Having seen too much of Singapore’s theme parks, shopping centres and eateries, today we take a walk to see the other side of Singapore tourist attractions- Heritage Tour of mosque, church and temples.
Upon the founding of Singapore by the British in 1819, the once unknown fishing village, with its geographical advantages, soon flourished as a burgeoning trading port, and one of the most important in the world, till today. With that came thousands of immigrants who brought their beliefs and unique cultures onto the island. Visitors who has specially come for Singapore attractions- heritage tour, simply cannot ignore these significant attractions, most of which has been declared as national monument.
1. Singapore tourist attractions- Sultan Mosque
A walk around the busy street of Singapore Kampong Glam would have heads turned to that stunning golden dome in the sky. That is the iconic mosque of Singapore, Sultan Mosque, or known in Malay as Masjid Sultan. Everyday, thousands of tourists are either led by their guides to visit this place or had come here on their own upon recommendation, the place had since become one major Singapore’s tourist attractions.
Upon seeing the awesome design of the mosque, most visitors would ask this question: Who built it? Well, as the name implies, Sultan Hussian Shah, the first Sultan of Singapore. When the British acquired Singapore from the Sultan in 1819, Kampong Glam was used as a residence for the Sultan. Many of his followers and Muslims soon flocked to grow their roots there. The mosque was built in 1824, however, as Singapore grew rapidly to become the biggest trading port in the world and an Islamic centre, it soon could not accommodate the ever growing Muslim community, a second construction of a bigger one was done later in 1928 to replace the original mosque. Facing in the direction of Mecca, the most striking features of the mosque is its’ sky-high golden domes. Up till 1970’s, Musilms who were going to Mecca for the annual pilgrimage would gather here for the preparation.
Saw this ‘Star & Crescent Moon’ symbol before? It is widely recognized as a symbol of Islam. Originated from the Ottoman Empire (1299 – 1923), it is used in the national flag of many Muslim countries in the Middle East, where the Ottoman Empire once ruled.
You probably had seen Muslims seeking a place or direction before they do their praying, some said it is facing Mecca, (a city in Saudi Arabia) the birthplace of prophet Muhammad. In actual fact, it is a building called Kaaba in Mecca. Kaaba is a building in Muslim most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram. Muslims believe Kaaba is the holiest place on earth. Wherever they are, all Muslims are expected to face the direction of Kaaba when praying. The building may look old, but its interior is not. It is equipped with modern facilities such as a huge auditorium, 2 event halls and a conference room. A small informative exhibit for a better understanding of Islam. I like the way it is presented, with concise and easily digestible information. As a tourist, after going from places to attractions, I do not like reading long tedious text, it tires me out. Today, the mosque is engaged in many social and community activities besides providing a place of solace. It conducts educational classes, charities events and programmes for the underprivileged.
Around the Mosque
The atmosphere and beauty of this place cannot be indulged if you had come with a group tour, for guides usually have limited time allocated to each attraction (I hate this). I would suggest you spend time around here. Have a sip of Arabian coffee and food, take a closer look at the building facades or shop around in the many antique shops along the street, as we proceed further in our Singapore Heritage Tour, you’d find this Kampong Glam is not just about the mosque, it is the overall environment that makes it uniquely theirs. For those who are in a short group tour, they’ve probably missed an important part of Kampong Glam.
The availability of souvenir shops around the area is shocking, it’s hard for tourists to leave this place without something in their hands. I had done a price check and comparison. Do not worry, like in most tourist attractions in Singapore, these retailers did not inflate the price for tourists. So feel ‘safe’ to browse and grab. In fact, when it comes to shopping, anywhere in the world, those shops with price tags clearly displayed are of no concern to shoppers, it is those which do not that makes people worry. For photography lovers, this place is truly heaven. Oh no, don’t compare my photography skills, I use easy to operate compact camera, shooting where I feel good, no skills required. The elated noise of these 3 Japanese ladies caught my attention, since then had been observing them for half an hour and saw them going crazy with their shopping, they went from shop to shops grabbing almost everything they can. Besides the Malay Art Gallery, there is even a Paranakan shop, you would be surprised to being intrigued to want to explore more on the culture after visiting the shop. It’s a very fascinating way of living, I will have this culture covered in a later post.
