Tan Si Chong Su
Tan Si Chong Su Temple
|Heritage designation||National Monument of Singapore|
|Designated date||19 November 1974|
|Location||15 Magazine Road|
|Designated||19 November 1974|
Tan Si Chong Su, or Ancestral Hall of the Tan Clan, is a Chinese temple in Singapore. It is located on Magazine Road in the Singapore River Planning Area within Singapore's central business district. It was constructed between 1876 and 1878 as the ancestral temple for those with the same Tan surname, based on the premise that Chinese people with the same surname would share a common ancestry and therefore belong to the same clan.
The temple is also known as the "Tan Seng Haw" and Po Chiak Keng (保赤宫, also written as Bao Chi Gong and other variants), meaning "palace for the protection of the innocent", reflecting its earlier role as a place that provided help for those in disputes as well as new Chinese immigrants in Singapore.
Facing the Singapore River, Tan Si Chong Su was built in 1876 to serve the needs of the sizeable Tan clan. At the time, it sat on the banks of the Singapore River, close to a small islet called Pulau Saigon. The islet has since been dug out and a part of the river filled in so that Tan Si Chong Su is now set back from the water.
The funds needed to build the temple were donated by two men from the most prominent Tan families in Singapore – Tan Kim Ching (1824–1892) and Tan Beng Swee (陈明水, 1828–1884). Tan Kim Ching was the eldest son of philanthropist and businessman Tan Tock Seng, whose significant fortune he inherited. Tan Tock Seng is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to public health care. Tan Beng Swee was the son of Tan Kim Seng, also a successful businessman and a leader of the Chinese community. Of Tan Kim Seng's many civic projects, arguably the greatest was setting up of the city's first fresh water supply lines.
The first president of the temple was Tan Kim Tian. An indenture dated 28 July 1880 gave the names of the temple trustees as Tan Cheng Kiat, Tan Chew Cha, Tan Siak Kiew, Tan Mah Arang, Tan Hai Tiew and Tan Sim Boh.
In 1889, a school was set up within the temple's premises; its name, Po Chiak Keng, became synonymous with that of the temple's. Tan Si Chong Su was commonly known by both names until the Japanese invasion of 1942. Shortly after the Japanese Occupation ended in 1945, Po Chiak Keng closed its doors, leaving behind about 200 students, and the temple's name reverted to Tan Si Chong Su.
As with many of Singapore's historic buildings, Tan Si Chong Su has been overshadowed by surrounding modern developments – in this case the Central Expressway. However, visitors to the temple will still find it an interesting place.
The temple was built as the ancestral temple of Tan clan. The Chinese believed that people with the same surname share a common ancestry. An ancestral temple like Tan Si Chong Su gives clan members a place to worship their ancestors. It is here that the soul or spirit tablets of clan members are kept and venerated. The complex consists of an entrance hall, a main hall where the patron deities are, and a rear hall where the soul tablets of illustrious Tans are kept. The halls are separated by open courtyards.
The temple also served as the assembly hall for the Tan clan whose members extended beyond Singapore to Malaysia. Among some famous Tans associated with the temple was the former Finance Minister of Malaysia, Tan Siew Sin, and his father Tan Cheng Lock, a founder of the Malayan Chinese Association, a political party in Malaysia. Tan Cheng Lock and Tan Siew Sin were from Malacca as were the fathers of the temple's original founders. The temple's founders, Tan Kim Ching and Tan Beng Swee, were also associated with Malacca. Another famous Tan is Tan Chin Tuan, a retired banker and noted philanthropist and one of the temple's trustees.
The temple tackles issues of geomancy, axiality and orientation in relationship with its surrounding buildings, roads and circulation. For example, geomancy was said that a Chinese temple is not favorable to be allocated at the end of a narrow and tight street due to bad luck and to avoid holy mess.
Tan Si Chong Su is heavily decorated and filled with objects of importance. The elaborate entrance hall is dominated by three brightly painted timber double-leafed doors framed with carved granite columns. Gods, dragons and lions dance on the walls. Eight plaques bear greetings and good wishes in calligraphic script; five plaques date from 1880 and three from 1898. Beyond the entrance hall is the prayer hall, known to worshippers as Po Chiak Keng. Statues of a few major deities rest behind an antique altar, above which hangs an 1898 plaque that reads "Help the world and the people".
Behind the prayer hall is the heart of the temple – the ancestral hall. Set 90 metres back from the entrance hall, the ancestral hall is private and secure. Ancestral tablets are displayed in three glass niches and on the walls, five plaques sing the praises of revered ancestors. Because ancestral spirits occupy a very important place in the Chinese belief system, the ancestral hall is given the most important position in the temple. This layout is based on the Chinese concept of li, which means "to humble oneself to honour others".
All the original features of the temple are executed in the temple architectural style of southern China. Most typical are the graceful sweep of the curved roof ridge with upturned eaves, wooden carvings and ornamental gable eaves set in granite columns. Symbols of good luck, prosperity, wisdom, longevity and a host of other cardinal virtues are scattered throughout the temple. On the elegant curved roof, for instance, ornate ceramic phoenixes, flowers and dragons signify power and potency. A radiant pearl in the centre of the ridge speaks of celestial glory. The main entrance is flanked by a pair of fiery dragons, marking the temple's eminence. Each of the side doors is guarded by Door Gods, who protect the temple and ward off evil. Eternity is represented by circular windows.
- "Tan Si Chong Su". Roots. National Heritage Board.
- "Tan Si Chong Su". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board.
- National Heritage Board (2002), Singapore's 100 Historic Places, Archipelago Press, ISBN 981-4068-23-3
- Lee Geok Boi (2002), The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1
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