With Chinese New Year just around the corner, it’s a good time to check out one of the many temples dotted around Singapore. Many of these are more than just temples with ornate architecture filled with myriad statues of gods and goddesses to pray to, they’re a great place to learn about Singapore’s history and culture; the largest one in Singapore even offers a bachelor’s degree in Buddhism. Most of the oldest temples are located in the CBD, because early Chinese immigrants settled along the southern coasts.
Whether you’re a worshipper looking for new year blessings or just want to have fun checking out some important cultural sites and learn about their history, here are some temples of interest dotted around Singapore.
Due to COVID-19 protocols, admission at temples is capped to a certain number at any given time depending on the size of the premises, with maximum 5 visitors to a group. Check links below for details on timings and/or restrictions.
Thian Hock Keng Temple, Telok Ayer St
Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest Hokkien temples in Singapore. Built in 1842, it underwent a major restoration in 1998, and boasts intricate architecture and ceiling mosaics of dragons, phoenixes and deities, as well as the colourful broken porcelain on the roof ridges. Dedicated to Mazu, the Goddess of the Sea, not a single nail was used in its original construction. The temple has a standard layout of a three-hall typology, comprising an entrance hall, a main hall, and a rear hall.
Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery (Siong Lim Temple), Toa Payoh
The monastery complex houses one of Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temples, constructed in the traditional Hokkien architectural styles from Fuzhou, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou. Beyond the magnificent temple gates, there are 3 prayer halls (each with its courtyard), including the main Mahavira Hall, the Sutra Hall, and the Hall of Celestial Kings, as well as a 7-story pagoda. Monastic discipline is cultivated by the sounding of ritual instruments in the Drum Tower and Bell Tower.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery, Bright Hill
Established in 1921, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See is the biggest Buddhist temple and monastery in Singapore. It also houses one of Asia’s largest Buddha status (13.8 m, 49,895kg), along with stupas, prayer halls, a crematorium and columbarium (boasting a $1 million eco-friendly burner), as well as a residence for monks. Set amidst large, tranquil gardens with water features, the complex is also home to the Buddhist College of Singapore that offers a 4-year Bachelor’s degree in Buddhism. As of Dec 2, entry is via e-booking only.
Hai Inn Temple, Brickland Rd
Standing unassumingly on top of a hill amidst the greenery on the outskirts of Choa Chu Kang, Hai Inn Temple was founded in 1928. The temple architecture is very modest compared to the grandiloquent appearance of other Buddhist temples. Hai Inn runs all-day Dharma classes complemented with meditation and Buddhist etiquette. It’s famous for its Brahma Bell, one of the largest in Singapore at 7 tonnes and 2.75m high: ringing it is believed to ease the suffering of souls trapped in Hell.
Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple, Loyang Way
While the main prayer hall worships the presiding deity, Tua Pek Kong, Loyang Tua Pek Kong is one of the few temples in Singapore that worships not just Taoist and Buddhist deities, but also has sections for Hindu deities as well as Datuk Kong, a Malayan deity inspired by Chinese conceptions of local guardian spirits. Each religious section is distinguished by different interior architecture styles – lotus motifs for Buddhism, the yin-yang symbol for Taoism, and a domed keramat (shrine) for Datuk Kong.
Kew Ong Yah Temple, Upper Serangoon Road
Founded in 1902, Kew Ong Yah is the oldest temple in Singapore that is dedicated to the worship of the Nine Emperor Gods. The Main Hall altar is decked in gold and houses a number of deities, except the Nine Emperor Gods who are enshrined in a 2-storey octagonal annex tower at the back (females are prohibited from entering). From the temple structure and couplets, worshippers in this temple were once linked to the secret societies. It’s also among the few Chinese temples in Singapore that possesses a functioning well.
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Waterloo St
Originally built in 1884, this Kwan Im temple boasts a hallmark of late-19th-century Chinese temple courtyard architecture. Dedicated to Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy, the temple was completely rebuilt in 1982 and it was the first temple in Singapore to provide English translations for their qian (wooden divining sticks that are shaken out of a brass can to interpret a person’s fortune). Though it’s popular for its midnight CNY incense event – where devotees rush to place an incense stick in the urn – it has cancelled this year’s event.
Lorong Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple, Arumugam Rd
Sheng Hong can be traced to 1918 when it was first established, but moved over the years and has been in its current location in Geylang since 1983. While the main deity is the City God (spiritual guardian deity of a city), it also houses the Yue Lao, the deity of marriage and love. There’s a step-by-step guide for those seeking blessings for lasting love as well as those seeking partners (red strings provided!). On New Year’s Eve, the temple will hold the event to receive the God of Wealth as per usual.