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Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple: A Rich Legacy of Hinduism in Singapore

Singapore is a multicultural country, and its diverse heritage is reflected in the numerous religious sites dotted across the island. One such iconic site is the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple, located in the heart of Chinatown. Established in 1827, it is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, and its history is intertwined with the city-state's development.

Sri Mariamman Temple
Photo Credit: Jens Lambert Photography

The History of Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple

The temple's construction was initiated by Naraina Pillai, an Indian businessman who arrived in Singapore in 1819. He settled in Chinatown and worked as a clerk for Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore. Pillai was a devout Hindu, and he felt the need to establish a temple for the growing Indian community in the city.

The East India Company’s original allotment of land for a Hindu Temple was along Telok Ayer Street. However, as it had no convenient source of fresh water needed for rituals, Colonel William Farquhar (appointed the first British Resident and Commandant of Singapore, from 1819-1823), allowed Mr Pillai to occupy an alternative plot near what is today’s Stamford Canal in 1821. Due to changes in colonial town planning, the Stamford Canal site was not made available. The South Bridge site where the temple currently stands (in the Chinatown area) was finally granted to Mr Pillai in 1823.

He purchased the plot of land on South Bridge Road and began constructing the Sri Mariamman Temple in 1823. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, who is believed to protect against diseases and epidemics. The temple's architecture is a blend of South Indian and Chinese styles, reflecting the cultural diversity of Singapore's early settlers.

Statue of Goddess Mariammam
Photo Credit: Miles with Vibes

The temple was completed in 1827, and it became a spiritual center for the Indian community. It also served as a social hub, where people could gather for festivals, weddings, and other celebrations. The temple played a significant role in promoting Indian culture and identity in Singapore and helped to strengthen the bonds between the Indian and Chinese communities. Over the years, the temple underwent several renovations and expansions to accommodate the growing number of devotees. In 2010, the temple underwent a major renovation, which included the restoration of its intricate sculptures and carvings. Today, the Sri Mariamman Temple stands as a testament to Singapore's rich cultural heritage and continues to attract visitors from all over the world.

Sri Mariamman Temple
Photo Credit: Visit Singapore

Who Built Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple?

Naraina Pillai was a social entrepreneur and businessman, who spent most of his life in Singapore during the colonial period. Prior to 1819, Pillay worked in Penang, which was ruled by the British. There, he came into contact with Sir Stamford Raffles, a senior official of the British East India Company, who was keen to establish a new trading post at the southern end of the Straits of Malacca. When Sir Stamford Raffles founded the modern Singapore, he went back to Penang to persuade Pillai to join him and work at his new settlement.

Statue of Naraina Pillai
Photo Credit: Alamy

Other than building the oldest temple in Singapore, Naraina Pillai also built the first brick kiln after seeing noting the quick rate at which houses were being built. He reached out to his friends in Penang to send for bricklayers, carpenters and cloth merchants. Hence, he started Singapore’s first brick company and became the first Indian building contractor in Singapore.

The Architecture and Design of Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple

The Sri Mariamman Temple is renowned for its unique architecture, which combines traditional South Indian and Southeast Asian styles. The temple's design features intricate carvings, colourful sculptures, and ornate details that make it a masterpiece of Hindu architecture.

The temple's main entrance, or gopuram, is a towering structure that is over six stories tall. The gopuram is adorned with elaborate carvings of Hindu deities, mythical creatures, and scenes from Hindu epics. The gopuram serves as a gateway to the temple and symbolizes the transition from the material world to the spiritual realm.

Sri Mariammam Temple
Photo Credit:

Inside the temple, there is a central courtyard surrounded by smaller shrines dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. The main shrine, which is dedicated to the goddess Mariamman, is located at the rear of the temple. The shrine features a colourful statue of Mariamman, which is adorned with flowers, jewels, and other offerings from devotees.

One of the most striking features of the Sri Mariamman Temple is its roof, which is covered in colourful tiles that depict scenes from Hindu mythology. The roof also features ornate carvings of dragons and other mythical creatures, which symbolize power and protection.

Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
Photo Credit: Dreamstime

The temple's design is full of symbolism and meaning. The use of bright colours and intricate details is meant to inspire devotion and reverence in worshippers. The temple's many carvings and sculptures serve as reminders of the Hindu gods and goddesses and their role in the universe. The temple's design is also intended to represent the cosmos, with the central courtyard symbolizing the earth and the gopuram representing the heavens.

Overall, the Sri Mariamman Temple is a stunning example of Hindu architecture and design. Its unique blend of South Indian and Southeast Asian styles, intricate carvings, and colourful details make it a must-see attraction for anyone interested in architecture and culture. The temple's symbolism and meaning also make it a fascinating and enlightening destination for those seeking a deeper understanding of Hinduism and its place in Singapore's multicultural society.

The Legacy and Current Activities of Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple

The Sri Mariamman Temple has played a vital role in promoting Hinduism and Indian culture in Singapore. It has also contributed to the city-state's economic and social development. The temple has a rich legacy, and its cultural significance has been recognized by the Singapore government, which designated it as a national monument in 1973.

The temple is a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can explore its vibrant architecture, intricate sculptures, and colourful murals. The temple's main deity is Mariamman, but it also houses shrines dedicated to other Hindu gods and goddesses, such as Ganesha and Murugan.

Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
Photo Credit: hulya-erkisi

The Sri Mariamman Temple is not only a religious centre for Hindus but also a cultural hub in Singapore. The temple hosts numerous events and festivals throughout the year, which are open to visitors of all religions and backgrounds.

One of the most significant festivals celebrated at the Sri Mariamman Temple is Thimithi, also known as the Firewalking Festival. Thimithi is a Hindu festival that is observed in honour of the goddess Draupadi. During the festival, devotees walk barefoot over hot coals to demonstrate their devotion to the goddess and seek her blessings. The festival is a popular tourist attraction and draws crowds from all over the world.

Thimiti in Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
Photo Credit: Hindu Endowments Board Facebook

Other festivals celebrated at the temple include Navaratri, which is a nine-day festival that celebrates the triumph of good over evil. During Navaratri, the temple is decorated with colourful lights and flowers, and devotees gather to offer prayers and perform cultural dances.

Navaratri in Sri Mariamman Temple
Photo Credit: The Mercantile

Apart from festivals, the Sri Mariamman Temple also hosts cultural events such as dance performances, music concerts, and yoga classes. These events showcase the rich cultural heritage of India and help to promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.

The Sri Mariamman Temple has played a significant role in shaping the multicultural landscape of Singapore. The temple is not only a place of worship for Hindus but also a symbol of Singapore's multiculturalism. The temple's architecture, which blends traditional Indian and Southeast Asian styles, reflects the cultural diversity of Singapore.

Moreover, the temple's cultural events and festivals provide a platform for different communities to come together and celebrate their shared heritage. The Sri Mariamman Temple has become a symbol of unity and a beacon of multiculturalism in Singapore, reflecting the country's commitment to promoting racial and religious harmony.

In conclusion, the Sri Mariamman Temple is not only a religious centre but also a cultural hub in Singapore. The temple's festivals and cultural events showcase the rich cultural heritage of India and promote cross-cultural understanding and appreciation. The temple's influence on Singapore's multicultural landscape cannot be overstated, and it continues to play a vital role in promoting racial and religious harmony in the country.

Where is Sri Mariamman & how to get there?

Route from Chinatown MRT to Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple
Photo Credit: Google Maps

If you plan to visit the Sri Mariamman Temple, here is some practical information. The temple is located at 244 South Bridge Road, in the heart of Chinatown. The nearest MRT station is Chinatown (NE4), which is a 5-minute walk away. Alternatively, you can take buses 2, 12, 33, 51, 54, 61, 63, 80, 124, 143, 145, 166, and 197, and alight at Stop 05189 (Opp Sri Mariamman Tp).

The temple is open daily from 7:00 am to 12:00 pm and 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm. Entry to the temple is free, but visitors are expected to dress modestly and remove their shoes before entering the main hall. It is also advisable to avoid visiting during prayer times, as the temple can get crowded. Overall, a visit to the Sri Mariamman Temple is a must-do for anyone interested in exploring Singapore's multicultural heritage.

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!

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