Try that coconut drink, a popular tourists favourite in the simmering heat of Singapore.
A shisha shop, a waterpipe use for smoking. No, no, I don’t encourage smoking, I just like the design of it. Do not be surprised to see large crowds continuously storming into this shop looking for… basket. I was shocked too, this lady was exceptionally friendly, allowing me to have her pose.
Tired already? As the night falls, the many streets around Kampong Glam is turned into a nightspot. Since the end of last decade, the place is thronged with both tourists and locals alike, probably Singapore’s best nightlife entertainment district, besides Boat Quay and Clarke Quay. Look, the crowd is already streaming into the lanes long before sunset.
Love these streets, they have names truly theirs and truly unique!
2. Singapore tourist attractions- Malay Heritage Centre
Today, his residence has been converted into the Malay Heritage Centre.
Malay Heritage Centre
The centre displayed large collections of artefacts, some of which were discovered just years ago. Do not miss the chance to see the evolution of Malay heritage and culture.
See and hear Malay traditional culture dance and song on days when celebrations is held or on certain weekends. The nearest MRT station to Kampong Glam is Lavender and Bugis station, a 10-minutes walk is all you need from the station.
3. Singapore tourist attractions- Thian Hock Keng Temple
Thian Hock Keng temple, a temple as old as the island. Thian Hock Keng, or Temple of Heavenly Bliss, was built in 1839, less than 2 decades after Singapore was founded by Sir Stamford Raffles of the Great British Empire in 1819.
A walk in Thian Hock Keng temple is a journey back into history. The rich history of the temple is impressive even before one enters. No passer-by could ignore the awesome architecture of the temple, the flooring and beam used, the dragon and phoenixes at the top of its roof and the many amazing carvings on the few columns at its entrance. The temple was built without a nail used, similar to the many buildings in China Forbidden City, where the emperor ruled the country. The most prestigious moment for the temple came in 1907, when a Chinese Emperor bestowed it with an Imperial Calligraphic Panel. In 1973, the temple was hailed by the Singapore government as a national monument.
It was in this temple that many Chinese migrants came to offer their prayers for a safe home passage back to China or upon coming to Singapore. During those days when a passage on board a Chinese junk from southern China could take weeks to reach Singapore through the rough sea, the usually overcrowded junk has caused the death of many through poor sanitation and ventilation- the only one who could protect these helpless migrants seems to be God.
The Sea Goddess, or Mazu, is believed to protect these poor migrants who came to Singapore either voluntarily to seek a better life, to escape from famine and drought in China, or through abduction by unscrupulous businessmen. Mazu has been a very popular deity in Taoism, not just in Singapore, but throughout the world, such as China, Taiwan and Malaysia, she is commonly viewed as the protector of people who travel overseas.
The temple was built in 1839 by many migrants who were quite successful in Singapore. Completed about 2 years later, originally fronting the sea, now its front is actually a reclaimed land. The two lions standing guard at the front of the door is a symbolism of authority and respect. It was also commonly used by the many wealthy businessmen in their house or business office. Some believes it has the supernatural power to fend off evil spirits or bad luck. Many Chinese believes that the Door God could help protect them from evil spirits. It was very widely used not just in temples and offices, but common household as well, since the tradition was passed down through Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). The Door God is a favourite photography site. Hardly found in modern buildings today, it is a delight to the daily loads of tourists and students , who came here to start their Singapore heritage tour.
Notice the carving on the roof, and the design of the columns is very similar to the one used in the Forbidden City. Over the years, the temple has been restored several times. In recent years, the restoration works even won the most prestigious award from UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage 2001 Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation Building. The materials used for the construction were mainly imported, the ironwork from Scotland, the tiles came from Great Britian and The columns and dragons were from China. A stone tablet displaying the prominent people involved in the temple activities and construction works.
The word written on the doors, Dragon and Phoenix, is a symbol of authority and luck.
In the old days, the temple is a modern day community centre or association, the migrants would gather here to update themselves on news of their homeland China, seek help from countrymen, find employment and getting advice from the clan elderly.
