Hinduism in Singapore

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Hindu religion and culture in Singapore can be traced back to the early 19th century, when a wave of immigrants from southern India arrived seeking to work for the British East India Company. They built temples for worship, and also for holding the community together as a source of comfort in a foreign land.

There are currently about thirty main Hindu temples in Singapore, dedicated to various gods and goddesses. Hindus make up a minority, comprising about 5.1% of adult Singapore citizens and permanent residents in 2010. Almost all Hindus in Singapore are ethnic Indians. Within the Indian community, 55.4% are Hindu.

The government of Singapore is secular, but promotes a multi-cultural society. Accordingly, the Hindu festival of Deepavali is recognized as a national public holiday, alongside religious holidays of other communities.

Some non-Indians, usually Buddhist Chinese, participate in various Hindu activities. Several major Hindu festivals are celebrated every year.

Beginnings of Hinduism in Singapore[edit]

The early 19th century saw a wave of immigrants to Singapore from southern India, mostly Tamils, to work as coolies and labourers for the British East India Company in Singapore. These immigrants brought along their religion and culture from their homeland as well. Their arrival saw the building of temples throughout the island in the arresting Dravidian form of architecture, and the beginnings of a vibrant Hindu culture.

Though the labourers were mostly responsible for introducing and preserving their religion in their new home, in later times, monetary contributions were made by the richer Hindu merchants to build up the makeshift shacks that served as their place of worship. The temples also served to hold the community together, being a source of comfort to those far away in a foreign land.

The first Hindu temple[edit]

The first temple, Sri Mariamman Temple in Chinatown, was built as early as 1827 by Narayana Pillai, a clerk to Sir Stamford Raffles; it was dedicated to the Hindu goddess Mariamman, an incarnation of the Mother Goddess, and who is believed to have the power to cure diseases. He first erected a wooden, thatched hut on this site that he had purchased in 1823. The present temple was completed by 1863.

Architecture[edit]

The temples are all built in the Dravidian style, mainly the Tamil style seen largely in Tamil Nadu, India. This style is known for its imposing 'gopurams' or entrance towers, complex friezes, intricate carvings and paintings or murals done on the walls and ceilings.

Today[edit]

There are currently about thirty main temples in Singapore, dedicated to various gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon. Today, two government bodies deal with all Hindu affairs — The Hindu Endowments Board and The Hindu Advisory Board.

Hindus make up a minority, comprising about 5.1% (2010 cecgjwFGSEGnsus)of adult Singapore citizens and permanent residents. According to the 2000 census there were 99,904 adult Hindus in Singapore. If the children are also included then the figure becomes 160,708. Almost all Hindus in Singapore are ethnic Indians. Within the Indian community, 55.4% are Hindu. The small numbers of non-Indian Hindus are mainly Chinese women who were adopted by or married into Hindu families.

A Hindu priest blessed a car in a temple

As part of its promotion of a multi-cultural society, the secular Singapore State recognises the Hindu festival of Deepavali as a national public holiday, alongside the religious holidays of other communities. Another form of ‘official’ recognition or acknowledgement of the Hindu community in Singapore is the fact that two Hindu temples have been gazetted as National Monuments of Singapore. These are the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple. Like many Hindu temples in Singapore, these were built in the South Indian Dravidian style and serve a broad South Indian Tamil community.

Different communities have also established their own temples in Singapore. For instance, the Sri Lankan Tamil community established the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple at Ceylon Road and the Chettiar community set up the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The North Indian community also established the Sri Lakshminarayan Temple, built in the North Indian style.

A unique feature of Hinduism in Singapore is the fact that a noticeable number of non-Indians, usually Buddhist Chinese, do participate in a variety of Hindu activities, including praying to Hindu deities, donating money to the temple funds and participating in Hindu festivals like the fire-walking ceremony, and Thaipusam. Certain temples, such as the Sri Krishnan Temple in Waterloo Street, or some Hindu temples in Yishun have also built up substantial followers among the Chinese community, who often visit these temples on their way to or from visiting nearby Chinese temples.

Hindu religious festivals[edit]

A Thaipusam participant.

Some of the major Hindu festivals celebrated every year include Deepavali, Thaipusam, Pongal, Tamil New Year or Varsha Pirappu, Holi also known as Festival of Colours and Thimithi or otherwise known as the Fire Walking Festival.

  • Deepavali - For about one month before the festival, the Little India heritage district will be decorated. Its public streets will be festooned with colourful ornamental lights, often depicting Indian motifs, such as elephants, peacocks and oil lamps. At least two different Deepavali bazaars are held in different parts of the district, one at Little India Arcade, and another in an open field opposite Mustafa Centre. These markets are busy in the days leading up to the festival, and they contain small stalls selling Deepavali greeting cards, traditional foods and drinks, Indian-themed decorations for the home, traditional Indian costumes as well as more modern clothes, Indian music and video discs, sparklers and toys for children, oil lamps, incense, deities and other paraphenilia for family altars, etc. The districts becomes especially lively and colourful during this period, and many people, including non-Hindus residents and tourists will visit the area to enjoy the atmosphere.
  • Thaipusam - As part of a penance to Lord Murugan, participants carry 'kavadis' along a processional route. Some of the adult male participants carry kavadis that are attached to their bodies via metal hooks and small spears that pierce their skin. This annual festival is the only time in contemporary Singapore when major roads in the city, including the parts of the prime Orchard Road area, are closed for a religious procession. The procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Permal Temple in Serangoon Road, and winds through Orchard Road and Penang Road before ending at the Sri Thandayuthapani Temple at Tank Road, off Clemenceau Avenue. The festival is a major religious and urban event, which draws large numbers of participants, devotees, supportive family and friends as well as curious onlookers, photography enthusiasts and tourists.

See also[edit]

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