The Temple of Fine Arts on Babington Avenue is devoted to promoting Indian fine arts, primarily music, dance, and the culinary arts. It is located in a bungalow within a leafy garden, and was the former home of Dr. Abdul Ghani, one of the early Malay doctors.
The organisation was founded in Kuala Lumpur in 1981, with the aim to help Malaysian youth rediscover the cultural, artistic and spiritual wealth of their ancestors. It now also has branches in Singapore, India and Australia, as well as this one in Penang, which also opened in the 1980s.
Here in Penang, classes are offered in Indian classical dance, Balavihar (music, dance and stories for young children), Bharatha Natyam (a South Indian dance form) and Odissi (a delicate dance form from Odisha in India). They teach Carnatic music, a system associated with the southern part of India that evolved from ancient Hindu traditions, in the form of singing, but also violin, veena (a string instrument) and mridangam (a percussion instrument). In Hindustani music, the Northern Hindu music tradition, classes are offered for the sitar (a string instrument) and table (a percussion instrument).
The Temple of Fine Arts arranges performances of Indian dance and music both within their own premises and at other venues in Penang. There is usually a major performance during the annual GeorgeTown Festival in August, and another around the time of the Diwali Festival in November. During the nine day Navrati Festival, usually in September, the Temple holds performances within its premises every evening, encouraging all of its students to use this opportunity to learn to present the skills they have learned in public.
It is perhaps for the culinary arts that the Temple of Fine Arts in best known however. Its vegetarian restaurant, Annalakshmi, which is under a covered porch at the back of the bungalow is an airy space, surrounded by greenery. It is staffed entirely by volunteers, and offers a buffet of vegetarian Indian food, tea and coffee at lunchtime. In the evenings, the menu is à la carte. The buffet lunch offers a few types of vegetable curry, one or two types of rice, capatis and dessert. The dinner menu offers a great selection, including dosa, prata, and uttapam, along with other local dishes such as pasembur, and noodles.
Uniquely, there is no set price; you are asked to pay what you like for what you have eaten. Their motto is: “Eat to your heart’s content, pay what your heart feels“.
The restaurant is open from Tuesday to Sunday 11:30am-2:30pm and 6:00pm-9:30pm. It is closed on Mondays. For further details contact 04 228 8575.