Discovering the Fascinating History of Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple in Singapore
Also known as Loyang Way Tua Pek Kong Shrine, the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple is a mainly Taoist temple located at Loyang Way that was built in the 1980s. The temple is dedicated to Tua Pek Kong, a Chinese deity who is worshipped as the god of prosperity, good fortune, and protection. However, it also enshrines other deities from Hindu, Buddhist as well as the Malayan spiritual tradition of Datuk Kong, making the temple a multi-faith temple.
The Story behind Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple A group of fishing buddies, including Paul Tan and Huang Zhong Ting, spotted statues of Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist deities strewn across the beach at the end of the Loyang industrial area in the 1980s. They did not want to leave the statues stranded on the beach and decided to build a modest hut out of bricks and zinc sheets for the abandoned statues.
Suddenly, one gentleman approached the group of friends claiming that he received a sign from Allah (Muslim God) who wanted him to build a holy keramat to a Datuk Kong (a Muslim man) in the temple. At first, the group of fishing buddies ignored him claim but more and more people started approaching them with the same claims. Finally yielding to their requests, they set aside a place for the Muslim keramat in honor of Datuk Kong, also known as Na Tuk Gong.
Not long after, people who worked in the Loyang industrial area started visiting the temple. Miraculous powers were attributed to the temple as worshippers claimed that their prayers for prosperity and wealth were always fulfilled. Another reason why Loyang Tua Pek Kong temple rose to fame was its 2-metre-tall statue of the Hindu god Ganesha, said to be the tallest Ganesha statue in any temple in India or Singapore. Eventually, around 20000 devotees visit the temple every month even though bus services were limited to weekdays and the nearest bus stop being a 30-minute walk away.
Unfortunately, in 1996, the temple was burnt to the ground by a fire. Majority of the statues were affected except the statue of Tua Pek Kong, the Taoist god of prosperity, which was the only undamaged statue. A new premise had to be built to house the deities and the keramat. Once news of the fire spread, public donations started pouring in and a new temple was built at 62G Loyang Way, which was about 2km away from its original site by the seaside. However, the temple had to relocate once again after the land lease was expiring. Eventually, in 2007, the temple finally settled at 20 Loyang Way. The temple was then named after Tua Pek Kong, the only unscathed statue after the fire.
Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple tries their best in incorporate various architectural designs to represent the different religions it houses. The temple has been divided into sections for Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Datuk Kong respectively. One can notice some form of distinct boundaries when looking at the different architecture styles from the outside, however, on the inside, there is no clear physical boundaries between the sections to allow devotees to cross freely between one another.
Moreover, all the deities are worshipped using the same kinds of Chinese joss sticks, which can be used to display equality among religion. It is common to see Indian devotees carrying joss-sticks in front of Tua Pek Kong and Chinese devotees praying at the food of Ganesha with flowers and lamps. Many cross-cultural interactions have been displayed and advertised, proudly living up to flaunting their multi-faith devotion.
The main prayer hall in the temple is dedicated to the Tua Pek Kong deity. The same statue that survived the 1996 fire is placed in the center of the main altar. A few other Taoist deities’ statues are also on the altar, such as Wen Chang (God of Culture and Literature), Wu Ying (The Five Celestial General) and more. One striking demarcation between the section would be the ceilings- with the Taoist section having a Yin & Yang symbol in the middle.
Yin & Yang is a Chinese philosophical concept that describes opposite but interconnected forces. Yin is a symbol of earth, femineity, darkness, passivity, and absorption. It is commonly represented by the tiger, the color orange and a broken line. On the other hand, Yang is a symbol of heaven, masculinity, light, activity, and penetration. It is commonly represented by the dragon, the color azure, and an unbroken line. According to Taoist mythology, the distinctions between good and bad, along with other moral judgements are perceptual.
Next to the Taoist section, the Buddhist section enshrines a Dzang Bodhisattva, who is known to be committed to delivering the dead from the torments of hell. There are also statues of Guan Yin (the Goddess of Mercy), Ma Zu (the Goddess of the Sea) and more. Similar to the Taoist section, the Buddhist section has an ornately carved abacus with a lotus motif and the Chinese Zodiacs mounted on the ceiling. It is said that this abacus is the biggest one in Asia.
One of the most revered teachings in Buddhism is the Lotus Sutra. The lotus symbolizes purity, spiritual awakening, and faithfulness as the lotus flower blooms from murky waters in the morning and remain perfectly clean. Relating it to humans, Buddhists believe that a person’s path in life is similar to the lotus, being able to grow & blossom from the harsh realities of life. It is very common to have lotus-related items on a Buddhist shrine, such as a Lotus throne.
A humbler section in the Loyang Tua Pek Kong temple would be the Hindu sanctum and the Malay Chinese shrine dedicated to Datuk Kong. A less grand ceiling with geometric flower motifs decorate the space. The Hindu sanctum is where the 2-metre-tall Ganesha statue resides, as well as other Hindu deities. Ganesha is a elephant-headed Hindu deity of wisdom, fortune and the removal of obstacles. On the other hand, the Datuk Kong keramat does not hold a statue as Islam prohibits the direct representation of people. Hence, it is represented by a keramat wrapped in yellow cloth and housed within an onion dome structure.
Now, one may be confused as to having a shrine dedicated to a Malay Muslim man in a Chinese-Hindu temple. Datuk Kong (also known as Na Tuk Gong) are local guardian spirits worshipped by the Malayan Chinese communities who resides in Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Indonesia. Chinese immigrants have combined practices from the Local Malay culture and formed a new micro-culture. Datuk Kong is considered a localized form in the worship of the spirit of land who resides in trees, ant hills, caves and more. Usually, the worship of Datuk Kong begins after a person sees a vision of Datuk’s spiritual form, either a white tiger or an old man dressed in white. It is a common misconception that Datuk Kong is another Chinese deity but in fact, most worshipped Datuks are the Malay-Muslim spirits.
