Seek and ye shall find, says the Bible.
It is after much searching that I finally found the city’s only Chinese temple.
Kwan Kung Temple was built in 1919. Bombay was once home to a sizable Chinese community, See Yip Koon, who settled in Mazgaon in an area then called Chinatown. The Indo-Sine war of 1962 saw many of the community leave the city and country; today about a 1000 people remain.
The area is completely residential with small buildings and bungalows crammed together. The only sign that the two-storey building houses the temple is a gate painted red and gold. There are no signboards or instructions anywhere around.
On entering, we climb the wooden staircase to the first floor, where we meet the Tham family that looks after the temple. A perfunctory question about our intentions later, they hand us the keys. On to the second floor, passing by a mural of Fuk, Luk and Sau (the Chinese gods of blessing, longevity, and prosperity). There is Chinese calligraphy and paper lanterns all around.
The temple is essentially a large room, in different shades of crimson. It is dominated by a painting of the Chinese god of justice and courage, Guan Gong (or Kwan Kung; in English Confucius). He is believed to be powerful and grants wishes. The altar is decorated with Chinese sayings and figurines and offerings; incense sticks and candles emit a faint glow of light and high above, hang three lanterns. A small area at the side has statues of three horses, which the caretaker of the temple explains are believed to be the horses the god rode.
It may be a small room but there is much to observe in the temple. A cupboard nearby has incense sticks, prayer pamphlets, paper money and moon blocks (wooden tools used to pray). On the floor is a carpet cut out in the shape of a tiger. One wall has a board covered with bamboo sheets containing numbers and Chinese script. On a small table lies a jar which contain fortune sticks containing numbers. On an earlier visit, a member of the Tham family, the caretakers, told me how they work.
“Devotees shake the jar till a stick falls out, the number on it is then matched with papers that line the wall to the left of the altar. Each paper is like a horoscope. They are interpreted by learned men who can tell devotees about his wish and what he should do in the future.”
Offerings here include paper money and gold/ silver paper; fruits, red envelopes, which contain anything from money to rice. The offerings are collected, burnt and stored in a tub which when full is emptied into the sea. Once the prayers are over, devotees simultaneously beat a brass bell and hit a gong thrice.
The temple is a peaceful space and you can just sit there and enjoy the quiet, or look out from the balcony and observe the Chinese residents of the area interact with one another.
Kwan Kung Temple is located at Wadi Bunder, Mazgaon. The temple is open throughout the day. On special occasions like the Chinese New Year, it remains open till 4 am.