Oddly enough, the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore is smack in the middle of Chinatown. It was built (as a humble shed) in 1827 by Naraina Pillai, the first recorded Indian immigrant to enter colonised Singapore (he travelled with Raffles from Penang). Completed in 1863, it’s famous for its staggeringly detailed gopuram (tower gateway). It is also the site of Theemidhi, a remarkable fire-walking ceremony held a week before the Hindu festival Deepavali, usually in October. If you want to take photos, you have to pay $3 ($6 for video cameras).
This Buddhist temple, built in 1884, is dedicated to Kwan Im (also called Guanyin), the goddess of mercy, and was used as a refuge for the sick and destitute during the Japanese occupation. Today, hundreds of worshippers flood in every day; the main prayer hall is a flurry of activity as people take turns to kneel on the prayer carpet in front of the golden Buddha, where they shake i-ching sticks.
What began in 1870 as a banyan tree with a few deities placed next to it has evolved into a vivid, colourful temple dedicated to Lord Krishna, the supreme god in Hindu cosmology. Much of the current building was constructed in the 1980s and don't be surprised when you see Chinese devotees light joss sticks here as well – the temple is located close to Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple and the management even built an altar dedicated to Guan Yin within its temple's grounds.
As Singapore’s first – and possibly only – temple dedicated to the Monkey God, this 95-year-old temple has more than ten statues of the Taoist deity within its premises. Some of them even date back over a century, making this beautifully anachronistic building (it’s smack in the middle of hipster central, Tiong Bahru) a heritage hotspot where your kids can live and breathe history. Look out for Uncle Lim, the chatty temple caretaker who’ll tell you all about the Monkey God and its many different incarnations.
Located on a small hilltop, 'Temple of Thanksgiving' is Singapore's first ecologically green temple. First built in 1954 as a memorial to those who lost their lives during the Battle of Pasir Panjang in 1942, the Buddhist temple was rebuilt in 2003, complete with solar energy cells on its rooftop.
This 164-year-old temple was recently restored to the tune of $4.5 million but it's also been renovated several times, particularly in the 1960s, with the gopuram erected only as recently as 1979. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, the temple features decorations of the deity in his many incarnations. Statues of him, his consorts and Garuda (the bird he flies on) can be seen inside.
A century ago, Telok Ayer Street was right up against the sea. And this temple, known as the Temple of Heavenly Happiness, was popular with newly arrived immigrants, who came here to burn incense in thanks to Ma Cho Po (a Taoist deity and protector of seafarers) for their safe arrival. Some of the materials used in the temple were taken from the boats, including the rooftop mosaic. Inside, the main altar features a statue of Ma Cho Po, and other deities of luck, war and punishment.
Little India’s most popular Hindu temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali, often misrepresented in the West as a deity of destruction, but actually a benevolent (if powerful) figure. The building was apparently constructed by Bengali immigrants, and completed in 1881, but like all such monuments in Singapore has gone through many extensions and renovations over the years. The gopuram (tower entrance) is strikingly decorated with multicoloured depictions of numerous Hindu deities, while the main shrine houses a jet black statue of Kali, flanked by her sons Ganesha and Murugam. You can spot those who have been blessed at this temple: they have white ash on their forehead, rather than the usual dark colours.
Also known as the Calm Sea Temple, built in 1826 by Teochew fisherman. Set back from the road, the temple’s wide forecourt is dominated by incense coils hung on wires. Note the large kilns for burning ‘hell money’ and other offerings to the dead.
This 1908 Buddhist monastery, Siong Lim Temple, for short, is the oldest in Singapore. An 11-year, $40m restoration project was completed in 2002 (using carpenters and artisans from China), but it still remains a fine specimen of classic Chinese-style architecture. Highlights include the two magnificent 9.1m wooden entrance gates and the 29m Dragon Light Pagoda built entirely of granite and topped with a golden spire.
A 15-foot Maitreya Buddha that sits on the ground floor of the main hall and on the third storey lies the Buddhist Cultural Museum. It displays a selection of rare artefacts detailing the history of Buddhism and the different traditions practised in Asian countries. Located at the rear of the hall, you’ll find the Sacred Buddha Relics Chamber. This houses what are regarded as the brains, blood, muscle and flesh relics of Buddha. According to the religion’s beliefs, these items are supposedly Buddha’s body in eternal form.
One of the oldest Cantonese temples in Singapore with 150 years of history, Mun San Fook Tuck Chee temple used to be a communal hub for coolies. Also known as Sar Kong Temple, the building sits on land that is slated to be redeveloped. It is home to the Sar Kong Mun San Fook Tuck Chee Lion Dance Troupe that puts up a fire dragon performance where a straw dragon is lit up in flames and paraded up and down the streets of the HDB flats nearby, like it once did in the nearby villages back in the day.