Other that having unique ceilings and distinct interior designs representing each religion, one can catch a hunch about Loyang Tua Pek Kong being a multi-faith temple from the exterior. The main roof of the temple is a Chinese hip-and-gable roof known as Xieshan. This is a common roof style used in Buddhist and Taoist temples that originated in the Easter Han Dynasty as an adaptation of the hip roof. The entrance to the Chinese shrine has intricately carved pillars of dragons, symbolizing good luck, strength, and health. Meanwhile, there are two Chinese guardian lions who guard the entrance of the temple as a symbol of power and protection.
While majority of the exterior design is dominated by Chinese architecture, there is a pyramidical structure on top of the entrance to the Hindu sanctum called gopuram, a common structure used as a monumental entrance tower of a Hindu temple. Usually, there are many sculptures on the gopurams depicting various forms of gods and goddess of Hindu mythology. Similar to Chinese guardian lions, the Hindu entrance has two statues of Vishnu riding on Garuda. Vishnu is one of the most important gods in the Hindu Patheon and is the Preserver and Guardian of Men, protecting the order of things (dharma) to maintain cosmic harmony. Meanwhile, Garuda is a bird creature from Hindu mythology that has a mix of eagle and human features. He is the vehicle of Vishnu and represents birth and heaven and is the enemy of all snakes.
With that said, there are many contrasting features when it comes to the architecture of Loyang Tua Pek Kong temple, in efforts to respect and represent all 4 faiths accordingly. However, one thing in common would be the use of color gold. In Chinese culture, gold is associated with power, wealth, longevity, and happiness. Commonly paired with red, gold, or yellow is highly utilized in Buddhism, representing strict austerity. For many Hindus, gold is considered a sacred color and is believed to have the power to purify anything it touches.
The Many Festivities Happening at Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple
The temple holds yearly celebrations in conjunction with various festivals of each religion it houses. Here are some of the cultural events that occur yearly:
1. Thai Pongal (Prayer for Nature)
Also known as Pongal, Thai Pongal is a multi-day Hindu harvest festival commonly celebrated by Tamils in India and Sri Lanka. It is celebrated at the start of the month Thai according to the Tamil solar calendar, usually on 14th January or 15th January depending on the sun’s orbit around earth that year. Festival celebrations usually include decorating cows and their horns, ritual bathing, and precessions.
2. Welcome God of Fortune (Eve of CNY)
During the Chinese New Year festive season, welcoming the God of Fortune, Tsai Shen, or Cai Shen, is an important new year tradition in addition to having a reunion dinner, and visiting loves ones. Devotees believe that the God of Fortune will bestow great wealth to those who worship sincerely. The most auspicious period for the welcoming would be on the 1st day of the 1st Lunar Month from the east. The timing and direction may vary depending on the Feng Shui of the year.
3. Earth Deity Birthday The Chinese devotees of this temple would celebrate the birthdays of various deities, and one for example, would be the Earth Deity, Tudi Gong. Tudi Gong is a deity in Taoism and is usually depicted as an elderly man with a white flowy beard who wears a golden hat and a bright red or yellow robe. He is known for his generosity which is why many devotees visit temples on his birthday to seek his blessings. His birthday falls on the 15th day of the 8th Lunar Month on the Chinese calendar.
4. Thaipusam (Celebration for Lord Murugan) Thaipusam or Thaipoosam is a Hindu festival celebrated on the full moon of the month Thai according to the Tamil solar calendar, usually coinciding with Pushya star, known as Pusam in Tamil. The festival celebrates the legend of the goddess Parvati (Goddess of the Himalayas) offering her son, Murugan (God of War), a divine spear so he could defeat the asura Surapadman and his brothers. Hindu devotees would start their procession in the early morning, carrying milk post as offerings or attaching kavadi and spikes pierced on their bodies.
5. Prayer to Tiger God
Also known as the White Tiger Festival, it is a day where Taoist devotees visit temples to make offerings to the Tiger God to avoid any misfortunes that year. Devotees would provide sacrificial offerings generally comprised of raw pork, lamb, beef, eggs, duck eggs, squid, and wine. One may offer apples that represents peace, or pears that represents removing or cleansing. However, other fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and grapes are avoided as it is believed to invite trouble.
6. Puthandu Similar to the Chinese, Hindus celebrate Puthandu, the Tamil New Year, on the first day of the year according to the Tamil solar calendar. It usually falls around 14th April every year based on the Western calendars. There are many different names where devotees address it by such as, Puthuvarudam, VIshu, Valasakhi. Devotees would clean up their houses, prepare a tray of auspicious items, light up the family puja altar and visit their local temples. They also use this day to visit their elders and spend their day with their families.
Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple has become a trademark and an icon of racial harmony in Singapore. In a world of increasing religious intolerance, this temple is a testament to peace and a commonness of human desire to be prosperous and harmony. The temple is proof that it is possible for people from all walks of life and various beliefs to respect their differences and live harmoniously.
How to Get There
Address: 20 Loyang Way, Singapore 508774
Nearest MRT: Tampines East MRT (DT23)
Take Bus 19 from Exit A, Alight after 6 stops, Cross the road and walk along Loyang Way
Bus Services Available:
6, 9, 19, 59, 89, 89A, 89e and 109 (Stop 98121, Krislite Bldg)
About 1 minutes’ walk from bus stop
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