Many Indians came to Singapore as indentured labourers and coolies, working for the East India Company or other trading companies. The Hindu temples in Singapore are dedicated to the various gods and goddesses that Indian immigrants worshipped. Often, a group of Hindus from the same village or town, or from the same sub-cultural group, would practise a similar form of Hindu worship.
The oldest Hindu temple in Singapore is the Sri Mariamman Temple in the Chinatown area. It was built in 1827 by Naraiana Pillai, a government clerk from Penang who also set up Singapore’s first construction company. The architecture of the temple is reminiscent of Dravidian temples in South India. The gopuram of the temple — the roof that rises above it — is decorated with six tiers of carvings.
Some years later, in 1855, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple - a large complex dedicated to the god Vishnu - was built on Serangoon Road. The gopuram was only added in 1966, and is a study in Hindu mythology, depicting the many different incarnations of Vishnu.
The temple grounds were originally lush and fertile, with vegetable gardens, ponds and a stream used for ritual cleansing by people praying at the temple. Although the stream is now gone, a well in the temple courtyard is a reminder of its presence. This temple is also the starting point for the annual Thaipusam procession — one of the more interesting festivals to catch in Singapore if you arrive at the right time of year!
The Thaipusam procession ends at another temple, the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road (also known as the Chettiar Temple or, simply, the Tank Road temple by locals). Granted national monument status in 2014, this temple was built in 1859 by the Chettiar community, who were primarily moneylenders from the Chettinadu region of South India.
The Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is dedicated to the Hindu god of war, Lord Muruga, who is also known in Hindu mythology as Lord Subramaniam, Karthik, or Kartikeya. During the festival of Thaipusam, held each year on the full moon between January and February, devotees carry out various acts of penance and gratitude to Lord Muruga, which is why the procession ends here.
When visiting a Hindu temple, you will be required to remove your footwear. You may leave your footwear along with others’ outside the entrance of the temple. Singaporeans are generally quite open-minded about most forms of clothing, but, as a mark of respect, it is always a good idea to dress on the conservative side when visiting a place of worship. Most places in Hindu temples are accessible to everyone, but some may be reserved for worshippers and only priests may enter the inner sanctums. Photography is also generally permitted but it’s a good idea to check before taking photos, especially of people and private ceremonies.