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Visit Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

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Who would have expected to find Singapore's oldest Hindu temple smack dab in the heart of Chinatown?

It's unexpected, to be sure, and the story behind it is interesting.

facade of sri mariamman temple with gopura, a tower of gods, above the entrance door

History of Sri Mariamman Temple

Sri Mariamman Temple dates back to 1827, which was eight years after the British East India Company established a trading settlement in Singapore. It wasn’t supposed to be there originally; the British first offered land in Telok Ayer Street for a Hindu Temple along with sites for a Chinese temple and a mosque. The Hindus turned down the offer because Telok Ayer did not have the convenient source of fresh water that Hindus require for their rituals.

After the Brits offered this site at South Bridge Road (1823), a treasury clerk, who was the first recorded Indian immigrant to Singapore, built a humble wood and atap hut on the spot. It was dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, who nourishes and protects all things. Mariamman is also known for her healing powers in epidemic diseases such as cholera and smallpox, both of which were rampant in the jungle environment of early Singapore.

In 1843 immigrants from districts in South India replaced it with something more substantial. The temple soon became a refuge for new immigrants who stayed there till they found work and accommodation.

The temple has been rebuilt and expanded to better serve the Hindu community. It now includes a 3-story complex with an auditorium and rooms for weddings, meetings, cultural events, and so forth. That said, the oldest parts of the temple are from the original 1843 structure.

Temple architecture

Sri Mariamman Temple is best known for the colorful and elaborately carved 6-tiered tower over the temple gates. Towers like this, called gopuram, are quite typical in Dravidian architecture. (The famous Angkor Wat in Cambodia was also based on this style.) Although not every one is painted like this one, every gopura is made from sandstone, soapstone or granite, and every oneo is intricately carved with Hindu deities and mythological beasts. Gopuram are  always pyramid-shaped, tapering straight up toward the sky.

side view of gopura at Sri Mariamman Temple

Next to the gopura at this temple are sculptures of two important HIndu gods: Murugan and Krishna. Murugan is the god of war and the Tamil patron deity. Krishna is easy to spot; he is always a blue-skinned cowherd boy playing his flute. He is greatly beloved by Hindus as a divine warrior, gentle lover, and teacher.

detail of Krishna statue

Beneath the gopura are imposing wooden doors. Their massive size is quite deliberate, designed to remind the worshippers of their insignificance in comparison to the divine. And the grids of bells on the doors? Devotees believe that ringing them will bring good luck.

The inside of the temple is as colorful as the outside, with colorful paintings everywhere, even on the ceiling. The main prayer hall contains the central shrine of Mariamman. On both sides are the shrines of two secondary deities – Murugan (you saw him outside) and Rama. Nearby are a series of free-standing, dome-roofed shrines for different deities.

brightly painted ceiling at Sri Mariamman Temple

Interesting facts about the temple

In the early evening, priests, worshippers, and musicians take part in age-old rituals and make beautifully-arranged offerings. Their offerings are chosen for what they symbolize; for instance, mango and coconut leaves are signs of purity and bananas symbolize abundance. Worshipers will always be walking in a clockwise direction, for an odd number of times, in order to have good luck.

worshipers inside Sri Mariamman Temple

Two nearby streets got their names because of this temple: Temple Street (for obvious reasons) and Pagoda Street (because of the shape of the temple's gopura).

Inspired?

Visitor information:

Sri Mariamman Temple is a Singapore National Monument and is owned by Hindu Endowments Board.

Admission: Free, S$3.00 if you have your camera. It's worth it though; you will come home with beautiful pictures.

Hours: 7 am-12 noon, 6-9 pm

Dress: Take off your shoes before entering, and dress conservatively (no shorts, sleeveless shirts, etc.).

Tip: If you are in Singapore in the autumn, one of the temple’s main festivals is held between mid-October and mid-November each year. An annual fire walking ceremony (timiti) is held about a week before Deepavali, the Festival of Lights.

Written by Linda

Linda is multilingual and has been to over 50 countries. Her insatiable love of travel, cuisine, and foreign languages has inspired her to create As We Saw It with her husband Dan, a professional photographer. Her goal is to make travel easier for others and to offer a brief escape to another land.

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3 thoughts on “Visit Sri Mariamman Temple, Singapore

  1. It looks so beautiful, very colorful indeed. Also interesting history behind.
    I have been to Singapore a few times but somehow missed this temple. I definitely will visit next time.

    1. After hearing others’ reports, we were so disappointed that it was closed while we were there. Like you, it’s on our must-see list for the next time we’re in the country.

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