the temple complex stand two buildings separated by a small inner courtyard. In front of the pavilion is the veranda of the first building. In the middle of the veranda are six red posts holding up the ceiling. There are two outer posts where green dragons are carved climbing up the posts. There are several levels of red beams with carved green trim connecting the post with the outer wall of the building. The ceiling consists of small wooden boards. Both side walls of the veranda are painted; on the left side with a dragon and on the right side with a tiger.

The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
The interior of Tan Seng Ong temple with main altar. Here, the 4 black pillars with gold characters are visible. Photo credit: Fino Simarmata/private collection.

The first building measures 15 meters by18 meters and has a verandah measuring five meters in width. It is rectangular in shape and consists of three rooms standing   next to each other. The central room is the main room of the temple. The other two rooms have outer and inner French doors rather as in a 19th century Indies style house. The outer wall of the main room facing the veranda, has a doorway with a red painted wooden board on which are inscribed Chinese characters in gold, hanging above it. The doorway has two wooden doors painted with pictures of the two-door gods. At the door there are two wooden pedestals on either side of the door with two large round pieces of wood that look as though they might unfurl. These are brown in color and very intricately carved. There are also three doors or windows. Each is bordered in red and gold and divided in to two sections. The top half of each door consists of brown wood intricately carved in the shape of tendrils in loops and curves delicately trimmed with gold paint. The other half of each door is painted with a figure. On the right side of the first door there is an elephant. On the second door is a vase and on the third a white tiger. To the right the doors are painted with a snake, a vase and a deer. Above the doors are air vents. These consist of beautifully carved wood in the form of large green tendrils, the next level of the vents is red and the final level is yellow. From this hang red brackets carved in the form of the phoenix with a dragon’s tail visible.

An ornately painted chest with a beautifully carved wooden incense holder stands in front of the door leading into the temple. A few feet behind this are two black and red altar tables one behind the other. The final altar table has a red tablet with beautifully carved gold birds and flowers around it. This altar stands in front of a very intricately carved black red and gold wood niche where the main deity of the temple sits. The deity is Tan Seng Ong also known as Tan Goan Kong, who was later deified and worshipped by the Tan or Chen clan.

The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
The door panels with pictures of an elephant, a vase and a white tiger. Photo credit: Fino Simarmata/ private collection.

On the wall on the left side of the main room is a circular window with red Chinese lettering in the middle open part of the window. A large old drum and stick similar to those in mosques to call the faithful to prayer, hangs from the wall nearby. The main room has several red wooden posts with boards painted black with Chinese characters painted in gold running down the posts, causing the room to have a central section. These posts hold up the ceiling that consists of small wooden boards placed together. All the wood used is teak. The walls of the main room have unfortunately, been covered in modern yellow tiles. The floor is still of marble but it is not clear at which period the marble was put into the floor. There are two doors leading to the inner courtyard. At each door are stands with the war implements of Tan Goan Kong.

The second building is two stories high and measures 15 meters by 15 meters. On the ground level is another room that is an offertory for several gods. It has a large wooden altar painted red with gold carvings on which stand round, bronze incense burners. Behind this is a wooden altar frame of oxblood red decorated with gold carvings where in niches sit several less important deities of the temple including Ma Co Po, the goddess of the sea and at the bottom of the altar frame on the floor are two statues of tigers for the tiger spirit Hu Ye. This is a guardian spirit often found under a Daoist shrine which is worshipped to curse spiritual enemies.

The Tan Seng Ong Temple is the oldest clan temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta
Statue of Tan Seng Ong. Photo credit: Fino Simarmata/private collection

The main deity at Tan Seng Ong Temple is the famous warrior and statesman Tan Seng Ong or Tan Goan Kong who was later given the title Kai Cheng Seng Ong. He was a Tang dynasty general who pioneered the opening of Fujian province. Born in  Gushi County, Henan in 657 BCE, his father was a military commander. When he was 13 years old his father as commander of the Southern China military expeditionary force began a march to Fujian, for the purpose of setting up a regional administration. When his father suddenly died in the line of duty, despite being so young he took over his father’s command and led his father’s military expedition to South Hokkien in the province of Fujian. The Emperor sent him to put down a rebellion of the minority ethnic groups there. Tan Seng Ong managed to stabilize the situation and bring prosperity to the region by his policies of regarding all ethnicities as being equal with the Hans, after which they were able to live together peacefully. After the Emperor granted permission for the creation of the state of Zhangzhou or Guandong, he was appointed both civil and military leader of the province and was given the rank of general. Many of his suggestions for the prosperity of the community were accepted by the Emperor, such as the building of irrigation systems, the development of agriculture, industry and trade, as well erecting schools. Under his leadership a vast area became stable and prospered.

In 711 Tan Goan Ong was killed by a rebel army general. The people of Zhangzhou were deeply saddened and his remains were buried there. The Emperor built a shrine for him. Later, he was deified and as he was a member of the Tan or Chen clan, he became the patron or protector of the clan which worships him. Members of the clan who immigrated to Indonesia from Fujian brought his worship to Indonesia.

Like most Chinese temples in Jakarta, it is also a Buddhist temple and therefore also known as the Vihara Tanda Bhakti. It is the oldest temple for ancestor worship in Jakarta. In Semarang the clan built a similar temple in 1815. During his life time, Tan Seng Ong built a community where the minorities were represented and created a very pluralistic society with hybrid cultures. In that respect he is a very appropriate deity for Jakarta. (Tamalia Alisjahbana)