Next Time You're in Johor Bahru

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Justin Guariglia

It's Los Angeles' watts Towers meeting the Taj Mahal; Antonio Gaudi combined with a touch of Las Vegas. Many places of worship are known for their visual impact. But a dazzling one-man creation down a side street in the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru is attracting an increasing number of adherents and tourists by outshining them all. The Arulmigu Sri Rajakaliamman bills itself as "the first glass Hindu temple in the world." More accurately, this expanded version of an 88-year-old shrine to the goddess Kali is largely concrete, but lined over its entirety of nooks, sanctums and ceilings with reflective tiles of various colors. If it's reminiscent of Thailand's Grand Palace in concentrate, that's because the temple's 42-year-old chairman and part-time priest, S. Sinnathamby, got the idea while riding in a Bangkok tuk-tuk. He then raised almost $600,000 to have a team of nine Burmese workers labor two years to lay in just under half a million imported Thai mosaic pieces according to his design.

Called a guru by his followers, Sinnathamby is by day a mild-mannered elementary school teacher, who proudly wanders about his creation in running shorts and Nike T-shirt. His subtheme, that all religions should work together, can be seen in Buddhist swastikas and Jewish Stars of David worked into the mirrored mix. "I wanted this place to be known throughout the world," he says. Despite drawing a traffic-clogging throng of 30,000 to last October's unveiling, he is hardly done with his tinkering, having just covered some prized lingams in several hundred thousand Nepalese beads.

For unadulterated brilliance, nothing in this part of Malaysia comes close. But don't use your camera's flash in the temple unless you can deal with the reflections — spiritual or otherwise.