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singapore flagSri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

sri mariamman temple singapore chinatown

Let’s start with facts about this beautiful temple, and then move on to more interesting things: 

 

It’s the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, dating back to 1827.

The old foundations of the present-day edifice were built in 1843.

The temple was built for use by immigrants from South India.

The temple is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, known for curing illnesses and diseases.

In 1962 a new temple structure was developed with the beautiful sculptures that crowd its interior and exterior today.

Adjacent to the temple on Pagoda Street is a 3-storey complex hosting an auditorium (often for weddings, meetings, and cultural events) and other rooms to service the Hindu community.

While the temple was initially supposed to be built along Telok Ayer, that area did not have a convenient source of fresh water—imperative for Hindu rituals.


The Sri Mariamman temple style is based on the South Indian, or Dravidian style of architecture, which consists of pyramid-shaped temples with huge towers of intricately carved stones. Indeed, the first thing you notice about this place of worship is its 6-tiered ornamental tower entrance, or gopuram, which is carved with sculptures of Hindu deities and other cultural figures. The tiers are slightly pyramidical in shape, with each tier being slightly smaller than the one beneath it. This technique gives an illusion of the tower’s being even taller than it really is.

Next to the gopuram are two sculptures: one of Murugan on the right, and one of Krishna on the left. Murugan is the patron deity of the Tamil land, and is the god of war. The role of Krishna in Hinduism is too complex to discuss here. Let’s just say that he often is depicted as a blue-skinned cowherd boy playing his flute. He is greatly beloved as a divine warrior, gentle lover, and teacher of philosophy.

Note the doors when you walk in: They are huge and imposing, and their size is to remind the worshippers of their small stature in relation to the divine. Devotees will ring the bells on the door, in order to bring good luck.

Within the temple interior, worshippers will walk in a clock-wise direction; they will only encircle the temple hall an odd number of times in order to have good luck. The spiritual center of the temple is the central shrine of Mariamman, flanked on either side by Rama and Murugan. Other shines in the temple are devoted to the deities Durga, Ganesh, Muthularajah, Aravan, and Draupadi.

The most important thing about this temple, however, is its use as a vibrant focal point of Hindu life in Singapore today. Come here in the early evening. (Make sure to take off your shoes and dress a bit conservatively.) You’ll see priests, worshippers, and musicians taking part in sensual, centuries-old rituals. You’ll see many offerings, all beautifully arranged: mango and coconut leaves are signs of purity; bananas, of abundance. Hinduism is a monotheistic—not polytheistic—religion, with a complexity that can elude even the most earnest, willing-to-learn Westerner.

Don’t worry about it. Just enter the temple with an open mind and look. And keep looking. Your eyes will never get tired.

sri mariamman temple singapore chinatownSri Mariamman Temple

Address:
244 South Bridge Road
Singapore 058793
Singapore

Article and photos contributed by Dr. Amy Rashap

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