Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple: A Symbol of Chinese Culture & Tradition in Singapore
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is one of the most famous and visited temples in Singapore. Located in the Bugis area, one of the busiest parts of the city-state, the temple is considered a cultural and spiritual landmark. The temple is dedicated to Kwan Im (also known as Guan Ying or Avolakiteśvara), the Buddhist goddess of mercy and house other deities like Ta Ma Tan Shith (or Du Ma Tuo Shi), chief of the six Buddhist patriarchs; and Hua Tuo, a Han-dynasty doctor who is the Chinese patron saint of medicine. In this blog, we will explore the history, architectural design, cultural events, and festivals celebrated in Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, as well as how to get there.
History and Legacy
The temple’s history dates back to the early 19th century when it was known as the Guandong Assembly Hall. It was founded in 1884 by a group of Cantonese immigrants who had come to Singapore to seek better fortunes. The hall used to serve as a meeting place and community centre for the Guandong community, and it was a place where people could worship their ancestors and deities.
In the early 1900s, the hall was renamed Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple after the Kwan Im statue that was enshrined there. The statue was said to have been brought over from China by a Buddhist monk named Zhao Qing Yuan, who had travelled to Singapore to spread Buddhism. Over time, the temple became a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world, and it grew in size and influence.
During World War II, the temple was used as a refuge by civilians who were fleeing the Japanese occupation. The temple workers provided food, shelter, and medical care to thousands of people, and it became a symbol of hope and resilience in a time of great darkness. After the war, the temple underwent a series of renovations and expansions, and it became one of the most important Buddhist institutions in Singapore.
Today, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is a thriving institution that continues to serve the needs of its devotees and the wider community since 1997. The temple had first set up a Kidney Dialysis Centre at Simei, setting up an educational bursary and providing treatment to anybody regardless of race or religion. The temple has also donated to the National Kidney Foundation Singapore consistently and is a patron of the Singapore arts scene.
The temple had also donated a large amount of money to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) Developmental Fund, which supports the school’s infrastructure and capability development. This donation was also used for acquisition of library resources and setting up of the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Student Relief Fund and the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Fellowship. In return for their generosity, NAFA has named its library the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple Library.
The temple’s legacy is one of compassion, kindness, and community service. It has been a place of refuge and hope for generations of Singaporeans, and it has played an important role in shaping the country’s cultural and religious landscape. Its commitment to the ideals of mercy and compassion continues to inspire people around the world, and it is a testament to the enduring power of faith and spirituality.
Architectural Design and its Symbolism
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is an architectural masterpiece that blends traditional Chinese and Southeast Asian styles. The temple underwent several renovations and expansions over the years since it was first built in 1884. The most recent renovation took place in 2003, which restored the temple to its original splendour. The temple’s intricate design and symbolism makes it one of the most beautiful and significant religious sites in Singapore.
The temple’s most striking feature is its colourful roof, which is adorned with intricate carvings and decorations. The roof is made of terracotta tiles and is a prominent symbol of the temple’s importance. The roof’s colour and design represent the temple’s connection to the heavens and the divine, based on Buddhist ideologies. The roof’s decoration includes symbols of the five elements (water, fire, earth, metal, and wood), which are believed to bring balance and harmony to the universe.
The main entrance of the temple is dominated by a large statue of Kwan Im, the Buddhist goddess of mercy. The statue is highly detailed and intricately carved, and it sits on a lotus throne. The statue is flanked by smaller statues of Kwan Im’s attendance, who are depicted as children. Like the statues of Kwan Im, the statues of children are also intricately carved and represents purity and innocence.
The temple walls are decorated with elaborate carvings, paintings and sculptures depicting various scenes from the Buddhist scriptures. The hall’s ceiling is adorned with colourful murals of dragons and other mythical creatures, symbolising power and protection.
Another prominent feature of the temple is the Bell Tower, which stands at the front of the courtyard. The tower has a large bronze bell, which is rung during special occasions and festivals. The tower’s design is influenced by traditional Chinese architecture, with its tiered roof and red colour symbolising good fortune.
