Since we went to Singapore’s Chinatown just for the sake of dropping by (the two-hour turned into five-hour visit), it was best to rely on the random and consistent recommendations from the locals. Strolling through the end of Pagoda Street, they said that a Hindu temple and its neighbor Chinese temple which are a must-visit can be found. We realized that both are too obvious to miss.
How can you miss the striking entrance tower of Sri Mariamman Temple?
It was our first visit to a Hindu temple. Being a Catholic, it was challenging and interesting. Although there is freedom in practice of faith in the UAE, there are not too many Hindu temples around (none in Abu Dhabi). I was stunned by the entrance tower that I hardly took my eyes and hands from shuttering even before I removed my footwear as we neared the entrance.
(Slideshow of the anatomy of the Entrance Tower: Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore)
I must admit that it took time for me to publish this post not only due to lack of blogging time lately, but because it was uneasy to complete. One of the nicest things about blogging is that as we write for our own satisfaction (and/or other reasons), it follows that we learn in so many ways at the same time. Just like writing about Sri Mariamman Temple which is not my comfort zone, the entire experience from choosing among the plenty of photos that I took, to captioning them, and gracing them with valid information including the jargons from my humble orientation was satisfying.
(Left photo source)
The entrance tower used to be three-tiered. You will notice that it was not that sloping in its yesteryears. In the current six-tiered tower, each scale and the sculpture got smaller as it leveled. Thus, it emphasized the height. Although there were some improvements made on the doors, the (not so wide) size remains. Stories say that it was by intention in order to induce humility in the visitor and emphasize the diminutive human scale in relation to the divine.
There is no entrance free but you will be required to pay SGD 3 if you will use a camera and/or video recorder. Coincidentally, during our first few MRT rides, we got a coupon redeemable as a camera/video recorder fee. I noticed that such fee discouraged a few tourists that they just opted to take photos of the tower. Being almost clueless of what I was going to appreciate inside, I pushed on my patronage for a certain fee and considered it as donation for the temple’s maintenance.
As we got in, I felt flashbacks from our Asian Civilization class many years ago. As of the time of our visit, I hardly remembered any deity except for the Hindu’s Lord Krishna. And judging from the temple’s name, the goddess in the main shrine must be Mariamman.
Just like in Catholic churches wherein there are images of patron saints, this temple is a rich resource of images of Hindu deities. Although I am not familiar with all, their being notably colorful and symbolic prompted me to keep on snapping shots (video recording on the side). And just when I started drafting this entry, only then I tried identifying them with googling and referencing combined. Aside from Lord Krishna, there was a replica of Murugan, Durga, Ganesh, Muthularajah, Aravan, Draupadi, and more.
(Slideshow of the Hindu deities in and around the main prayer hall)
At the main altar is the image of Mariamman, the South Indian Hindu goddess of disease and rain. Just as when we thought we have seen more than enough inside the prayer hall, there are free-standing shrines as we went off to the right.
In the preceding post, there was one comment/question about the symbolism of cows. If I shall respond based on my shallow memory of Mahabharata, an epic which was discussed in one or two of our history subjects under Philippine curriculum, it was mentioned that cows represent sacrifice. Then I must relate to the awakening shared by an Indian colleague who randomly joined us for lunch in a Filipino restaurant when I was two-month old in the UAE. We were about to order tapsilog (beef tapa, siningag, at ilog) when he almost vomited with the thought of eating it. We did not know that he is Hindu. We had chicken adobo instead. He explained that as a Hindu, they do not necessarily pray to the cows. But these are considered sacred because their Lord Krishna was a cowherd. This explains why there are at least 26 breeds of cows in India.
Still barefoot, we roamed in the (then realized) big compound. If you are visiting, never leave until you have at least circled the ground. It helped that the raindrops had just concluded, it made the walking literally cool (surprisingly not slippery) and reminiscent of walking so childlike.
(Ganesha, also known as Vinayaka and Pillaiyar, is widely revered by Hindus as Remover of Obstacles and he also places obstacles in the path of those who need to be checked.)
Another interesting deity is Ganesha. I guess most of the non-Hindus are curious about why he has been represented with the head of an elephant. Much has been written that he was born with it, while other stories tell that he acquired it later for varying reasons/versions of the story. Every element in his body also represents its own significance (e.g. the elephant head indicates fidelity, intelligence and discriminative power, wide ears for listening, pot belly contains infinite universes, four arms represent the four inner attributes of the subtle body, that is: mind, intellect, ego, and conditioned conscience, and other symbolisms.
(The lights used inside the temple are structured like lotus flowers. More than its being colorful, it is interesting to note that Hindus consider it very sacred. They believe that within each human inhabiting the earth is the spirit of the sacred lotus. It represents eternity, purity and divinity and is widely used as a symbol of life.)
(Just as there are thousands of deities/gods and goddesses in Hinduism, most of them are depicted ala-Sistine Chapel in the main prayer hall. I must admit that I was one of those who took photos on bended knees, just like the woman in this photo, to capture the impressive painting on the ceiling.)
(Slideshow of the painting of several deities on the ceiling)
The painting on the ceiling was impressive. My arms hurt from photo taking, but it was worth it. I guess the bewildered feeling of educational trip-like fueled my enthusiasm and appreciation. I think that our openmindedness to learn (and not necessarily embrace) new things is inseparable.
A visit to Sri Mariamman Temple led me to an important realization that although Hinduism is associated with multiplicity of Gods (in a way, maybe that’s how some non-Catholics view ours and other churches’ faith), that is not tantamount to advocating the worship of only one deity or a couple of deities/gods/goddesses. They are only meant to represent the many aspects of the supreme Absolute known to Hindus as Brahman.
The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest (founded in 1827) Hindu temple in Singapore which is managed by Hindu Endowments Board. Located in South Bridge Road, downtown Chinatown, the unique annual fire-walking ceremony (the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones as a test or proof of faith) is held a week before Deepavali (Festival of Lights).