Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sri Mariamman Temple, the oldest temple in Singapore

Sri Mariamman Temple on 2 Dec 2005

Sri Mariamman Temple on 2 Dec 2005

Old Gopuram of Sri Mariamman Temple on a postcard of 1901

Old Gopuram of Sri Mariamman Temple on a postcard of 1901

Sri Mariamman Temple is Singapore's oldest Hindu temple, as old as Singapore itself. The temple is a National Monument and a major tourist attraction. Sri Mariamman Temple is managed by the Hindu Endowments Board, a statutory body under Singapore Government.

Sri Mariamman Temple was founded in 1827 by Naraina Pillai (also spelled as Naraina Pillay) eight years after the British East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. Pillai, a government clerk from Penang, arrived in Singapore with Stamford Raffles in May 1819. Pillai soon established himself in business and became a leader of the Indian community in Singapore.

By 1827, Pillai built a simple temple made of wood and attap palm (Nypa fruticans) and installed a small idol of the goddess Mariamman, the South Indian mother goddess especially worshipped for protection against diseases - the early Singapore was mostly jungle and diseases were rampant. Later in 1843 the present temple was constructed, similar to Sri Meenakshi temple in Madurai, India. According to the Hindu Endowments Board, the existing deity in the principal shrine of the temple is the original installed by Pillai in 1827. The temple was also known as Sithi Vinayagar temple, Gothanda Ramaswamy Mariamman Temple and Mariamman Kovil.

The elaborate plaster sculptures and ornamentation of the temple were created by skilled craftsmen brought from Nagapattinam and Cuddalore in South India. The original three-tiered, slimmer gopuram was constructed in 1903. The present six-tiered gopuram was built in 1925.

Recent additions include a new elevated gallery for spectators during the annual fire walking festival (Thimithi). Another major addition is a three storey annex building with a fully equipped auditorium and facilities for weddings, multimedia presentations, corporate meetings, seminars and cultural events.

The temple was the Registry of Marriages for Hindus, the priest of the Sri Mariamman Temple being authorized to solemnize Hindu marriages in Singapore. Today, in addition to its religious services and functions, the temple promotes various social, cultural and educational activities.

Built in the South Indian Dravidian style of architecture, the most outstanding feature of Mariamman Kovil is its impressive gopuram (entrance tower). It has six tiers covered with figurative sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses and other Hindu mythological figures. The gopuram tower tapers upwards to a moulded ornamental ridge.

The sculptures are all of plaster, which allows for fine detailing. They are painted in a variety of bright colors, which adds to the visually spectacular quality of the gopuram.

The shrine of Draupadi, the second in importance in the temple, is central to the annual fire walking ceremony held about a week before Deepavali (the Festival of Lights). To the left of Draupadi are the five Pandavas from the Mahabharata epic - Yudhisthira, Bhima, Arjuna, Sahadeva and Nakula. They are presided over by Lord Krishna. The temple compound also contains a Lingam sculpture and Yoni sculpture.

According to visitors to Sri Mariamman Temple ‘are advised to dress conservatively as this is a place of worship’.

Location: 244 South Bridge Road, Chinatown, Singapore 058793

Tel: (65) 6223 4064

Getting there: Take the MRT to City Hall Station (EW13/NS25) and from there take SBS Transit bus 103, 166 or 197 or SMRT Bus 61 from North Bridge Road.

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