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Druk Tharpa Choling after its restoration.

The Name

The idea of establishing a spiritual practice center in Penang was first initiated by His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the Supreme Head of the Drukpa Lineage. He gave the name, Druk Tharpa Choling, meaning Dharma Liberation Garden with the hope that anyone coming to join in the spiritual practice at Druk Tharpa Choling (also known as Drukpa Penang) would eventually be liberated from samsaric sufferings.

The centre was registered in the name of “Persatuan Penganut Agama Buddha Druk Tharpa Choling, Pulau Pinang on 20 May 2002, under the Societies Act 1966.

The History of the Premises

The premises at 19 Love Lane was the early residence of the Thong family. Even though there is no document to establish the exact age of the building, based on similar building structures and the development of the surrounding neighbourhood, it is probable that the building was constructed in the 1890’s. This two-storey building may only be 18 feet wide, the depth spans the whole length of Argus Lane, totalling 244 ft. The structure reflects a typical merchant’s house of that era. The front portion used for entertaining guests is separated from the private living hall by an intricately carved timber divider painted in gold. There are in total 3 air-well which serve to provide air circulation and natural light to the interior of the house. The second hall was the family’s private sitting area while the third hall was used for ancestral worship followed by the dining and kitchen area. Colourful Stoke-on-Trent floor tiles decoratively laid out in the front hall while terra cotta tiles paved the floors of the dining and third hall in geometric patterns. Above the main entrance door, hangs a wooden plague bearing the Chinese characters “ 晋阳“(jin yang) indicating that the occupants of the house bears the surname of “Thong”.

The late Mr. Thong Yuet Sang purchased this family house in 1942 for eight thousands Straits Settlement dollars. Initially his families and that of his cousins lived in this house and over the years, the number of people grew. However eventually the younger generations moved to their respective homes. Mdm Ho Sek Yen, wife of the late Mr. Thong Yuet Sang was the last occupant of 19 Love Lane.

One of the legacies of the Thong family is their strong belief in generosity towards others. With this in mind, the family decided to offer the premises for use as a Tibetan Buddhist Centre when His Holiness was contemplating establishing a centre in Penang. Initially, the family went sourcing for suitable premises for that purpose but to no avail, hence they suggested 19 Love Lane as an alternative. His Holiness after ‘touring’ the premises, concluded without hesitation that “this is the place for Penang Centre”.

Prior to turning the premises into a centre, a major renovation works was carried out to fix the leaking roofs, replacing the wooden beams infested with termites, old electrical wirings and others. Some re-orientations were made where the ancestral altar was moved from the third hall to the front room upstairs. Utmost care was taken on the restoration to ensure every detail conformed to the original forms and design. By the end of year 2002, after a few months of painstaking restoration and with the arrival of the Buddha statues from Nepal, namely the Amitabha Buddha, the Four Armed Avalokiteshvara and the Guru Padmasambhval, 19 Love Lane was ready to welcome a new beginning. In Dec 2002, His Eminence Zhichen Bairo Rinpoche, the father of His Holiness, after performing the necessary rituals on the Buddha statues, officially inaugurated the opening of Drukpa Penang.
[Source: 19 Love Lane published by Philip Thong]

The Unexpected

In April 2005, a fire broke out which gutted half of the building. Amazingly the fire did not spread beyond where the Buddha statues were placed. Most of the antique wooden fittings, furniture and offering utensils were burnt. Luckily, the centre’s resident lama then, Gelong Yontan, escaped unhurt. Here are some photos which show the massive damage and repairs on the building:-

Shortly after the fire, another intensive renovation and repair works were carried out. In order to restore to its original state, old references of the premises needed to be retrieved and skilled carvers from abroad were engaged to carve the panels based on the available pictures and references. A structural change was made to remove the staircase from the second hall to allow for more sitting space. The whole renovation took approximately 6 months, during which His Holiness made a ‘surprise visit’ and offered his prayers and blessings to the center which stands now as the Drukpa Penang.

The Present

Currently Jigme Choedion and Jigme Pelmo from Malaysia and Hong Kong respectively are stationed in the centre assuming their roles as the resident nuns of Penang Centre. The previous resident lama, Gelong Yontan, who served the Centre since 2004 returned to his monastery in Ladakh, India in June 2008. Both the nuns who succeeded him had gone through formal trainings in Druk Amitabha in Kathmandu, Nepal where they received various ritual trainings and teachings from His Holiness. On a weekly basis, they conduct the Chenrenzig practice, GreenTara practice, Sengey Tsewa practice (occasionally) and other practices on special religious days.

Apart from the regular practices, the Centre will from time to time hold events where His Holiness and other Rinpoche or masters of the Drukpa Lineage are invited to conduct religious teachings, initiations or puja. It is hope that the Centre will continue to serve its purpose as a place to promote spiritual practice as well as charitable activities, and would eventually liberate beings from samsaric sufferings, as its name Druk Tharpa Choling suggests.

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