Kwan Sing Bio: The Crab Shrine: Tuban, East Java

Some two centuries ago, a boat owned by a Chinese explorer became stranded near Tuban on the north coast of Java, which was then a marshy area teeming with crabs. In the face of this misfortune, so the story goes, the traveler pulled out his jiamsi sticks bearing verses that could foretell one’s fortune. He pleaded for the God of Wisdom, Kwan Sing Tie Koen, to give him guidance and strength to face his predicament.

“Would you like me to remain here?” he asked before shaking the sticks.
After asking the same question three times, an answer came forth: Yes.

“Finally, the adventurer decided to stay there and live on Tuban’s coast and build a temple called Kwan Sing Bio, or the Shrine of the God of Wisdom,” Hendra Susanto, Kwan Sing Bio’s spiritual leader, said.

Tuban, located 90 kilometers west of the East Java capital of Surabaya, has long been an important city due to its strategic location and role as a main port since the pre-Islamic period of the Majapahit Kingdom as ID Nugroho writes.

As the Islamic era was ushered in, Tuban became a vital place in history after Sunan Bonang, or Maulana Makdum Ibrahim — one of the nine Islamic propagators in Java, known as the Wali Songo — was buried behind Jami’ Mosque in the town square.

The legendary temple itself is located west of Tuban. It is a place of worship for Tri Dharma followers — Confucianists, Taoists and Buddhists.

Hendra said the temple, also known as the crab shrine, was not easy to construct due to the swampy land it was built on.

After clearing and leveling the area, the shrine was erected with the crab as its signature feature.

“Tri Dharma teachings believe crabs are chosen by gods to protect people living in Tuban,” Hendra said.

On the five-hectare plot, the temple is divided into several areas, with the front and oldest section serving as the place of worship and prayer.

A room for Mandarin language lessons, jiamsi fortune telling and a secretariat office is located at the side, while a hall has been set up in the center, adjacent to a garden that has adopted Chinese architecture, complete with a small lake and bridge.

The rear area, which is currently under construction, will serve as a multipurpose area and will include lodgings.

Reverence for sea creatures, like crabs, is evident in the fact that Tri Dharma followers avoid using crabs as offerings.

Hendra said another unique sign of the crab could also be seen in the geography of Tuban area itself, which resembles a crab with two pincers.

“The first pincer is situated in Tjoe Ling Kiong or the Sea Goddess Shrine in the town square and the second pincer in Kwan Sing Bio shrine.”