Monday, January 16, 2006

Singapore's Sri Krishnan Temple

Dave and his wife are off in Beijing for a few days. Great time for me to start contributing to the blog! I’m in Singapore this week and am excited to begin with entries on streets and sites around the island.

Sri Krishnan Temple, dedicated to Krishna, the ninth incarnation of Vishnu, is one of the principal temples of the Hindu community of Singapore. The temple is located on Waterloo Street (formerly Church Street in commemoration of Resident Councilor Thomas Church), next to the Kwang Im Temple and across the street from the Stamford Arts School (pre WWII Japanese school).

Sri Krishnan Temple’s origins in 1870 were modest. A large banyan tree (now gone) was the congregation point for many of the Hindu laborers that lived and worked in the neighborhood. A wealthy merchant, Mr. Hanuman Beem Singh, realized that these men needed a place to worship and had two deities built along the base of the tree. Some years later a larger platform was built to place a deity of Lord Krishna. The temple has undergone successive renovations over the years. The attap walls and roofing were replaced with a Chinese styled tile roof and concrete walls, many new deities were placed, and a 4 storey community center was added to the back of the temple in 2002, the same year it was gazetted as a Historic Site by Singapore’s National Heritage Board.

Renovations and additions are very important to Hindu temples, often occurring at least once every 12 years in ceremonies meant to symbolize ritual purification. This desire to continuously renovate and refresh may explain why the deity representations all around the temple retain their very bright colors. Also, image worship via non-abstract motifs is regarded as a practical method of assisting devotees’ realization.

Today, the temple is perhaps best known to tourists because of the legion of Buddhist-daoists that are attracted to pray at the temple before or after visiting the neighboring Kwang Im Temple. The phenomenon is quite a recent one, and has been embraced by the trustees of the Sri Krishnan Temple and celebrated as evidence of the temple’s acceptance of worshippers of all faiths. The community center is host to a variety of social gatherings and organizations, including a local chapter of the Sri Sathya Sai Baba followers.

The temple is said to be constructed of five sections, head (dome above sanctum – see picture), neck (sanctum containing image of God), stomach (area in front of sanctum), legs (walls around sanctum), feet (gateway into the temple) and soul (lord of the sanctum). The neck (sanctum) is the most important part of the temple.

The street in front of Sri Krishnan and Kwang Im temples was pedestrianized in 1998 as part of the Government’s effort to turn the district into a cultural and heritage hub. The scene is particularly colorful at this time of year, as everyone prepares for the upcoming Chinese New Year celebrations. Next time you’re in the neighborhood – do slip off your shoes and enter the temple for a visit. Remember to walk around it in a clock-wise direction!

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