A free-spirit studying psychology at the University of Sydney.
Published February 7th 2014
A Piece of Nineteenth Century China in Glebe's Backyard
In a suburban sea of narrow streets and terrace-houses in Glebe, is one of the last things that you would expect to come across - a Chinese Temple that dates back to 1898 entitled the Sze Yup Temple. I was led to this place by a friend who had already uncovered this exotic secret. As we strolled up a street, away from Blackwattle Bay, I began to smell wafts of incense in the air. As we walked around the walls that guarded the temple grounds, bamboo plants and then, a tall, oriental archway came into sight. It felt surreal finding this in the middle of a suburb that was so close to Sydney city, yet it was real as can be, and is a beautiful place for you to wander around in tranquility.
This Buddhist temple, established in 1898, is a Sydney-based example of nineteenth century Chinese culture. Between 1898 and 1953, additional chapel wings were added to the initial temple house. Following destruction by fire in 1955, the temple had to be rebuilt. Since then it has became an environmental heritage site, as listed on a NSW government website.
The temple was built in honour of Kwun Ti, a renowned warrior that served in three Chinese kingdoms between 220 and 265AD. In addition to Buddhist prayer, the Sze Yup Temple is a place where Chinese people in Australia can continue to seek guidance and blessings from this warrior. In particular, guidance is found for important decisions such as those relating to business. Dedications to deceased family members are also a tradition.
The archway through which you will enter the Sze Yup Temple grounds.
Entering through the archway guarded by the two stone lions felt as though I had stepped into not only another cultural world, but another era. The path that leads you from the entrance to the temple is lined with vibrant red and yellow flags, indicating that this is a place for mediating positivity. In a way, these made it feel even more like we were being guided toward somewhere special and sacred.
Smoke and incense burners were abundant in the area in front of the temple building. For one, there were the incense coils that spiralled in the breeze; the breeze that carried the aroma of this enigmatic world over the grounds and across the backstreets that bordered. There also stood a few stone bowls before the temple with incense sticks burning within them. Some of these were sheltered by shrines that appeared to be guarded by Chinese dragons. Another, longer, wider, stone pot stood in the centre of the area before the temple building itself.
We saw a number of people praying before gently allowing their incense sticks to join the collection of others within these stone pots. I can't say I know much about these rituals, however I appreciate my opportunity to witness traditions of both a different cultural and spiritual background here at Sze Yup.
The majestic red entrance to the Sze Yup Temple building.
The garden was pretty and included some neatly trimmed hedges paralleling the pathway. My favourite thing from the outdoors here was a rather old and quite tangled tree that stood to the right of the temple (if you are facing it). It is absolutely beautiful, and its antique, mysterious, and also calming vibe seemed to be the most fitting for this place.
The front of the temple building is a majestic red canvas, with golden Chinese scripture surrounding the door. It is a mystery to me what stories or gospels these scriptures may be telling - this goes for all of the oriental scriptures that are in the chapels. Entering through the doorway to these chapels was another enchanting experience in itself. I feel as though we stepped into an incredibly peaceful sanctuary.
There were three separate spaces within the temple - the main shrine which you enter through the temple doorway, and the two smaller chapels on either side of this. This layout of the temple was made in accordance with Chinese Feng Shui.
Within the temple rooms lays a vibrant feast to the senses. The silence and soft oriental melodies that you will hear in the background create a completely serene ambience. An array of colours are seen in the flowers, fruit, and other offerings that people have left. There are red candles burning and once again, an aroma of incense. There are also statuettes of the deities being honoured within these sacred spaces.
One of the side chapels are illuminated with lanterns that cover the entire ceiling. Another contains a wall with memoirs for deceased family members. Throughout, there are intricate displays of Chinese calligraphy and art. The culturally unique experiences of this place are not done justice by the photos I present you here, and I highly recommend taking a wander for yourself, through this incredible temple.
I agree with the description given about the Sze Yup temple on the official website for Glebe, that the place really emanates a sense of "inner calmness". I feel like this applies to the garden, the front court of the temple, and the space within it. Anyone seeking a spiritual or cultural experience, or simply a new, exotic discovery, should immerse themselves in the quaint and tranquil world of Glebe's Sze Yup Temple.