One temple, three religions, and a whole lot of incense
The Great Immortal Wong
When it comes to Hong Kong temples, Wong Tai Sin may be the most famous of them all. Said to be the temple at which every prayer comes true, it may only be a little over 90 years old, but what it lacks in ancient history, it more than makes up for with its wish-granting popularity.
Home to not one, not two, but three religions, Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple (黃大仙祠), to give it its full title, is the religious equivalent of an all-you-can-eat buffet. There are Taoist gods pray to, Buddhist deities to worship, as well as a Confucian temple. There are gods of fortune, gods of wealth and even a god of marriage. Guan Yu is there and Guan Yin too. Not to mention Wong Tai Sin himself. It’s the perfect place for the devoted and the hopeful to hedge their bets and hope something, anything, falls lucky for them in the coming twelve months.
The temple is dedicated to the 4th century Chinese monk Huang Chu-ping (黃初平), later deified as the Great Immortal Wong, and was established at its present site in 1921 after the Taoist priest, Leung Renyan (梁仁菴), attempted to spread the word of Wong Tai Sin by carrying his portrait from Guangdong Province, southern China, to Hong Kong.
According to the story, after Leung arrived in Hong Kong in 1915, he opened a pharmacy in Wan Chai in which he kept the portrait in a makeshift altar to which his customers could pray for the restoration of their health. The shop was destroyed by fire in 1918, but three years later, apparently with Wong Tai Sin’s blessing, a new temple was built at which worshippers have been paying homage ever since.
Hong Kong’s Temple
Whether it was Leung’s herbal remedies or his patient’s prayers which worked their magic, Wong Tai Sin Temple has since become the most well-known and popular temple in all of Hong Kong. More a collection of variously dedicated halls and other buildings, than a single temple, the complex owes much of its popularity, aside from its spiritual aspect, to the variety of things to see and do there.
As well as the main temple, the Earth Wall, the Yue Heung Shrine, the Archives Hall, the Yuk Yik Fountain and the Bronze Pavilion, represent the five elements earth, fire, wood, water and metal respectively. There is also the Three Saints Hall dedicated to the leader of the Eight Immortals of Taoism Lu Dongbin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy Guan Yin, and Lord Guan Yu.
When you add to this the Confucian Hall, the Good Wish Garden and a Nine Dragon Wall similar to the one in Beijing, Wong Tai Sin becomes a temple with much more to recommend it than your average Hong Kong incense fest. The main temple is curiously off limits to everyone but members only, but it still houses the original portrait that Leung Renyan brought to Hong Kong, to which visitors can pray for good fortune and some divine guidance in their daily lives.
Seek Your Fortune
The most popular practice at Wong Tai Sin Temple is that of kau cim (求 籤), in which worshippers shake a container full of bamboo sticks, each bearing a different number, until a single lucky stick falls to the ground. After the fateful stick is exchanged for a piece of paper with the corresponding number printed on it, it can be taken to one of the many fortune tellers based at the temple for interpretation.
There are so many fortune tellers and fortune seekers at Wong Tai Sin Temple, in fact, that you may begin to wonder where peoples’ faith in the power to influence their own lives has disappeared to. Chinese New Year is by far the busiest time of the year, with thousands of people turning up to offer early prayers to the gods after midnight the Lunar New Year’s Eve. Wong Tai Sin’s birthday on the 23rd day of the 8th lunar month is also fairly chaotic, as worshippers arrive to pay thanks to the Great Immortal Wong for prayers answered, and to offer new ones on this most auspicious of days.
Related Posts: For more on Hong Kong’s best temples, see category: hong kong temples
How to get to Wong Tai Sin Temple
Wong Tai Sin MTR Station Exit B3. Or bus 113 from Hong Kong Island via Ho Man Tin/Kowloon Tong
Opening hours are from 7:00am to 5:30pm daily. During Lunar New Year’s Eve, the temple is open overnight.