觀音 “Kwun Yam”, the Chinese goddess of mercy, is a Buddhist deity. But, on account of its syncretic nature, s/he (he originally, she later, in China) is also venerated in Chinese folk religion.
Wing Hing Long Museum, Tingha
TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION
Hall of Avalokitasvara.
WHERE WAS THIS OBJECT USED?
A 1928 newspaper article, which contains a description of Tingha’s two joss houses, indicates that the larger temple (presumably Amethyst Street’s mystery Tiengha Joss House or its masonic lodge, which might have been one and the same) comprised two rooms, while the smaller (presumably the Let Sun Den temple) comprised only one room.
However, over its history there may have been four buildings in Tingha referred to either consistently or from time to time as “joss houses”: (1) a building at the northern end of Amethyst Street, adjacent to a wooden bridge over Cope’s Creek; (2) a building on the high side Amethyst Street, closer to Howell Road; (3) a building called the Tiengah Joss House (Tiengah being the old name for Tingha), located in Amethyst Street, towards its northern end; and (4) a building on Howell Road, at the Buffalo Hall site (now Merv Burdekin Hall). The first is marked on the 1905 map of Tingha from the Fardouly family archives. Tin at Tingha (pp. 34–35) states that it was a Chinese masonic lodge that took the form of a tiny bark shack, and that it was destroyed in a fire. The second is also given in Tin at Tingha to have been a Chinese masonic lodge: a building that replaced the shack after it was destroyed and is therefore referred to as the “New Masonic Temple”. A 1951 newspaper editorial would appear to concern this building, which it variously refers to as “the Chinese Freemasons building” and “the Old Joss House”. It would therefore seem that the first two so-called “joss houses” were in fact Chinese masonic lodges. The third is a building about which little seems to be known, and which may turn out to be nothing other than another name for the second. The fourth, the joss house at the Buffalo Hall site on Howell Road, would appear to have been Tingha’s lavish 1883 temple.
The Let Sun Den (“Hall of Saints” or “Hall of Holy Ones”) temple on Diamond Street seems an unlikely candidate for the censer, given that (1) the word “hall” appears in its name (i.e. “Hall of Avalokitasvara” could refer to a temple or a room within a temple, but is unlikely to refer to a room within a temple already designated a “hall”), and (2) that it is described in Tin at Tingha as having been a small temple. The urn’s inscription indicates dedication to a Buddhist deity and a connection with a temple or a room within a temple; as such, it would not be expected to come from a masonic lodge.
Dismissing the possibility that the urn comes from the so-called Tiengah Joss House, a building which is shrouded in mystery, the hypothesis is that this censer most likely comes from Tingha’s 1883 Howell Road temple, and that after the closure of the 1883 temple in 1910 it was transferred to the masonic lodge on Amethyst Street. This hypothesis appears to be supported by the history given on pp.101–103 of Tin at Tingha, which, going by its description, seemingly concerns the same censer. It indicates that the censer was cast in 1883—the date of the opening of the Howell Road temple—that it was one of three “sets of heavy urns” at the masonic hall, and that it later came into the possession of a Mrs. Joe Locke.
Avalokitasvara: Avalokitasvara (a.k.a. “Kwun Yam”; the Chinese goddess of mercy) is, as the Sanskrit names suggests, a Buddhist deity. But, on account of its syncretic nature, s/he (he originally, she later, in China) is also venerated in Chinese folk religion.
This is a continually evolving website, and more information about this object will be published as further research is conducted.