The temple is the first place the Chinese migrants would visit when they came on shore or the last place to visit before departing home to China.
Two pagodas sitting on the left and right of the temple.
The Dragon is a traditional motifs, which is a symbolism of good luck, respect, absolute power and authority. A translated version of the rites and rituals for the benefit of the non-Chinese tourists. The temple is just a 10 minutes walk from Chinatown and easily accessible through most common transportation, besides, the Telok Ayer MRT station is just a 5 minutes walk away.
4. Singapore tourist attractions- Kwan Im Temple
Right at the heart of the famous Bugis street sits a temple of Chinese Goddess, Kwan Im. The temple, built in 1884, is probably the most visited Chinese temple in Singapore. Everyday, thousands of devotees come as early as 6am to offer their prayers. Inside the temple is the deity Kwan Yin, more commonly known as Goddess of Mercy. Kwan Yin is a bodhisattva ( enlightenment being) popularly worshipped all over the world in Chinese Temple. It has large worshippers in many Asian countries, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Korea and Japan. In Singapore, it sits on the altar of many homes. The temple attracts devotees from all over the world, tourists who have heard of the place are too intrigued to ever bypass it.
The Chinese have a custom of going to the temple to pray for blessing any time of the day, especially on the 1st and 15th day in the Chinese calender, which are believed to be auspicious. These are the days when the streets is most crowded, there are even performances, with street buskers providing interesting entertainments to the passers-by. On the eve of Chinese New Year, the atmosphere around the temple is unbelievable! Thousands of devotees starts to congregate around the temple as early as 6pm. The Chinese believe that praying on the eve of a New Year would bring good luck, good fortune, good health and prosperity. For those who place the ‘first joss sticks’ in the temple are especially blessed by the Goddess. On this day, the temple is opened all night. For those who could not make it on the eve, they would come in the early morning of the first day of Chinese new Year. There are many ways of praying at a Chinese temple, the simplest way is to get the joss sticks ( 3 sticks) light the tip of it from the large candle in the temple. The joss sticks are readily available to devotees without any charge. Next, hold the incense between both palms and start the praying. The first to pray to is not the deity in the temple, it is a form of respect to pray to the ‘sky’, where the Chinese believes sits the ‘Heavenly Emperor’ who rules the world. There after, turn your body around to pray to the deity in the temple. Some devotees would bring their offerings, usually fruits to place it in front of the altar. While others, especially the ladies, prefer to get a stalk of flowers. After the praying, place the incense in the large cauldron, usually located at the front or entrance of the temple. Donation is welcome in all Chinese temple, though not compulsory. The temple is well known to be utilizing the donations collected in many island-wide charities and educational projects. So what makes this temple so popular that it could attract devotees from all over the world? The temple is best known for its divination. It’s predictive is believed to have always comes true or commonly know as ‘accurate’. Most prayers are here to seek guidance from the deity to clear some doubts/obstacles they encountered in life, they go through a process known as Kau Cim, popularly known in the western world as Chi Chi. The devotee gets from the temple a bamboo cylinder which contain dozens of bamboo sticks. These sticks are pre-written with numbers. The prayer would say their prayers( loudly or silently, as they wish) to the Goddess and then continue to shake the bamboo cylinder till a bamboo stick flies/ drops out naturally. This stick is believed to be the deity’s answer to the prayer. With the stick and its number indicated, the prayer goes to the temple elderly to ask for the respective pink paper. This pink paper is written with Chinese traditional poems, which usually is an answer to the prayer’s doubt. For those who could not understand the Chinese poems, they could always seek help from the many interpreters available outside the temple by paying a nominal sum of usually $S2.00 -$5.00, or they could just get the explanation from the stacks of books available free from the temple itself.
That’s an example of a divine lot number 52. The pink form has both Chinese and English interpretation in front and back. For better understanding, the translated book has both languages also. http://youtu.be/C8K1whAIBHU Get help from the many interpreters outside the temple. These helpers are not related nor employed by the temple. As human nature, if without recommendation, most people would prefer go to the one who commands the biggest crowd and longest queue for some assurances. It is common to see the youngsters here to seek some guidance on their love-life ( not specifically referring to the ladies pictured). Some are seeking advice to have a partner, some are having problems with their partner, while some are asking for an auspicious date to get married.