The temple’s design is highly symbolic as well. The colour scheme is predominantly red and gold, which are considered auspicious colours in Chinese culture. The pillars are decorated with intricate carvings of dragons, which are a symbol of power and good fortune. The temple’s doors are decorated with carvings of peonies, which are a symbol of prosperity and happiness.
Other than having intricate designs, the temple’s layout was carefully planned based on the principles of fengshui, which is an ancient Chinese system of harmonising with the environment. The temple’s main entrance faces east, which is believed to bring good luck and prosperity. The temple’s main hall is located at the back of the temple, which symbolizes the importance of the temple’s spiritual purpose.
Cultural Events and Festivals held in Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple
Throughout the year, the temple hosts various cultural events and festivals that celebrate Chinese culture and traditions. Here are some of the major events and festivals held at Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple:
Chinese New Year
The Chinese New Year is one of the most important festivals in Singapore, and Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is a popular destination for visitors during this time. The temple would be decorated with red lanterns, and visitors can witness lion and dragon dance performances. During this time, the temple is open for 24 hours, and visitors can make offerings to the gods and seek blessings for the coming year.
Vesak Day Vesak Day is a Buddhist holiday that commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of the Buddha. The temple hosts a series of religious activities such as chanting, prayer sessions, and Dharma talks. Visitors can also witness the bathing of the Buddha ceremony, where devotees pour water over a statue of the Buddha to symbolise the purification of the mind.
Mid-Autumn Festival The Mid-Autumn Festival is another popular Chinese festival that celebrates the harvest and the full moon. The temple hosts lantern exhibitions and offers mooncakes to visitors. The highlight of the festival is the nightly lion dance performances and the parade of the moon goddess.
Kwan Im’s Birthday
Kwan Im’s birthday is a major event at Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple as the temple itself is specifically dedicated to the goddess. Thousands of devotees would come to offer their prayers and make offerings to the goddess of mercy. The temple would be decorated with flowers and lights, and visitors can participate in religious activities such as chanting and prayer sessions.
Qing Ming Festival
Also known as Tomb Sweeping Day, the Qing Ming Festival is a time when Chinese families pay respects to their ancestors by cleaning their graves and offering prayers and offerings. Other than chanting and prayer sessions, visitors can also make offerings to their ancestors. This tradition is believed to cultivate kinship values like filial piety, family loyalty, and continuity of the family lineage.
In addition to the major events, Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple also hosts various cultural and educational events throughout the year, including calligraphy and brush painting workshops, Chinese opera performances, and martial arts demonstrations. These events offer visitors a chance to learn more about Chinese culture and traditions and to experience the rich heritage of Singapore’s Chinese community.
How to Get There
Address: 178 Waterloo Street, Singapore 187964
Nearest MRT Stations:
Bencoolen (DT21) about 5 minutes’ walk via Exit A
Bugis (EW12, DT14) about 7 minutes’ walk via Exit C
64, 65 and 139 (Stop 07157, Ibis Singapore @ Bencoolen)
56, 131, 131A, 147, 147A, 166, 857, 857B and 980 (Stop 07158, Opp NAFA Campus 3)
About 2 minutes’ walk from both bus stops
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple is a cultural and spiritual landmark in Singapore, with a rich history, unique architecture, and significant cultural events and festivals. The temple played an important role in preserving and promoting Chinese culture in Singapore, while also welcoming visitors regardless of race or religion.
Fun fact! Did you know that Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple was the first temple in Singapore to provide divination slips (more known as Qian) with English translations for non-Chinese speaking visitors? Many believe that these divination slips given by the temple were highly accurate. Wooden sticks in a cylindrical container are shaken and the sticks that falls out will be used to predict your future. Moreover, it was said that if you made a wish inside the temple, the chances of your wish coming true are high!
Wish to Learn More about Cultural Sites or Explore Singapore?
If you would love to bring your team or classes out for a fun day out to explore Singapore, feel free to check out our Outdoor Learning Journeys, Guided Walks and/or Guided Bus Tours! Do check out our previous articles on the Landmarks Of Singapore blog series as well if you are interested!