Thian Hock Keng Temple is said to be the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore. But it is not the age of the temple that is impressive (it was completed in 1842). Nor the fact that it’s been awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Award for as a cultral heritage conservation building.
It is simply that the entire temple was built without the use of nails. Every beam, every door, every structure, every column, beautifully set and assembled without any nails. That is truly astounding. Given, it’s gone through several rounds of comprehensive restoration, but still, an amazing fact.
Thian Hock Keng, or 天福宫, means Temple of Heavenly Happiness. The temple grounds actually house two temples. The main temple pays homage to the Taoist goddess Mazu (妈祖), who is the goddess for safe voyages, and the second temple at the back, is a Buddhist temple dedicated to Kuan Yin (观音), the Goddess of Mercy.
Early Chinese immigrants prayed to Mazu for blessing of safe travels for their long journey from China to Singapore by sea. Upon their arrival in Singapore, they would then make the trip to this location to offer thanks and gratitude. What started out as a small shrine was later built into a much bigger temple, thanks to contributions from the Hokkien community as well as donations from philanthropists.
To enter the main hall, one would have to cross over a high step. A century ago, the area in front of the temple was swamp land, and further out, the sea. The purpose of the step is to keep water from entering the temple. Look out also (they’re hard to miss!) for the Door Gods, whose job is to keep evil out.
A visit to this temple is a treat for the eyes. Everywhere, there are beautiful carvings and colourful tiles. Look carefully around the temple and you’ll find plenty of dragons and several phoenixes, peaches, bats, tigers and carps, each intricate piece carefully hand painted. Each has a special meaning and significance – you’ll find out more on temple grounds!
If you fancy, you can also make a wish by tossing a coin into the well. Ring the desired bell, clasp your hands together, then toss your coin. Shown below are wishes for business, good health, and the hope for welcoming children into a new marriage.
Around the temple are several deities. There are signs that discourage photography of deities (as well as temple worshippers) out of respect. If you’d like to find out more about the deities, the temple’s website has all the images as well as the descriptions.
Visitors of all ages are welcome to take in the sights but do remember that it is still a place of worship, so please do be respectful in terms of actions as well as dressing.
About Thian Hock Keng Temple
It is located at 158 Telok Ayer Street Singapore 068613. Opening hours are 7.30am to 5.30pm daily.
If you have an additional half hour or so, do visit Nagore Dargah Indian Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre next door and speak with the man who runs it; he’s really passionate about sharing! You can find our review of it here.
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