Jakarta's historic Dharma Bhakti Temple gutted in overnight blaze

Jakarta's historic Dharma Bhakti Temple gutted in overnight blaze
The Dharma Bhakti temple in Jakarta before the fire.

Linda Tjong, a middle-aged Jakarta resident of Chinese descent, rushed to the Dharma Bhakti Temple in Petak Sembilan, Glodok, West Jakarta, as soon as she heard that fire had gutted the iconic and historic temple early on Monday.

After entering the front yard, Linda put her hands together and read a prayer in front of the scorched building.

"I can't believe this. I prayed here on the Chinese New Year just two weeks ago and now the place is burned out," Linda told The Jakarta Post as she wiped away her tears.

Linda was among hundreds of visitors to the temple after fire engulfed the building at around 4 a.m. on Monday. No casualties were reported in the incident.

Following the fire the temple was closed to the public. However, the policemen who guarded the area allowed people to take turns to enter the front courtyard to pray and take pictures of the 365-year-old temple.

The city's official website Jakarta.go.id records that the original temple was built in 1650 under the name of the Guo Xun Guan Temple to honour Buddhist priest Guan Yin.

Its name was changed to the Jin De Yuan Temple, which means good fortune, in 1755. The temple was renovated in 1890 but kept its main design and sculptures.

The busiest temple in the city had been gearing up to celebrate Cap Go Meh on March 5, a ceremony observed 15 days after the Chinese New Year.

Despite its poor condition after the fire, Linda said her family was likely to go to the temple to celebrate Cap Go Meh as a smaller building in the temple remained intact.

Hengky Kurniawan, the security coordinator of Dharma Bhakti Temple, said the temple would be open to the public although the main building would not be available as it had been destroyed in the fire.

"I am certain that a lot of people will come here for Cap Go Meh because this is the home of Chinese-Indonesians," Hengky said.

According to him, the fire not only damaged the main building, but also destroyed about 40 valuable sculptures of various gods and goddesses, many of great antiquity.

However, he said he was glad that the security staff had been able to save the goddess Kwan Im statue.

"Most of the worshippers and visitors come here to pray to the goddess Kwan Im statue as they believe that it will provide them with prosperity.

"We are grateful to be able to have saved it and two other statues," Hengky told the Post.

He added that he would talk to the temple foundation about damage and looked forward to seeing the renovation.

"I have no words to describe this tragedy. A national monument has been damaged," he said.

Norman, an officer with the West Jakarta Fire Department, said 30 fire trucks battled the blaze for four hours until it was finally brought under control at 8 a.m.

He said the fire was believed to have been caused by a piece of tarpaulin hanging near candles that caught fire and then spread throughout the main building.

Separately, Jakarta Governor Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama said at City Hall that the city administration had no immediate plans to help rebuild the temple.

"We will wait and see. I think if tycoons and millionaires chip in to cover the costs, it will be enough," he said.

Ahok said he usually asked for help from big private firms through corporate social responsibility schemes to fund charity work.

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