Sri Mariamman Temple
244 South Bridge Road
The Sri Mariamman Temple, which soars above the center of China Town, is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and is almost of the same age as the city itself. It owes its existence to the expatriate Indian Narayana Pillai, who arrived on the island together with the city’s more notable founder Lord Stamford Raffles. Having abandoned service in the British East Indian company, he subsequently opened his own business and, fairly quickly, amassed a decent fortune, becoming leader of the burgeoning Indian community in Singapore.
In 1823, Narayana Pillai was finally allocated a plot of land suitable for a temple’s construction. He had not initially succeeded: an important factor was the proximity of a water source, which is necessary for Hindu rituals. Four years later, a wooden temple was built on the site; later to be replaced with a solid brick building in 1843. During the next hundred years, the temple was rebuilt and decorated several times, acquiring its more modern look only in the 1960s. Sri Mariamman absorbed some of the brightest traits of the Dravidian style, a doctrine typical for temple architecture in southern India.
The magnificent temple was devoted to the mother-goddess Mariamman, who according to Hindu beliefs gives life, subsistence and protection from a range of different illnesses and epidemics. The cult of Mariamman, who like many other Hindu gods appears in different guises and has different names, has a more than four-millenia-long history and has more widespread popularity in the southern regions of India, from where the majority of the Singaporean Indian population comes. It is worth noting that a small statuette to the goddess Mariamman, installed in the temple by Narayana Pillai back in 1827, is still kept here.
The Sri Mariamman Temple became a trademark and a memorable symbol of the China Town, mainly thanks to the five-tier tower that rises above its entrance. It is richly decorated with numerous sculptural images of Hindu gods and exotic monsters. Bunches of tropical fruits, symbolizing purity and hospitality, always hang above the gates leading into the sanctuary.
An arcade, the vaults of which are painted with peculiar frescos, leads visitors from the gate tower to the massive doors, which are a direct entrance into the temple. The main altar is situated right opposite the entrance. Admission is not allowed to tourists, nevertheless, one can admire picturesque sculptures of the main Hindu gods, who appear in different guises in the side galleries. In addition to this, the walls are decorated with numerous statues of holy white cows, on which, according to legend, the goddess Mariamman rode.
Please note that visitors to the Sri Mariamman Temple should follow local traditions: this means that before entering the temple, they should ring the bell in order to alert the gods to your visit; the same should be also done, when guests leave the sanctuary, in order to say goodbye to them. By doing so, every visitor is granted a wish that, as the locals will testify, will definitely come true.
Every October, the bright holiday Thimithi takes place in Sri Mariamman Temple. It celebrates the heroine of the old Indian epos Draupadi, who is considered to be mortal guise of the Vishnu’s wife Lakshmi. According to Hindu legend, she proved her loyalty by going barefoot on burning hot coals and in memory of this event, thousands of Hindus come to the Sri Mariamman Temple every year in order to repeat the feat of the goddess and thus cleansing themselves of sin.