On A Little Street In Singapore For Worship

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There are 2 century-old temples at Waterloo Street in Singapore.

Few countries in the world where these temples for harmony and worship of different religons for the people are located together in Singapore.  These temples, churches, mosques are located side by side in various parts of multi-racial, multi-religious Singapore.

Many overseas tourists and visitors to Singapore are curious and often wondered how Singaporeans of different races, different religions, different languages and culture could live together in peace harmoniously … many races, many religions, one people, one Singapore.

Religion in Singapore is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices due to its diverse ethnic mix of peoples originating from various countries.  Most major religious denominations are present in Singapore.

A prominent example is that of Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple (situated near Pasir Ris) wherein 3 religions, namely Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism are co-located in a temple.

Non-religious Singaporeans are found in various ethnic groups and all walks of life in the diverse, multicultural Singapore.  The Singapore non-religious community itself is very diverse, with many calling themselves atheists, agnostics, humanists, theists, sceptics or free thinkers.  In addition, there some people who decline religious labels but still practice traditional rituals like ancestor worship.

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Sri Krishnan Temple

The Sri Krishnan Temple, built over 130 years ago, is one of the oldest temples in Singapore.  Hanuman Beem Singh set up a shrine for Lord Krishna under a Banyan tree in Waterloo Street in 1870.  It was to cater to the needs of the large Hindu community from North and South India living in the neighbourhood bounded by Bras Basah Road, Victoria Street and Albert Street.  As the congregration grew so did the temple.  The temple management was passed on to Hanuman Beem Singh’s son, Humna Somapah before Joognee Ammal took over.  During her tenure, sculptors brought in from South India built the main shrine and dome and the temple was consecrated in 1933.

In 1935, V. Pakirisamy Pillai, an Indian philanthropist, took over the leadership of the temple.  It was largely through his efforts that the temple was developed on a grand scale.  In 1958, he constructed a concrete mandapam (hall) in memory of his mother and a two-storey ancillary building.  The consecration ceremony was held in 1959.

In 1987, his son, Sivaraman initiated another major redevelopment, which included the construction of a colourful and artistically ornate main entrance.  Sculptors from South India also added five additional sanctums to a centrally placed Shrine dedicated to Lord Krisha.  A consecration ceremony was held for the redeveloped temple in 1989.  To serve the Hindu community better, the multi-purpose hall was re-built as a four-storey building with a basement and temple structures such as the main entrance were renovated extensively in 2001.  The consecration ceremony for this phase of development of the temple was held on 24 November 2002.

Today, the Sri Krishnan Temple continues on its original site and its architecture remains simple yet resplendent in Hindu ornaments and detail.  The largest ceremony at the temple is the celebration of the birthday of Lord Krishna when thousands of Hindus congregate here.  It is also a very popular venue for Hindu weddings.

In recent years, the temple has also become a key point in promoting religious harmony in Singapore.  Other ethnic and religious groups, for example, the devotees of nearby Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, regularly participate in its ceremonies.

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Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple

This is a well-known and popular temple to many local devotees of the deity Kuan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy, also believed to be a manifestation of the Boddhisattva Avalokistesvara.  Built in 1884, it was a fine example of Chinese temple architecture and traditional craftsmanship, forming part of a group of historically significant buildings and places at Waterloo Street such as the Sri Krishnan Temple, the Church of St. Peter and Paul, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and the Malabar Muslim Jama-Ath Mosque.

The temple has been rebuilt twice –  once in 1895 and again in 1982 to increase its capacity.  Within the grounds of the original temple, entry was gained across a large covered courtyard through a recessed porch and screened anteroom.  The main hall then contained three altars: the central one for the Goddess Kuan Yin and one each for Da Moh, also known as Bodhidarma (the chief of the six Buddhist Patriarchs), and Hua Tuo (the Chinese patron saint of medicine and healing) on the flanking altars.  A large image of Sakyamuni Buddha was kept in the rear hall.

Today, within the rebuilt temple, all deities are now placed on a single altar in the prayer hall with the elevated statue of Sakyamuni Buddha positioned just behind that of Kuan Yin.  The relative positions of the other deities remain unchanged.  The temple remains one of the focal points of religious activity within the historic Waterloo and Bugis Street areas with thousands of devotees turning up everyday to pray for blessings from the Goddess.  The most festive time is the eve of the Chinese New Year when the temple is kept open all night and the street is packed with devotees praying to the Goddess for an auspicious start to the New Year.

[Source:  National Heritage Board & Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple]

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