Look at the queue of people seeking help and guidance. These fortune-tellers, or Kau Cim interpreters makes lots of money especially on weekend and the 1st and 15th day of Chinese Calender when devotees and non-worshippers storm the streets. This place around Bugis Street is fast evolving to become the 2nd Chinatown of Singapore. The street leading to the temple is just as interesting as the temple itself, with lots of stalls , buskers offering a street of entertainments. Some of these buskers are traveler trying to make extra money for their travelling expenses. While some use it as a platform to test their guts and skill to gain on-stage experiences, it doesn’t matter though, as the crowd are entertained.
As a major Singapore tourist attractions, Bugis street attracts thousands of visitors, shoppers and worshippers daily, Monday till Sunday, everyday! The place never get to rest till past 10pm.
Most of these make-shift stall are attempting to sell and promote Chinese medicinal products or household items. It’s interesting to watch, usually when sales speech is done and the promoter starts to call for buyers, the many onlookers would just disperse. Sometimes people are interested in buying, but none dare to make the first moves, but once someone steps up and makes the purchase, the other potential buyers would just quickly follow to snap up the product.
The crowd never seems to end in this busy street leading to the temple.
5. Singapore tourist attractions- Sri Mariaman Temple
Many who walked into Chinatown are surprised by the sudden appearance of a Hindu temple right at the heart a Chinese enclave. In fact, the temple is as old as Singapore Chinatown itself. Sri Mariaman temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore. Built in 1827 , less than a decade after the founding of Singapore in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles, the temple original structure was from wood and attap. The structure we see today was added in phrases after 1843. Now a declared national monument, in the old days, besides being a place for worship, the temple was authorized to solemnize marrying couples, likened to today’s Registry of Marriages. The Hindus who mostly worked for the British East India Company in the 1800’s used it as a place for community gathering and to update news from their homeland.
Non Hindus are advised not to go beyond the line to the shrine.
The pictures are taken with personal acknowledgement from the devotees.
The start of a prayer is usually done with the lighting up of the lamp, as light symbolizes knowledge, darkness and ignorance. The flame of a lamp always burns upwards and similarly one should acquire such knowledge as to take us towards higher ideals. Hindus often offer fresh flowers to their deities as a symbol of love and devotion in a worship ritual, Puja, literally means “the flower act”.
The best part of visiting Chinatown is visitors are able to see two of Singapore tourist attractions at one go. Sri Mariaman temple is just as famous as Chinatown itself.
The temple is one of the main tourists attraction in Chinatown, everyday, hundreds of tourists are either guided into the temple or walk-in by themselves, well, few could resist not to enter upon seeing the skillful craftsmanship of the many sculptures all over its exterior wall. In Hinduism, ‘cow’ is a sacred animal. It is believe to have given them strength and hope of carrying on. It is a crime to hurt or kill it, which is the reason why most Hindus are vegetarian, they do not eat beef. Contrary to popular believes, Hindus do not worship cow, rather they respect it like any other animal as they believe all life has a soul in which God resides. No passer-by could ignore the Sri Mariaman temple in Singapore Chinatown. Walk into the temple and be awed by the elaborate ornamental works and its exquisite paintings. No footwear is allowed inside the temple. Admission is free. Photography and videography is permitted, but there is a charge of S$3 and S$6 respectively.
6. Singapore tourist attractions- Saint Andrew’s Cathedral
If you had been somewhere near City Hall MRT station, it is hard to ignore the twin tower shooting up the sky, that was the hallmark of Saint Andrew’s Cathedral. Saint Andrew’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral built in 1835. Rumoured to be disturbed by unhappy spirits, the Cathedral was struck twice by lightning in 1845 and 1849. Subsequently, it was demolished. The buildings we see today, however, was actually built in 1856. It was not until 1861 that service resumed. Today, it is a government declared national monument. The Cathedral was named St. Andrew who is the Patron Saint of Scotland, it was funded largely by Scottish merchants in Singapore.