Vihara Bahtra Sasana
Anyone who visits the main town of Bintan Island in Indonesia cannot miss the distinctively Chinese architecture in the city center. This is the Vihara Bahtra Sasana and is considered as a major landmark in the area.
Vihara Bahtra Sasana is a Buddhist name although when it was founded by the Chinese in the early 1820s when Indonesia was under Dutch rule, it has a more Taoist character. The temple was originally called the Mazu Temple, 天后宫 and dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu 妈祖whose sculpture sits in the main shrine.
The back hall is dedicated to Guan Yin, 观音 the Buddhist Bodhisattva. However, that does not explain its change to a Buddhist name as it is common to have a Guan Yin in the back hall of a Taoist temple.
In fact, Thian Hock Keng, 天福宫 in Singapore and Kheng Hock Keong 庆福宫in Yangon both built around the same period have the same layout; a Mazu sculpture in the front hall and a Guan Yin sculpture in the back hall.
Both retained its original name. In the case of Vihara Bahtra Sasana, it probably has to do with the Indonesian policy towards the Chinese that became increasing hostile from the 1960s onwards and only reversed in the late 1990s.
Vihara Bahtra Sasana today
This almost 200 years old temple has weathered the changing political landscape of Indonesia and despite various difficulties, it is very well maintained. Although it has a fresh coat of paint, visitors can still see its ancient beams and paintings of door gods on its main door.
Vihara Bahtra Sasana is an important monument marking the changing status of Chinese in Indonesia under the Dutch East Indies control and under the varying policies of Indonesian government towards ethnic Chinese populations.
Today, it is an important tourist site for visitors and a cultural site to the local Chinese. Hopefully, the local population can bring this two century temple to new heights of development.