Thian Hock Keng Temple

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What:
Thian Hock Keng Temple, the oldest Chinese temple in Singapore

Where:
158 Telok Ayer Street
Nearest MRT: Tanjong Pagar

When:
8.30am - 5.30pm daily

How:
On a walking tour of Singapore Chinatown.

On this page:
[About the Temple] [Photos of Temple]

About Thian Hock Keng Temple

Thian Hock Keng Temple at night.

If you stand at the entrance of the Thian Hock Keng Temple and look outwards, it's hard to believe that this temple was once by the sea.

In front of the temple today is the city's business hub. Premium Singapore real estate. And the tall skyscrapers that look down on the temple are actually standing on reclaimed land!

But more than 100 years ago, the Thian Hock Keng Temple was a beach-front temple.

It was the first stop for grateful Chinese immigrants who have survived the difficult voyage from Southern China. Here, they burned joss-sticks and gave thanks to Ma Zu (妈祖), the goddess of the sea.

The Thian Hock Keng Temple started humbly in 1821 as a wooden joss house. But it was immensely important to the early Chinese community. Thus began a huge fund raising project to rebuild it in the 1830s.

The local Chinese community gave generously to build this temple. Premium wood and granite were imported from China for it construction. Some of the best craftsmen from Southern China were also recruited to work on the temple. The result? A beautiful temple with intrincate carvings, a fine example of traditional Southern Chinese architecture.

In 1998, when the temple was being restored, builders found a scroll stowed away in one of the roof beams. It was written by no less than the Qing emperor Guang Xu, who pronouced his blessings on the Chinese community here. Imagine this. Even the Chinese emperor has left his imprint on this temple!

Take the following photo tour of the temple. It'll make your visit there more meaningful.

Thian Hock Keng Temple Photo Tour


Thian Hock Keng Temple in the day.
The Thian Hock Keng Temple during the day - front view.

Thian Hock Keng Temple - a door god.
Thian Hock Keng Temple - another door god.
The temple is well guarded by these door gods...
 
Thian Hock Keng Temple - a female lion statue at the entrance.
Thian Hock Keng Temple - A male lion at the entrance.

...as well as these lions.

Can you tell which lion is male and which is female? Clue: the one on the left has a cub in its bosom. The one the right has a stud on its belly.

Notice also the low granite barrier across the entrance? Do you know why it's there?

Well it serves two purposes.

The first was to keep the sea water out during high tide. Remember this was once a sea-side temple?

The second purpose is spiritual. When you walk across the barrier, you'll have to bend your body slightly in a 'bowing' posture. Symbolically, each 'bowing' visitor is showing respect to the deities within.


Thian Hock Keng Temple - Ma Zu the main deity in this temple.
Ma Zu (a.k.a. Ma Zhu Po), the Goddess of the Sea. She's the main deity in this temple.

Thian Hock Keng Temple - Confucius statue with his 2 guards.

The statue of Confucius takes up one wing of the temple. Although Thian Hock Keng is primarily a Taoist temple, Confucian and Buddhist influences are obvious here.

I overheard this conversation between a tour guide and his entourage...

"During the exams, some Chinese parents will take their children here to pray for good results..." said the guide.

"But it won't help much if the child had been lazy, will it?" a very perceptive Englishman noted. ;-)

 
Thian Hock Keng Temple - a sculpture which resembles an Indian.

When you get to the right wing of the temple, look up at the roof and you'll see this statue. He seems to be lifting the beam of the temple. Notice that his features are not Chinese, but Indian-ish. But this is a Chinese temple, remember?

The carvers have done this on purpose. And it's not to make fun of the Indians. When the Thian Hock Keng was being built, Indian immigrants from nearby Chulia Village came in numbers and helped out.

These carvings are created to thank the Indians for their contribution to this glorious temple. So you see, inter-racial kindness is not the idea of the current government. It began in Singapore in the 19th Century!

 
Thian Hock Keng Temple - Bronze sculpture of a dragon.
Everything is intricate in this temple. Just look at this bronze sculpture of a dragon, part of an urn.


Related to Thian Hock Keng Temple

Visit the Thian Hock Keng Temple on a Chinatown Walking Tour

Chinatown during Chinese New Year



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