If you want to do something different in Singapore, then a visit to Sri Mariamman Temple is a must.
Located in Chinatown, Sri Mariamman Temple is almost as old as the city of Singapore itself.
It’s not only the oldest Hindu temple in the country, but it is also one of the most significant cultural & religious centres of Hindu life.
The temple is dedicated to the Mother Goddess Sri Mariamman, an incarnation of Shiva’s wife Parvati.
Read on to discover important know-before-you-go tips and all those reasons that make a visit to Sri Mariamman Temple a must-do when in Singapore.
Sri Mariamman Temple is a National Monument extremely popular with architecture lovers, Hindu immigrants and visitors to Singapore.
It is built in Dravidian style, reflecting the fact that most of Singapore’s Hindu population are Tamils, originating from South India.
Once inside, visitors have the chance to see priests performing ancient rituals or chanting prayers (puja) and worshippers offering tropical fruits to the temple’s deities.
How many Hindu temples are there in Singapore?
There are around 36 Hindu temples in the country, dedicated to Ganesha, Shiva, Murugan, Vishnu, Muneswarar and other deities.
Who is Sri Mariamman?
Sri Mariamman, the chief deity of the temple, is a South Indian folk goddess enjoying a four-millennia-long history.
She is worshipped by Tamils as the bringer of prosperity and for her power to cure illnesses. Epidemic diseases, like smallpox and cholera, raged in early Singapore’s jungle environment.
What does the name mean?
In Tamil, the word Mari means “rain” and Amman, “mother”.
The magnificent gopuram of Sri Mariamman Temple
The temple’s grand tower entrance, is the most notable feature of Sri Mariamman Temple. The gopuram, as it is called, is a distinctive feature of Dravidian-style temples, in South India.
But what exactly is a gopuram?
A gopuram is an entrance to a Hindu temple. It’s a pyramid-shaped tower pointing towards the sky. It is divided into tiers; each one is decorated with intricately carved sculptures. The scale of each level is slightly smaller than the one beneath it. This technique creates the illusion of height, making the tower look taller than it really is.
A beacon for pilgrims & visitors
The gopuram of Sri Mariamman Temple is widely recognised in Singapore’s Chinatown. Its great height acts as a beacon for worshippers allowing them to offer prayers or meditate before entering the temple.
This elaborate structure is decorated with sculptures of Hindu deities, ornamental carvings, mythological beasts and other cultural figures. They are all made of plaster, crafted by skilled artisans from South India.
The gopuram is flanked by the statues of two significant Tamil deities, Murugan on the right and Krishna on the left. The former is the patron deity of Tamils and the Hindu god of war. On the other hand, Krishna is the god of compassion, tenderness and love.
Colours in Hinduism
Colours hold great significance in Hinduism and deities are always portrayed in colours that signify their qualities. For example, Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, is often associated with red, reflecting the blossoming of youth and indicating sensuality and purity.
The gigantic temple doors
Beneath the gopuram, there are two imposing timber doors. Their scale emphasises on the insignificance of human nature compared to the divine.
You will also notice strings of bananas and fresh mangoes hanging above the temple doors. They are a symbol of prosperity and happiness.
Tip: Don’t forget to ring the bells for good luck!
Inside the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore
Sri Mariamman Temple’s colourful interior is a feast for the eyes; shrines with majestic domes, statues of deities and paintings depicting folklore scenes.
In the old days, before people had electricity, the rising sun would light up the whole temple. That’s the reason the shrine of Sri Mariamman faces the entrance to the east.
Apart from the gopuram, Hindu temples consist of the mandapa and the vimana(s).
The Mandapa – full of energy & colours
The main prayer hall of the temple is where devotees and priests take part in sensual, antique rituals.
Each day, they hand-pick offerings for the gods; neem leaves & mangoes as a sign of purity and bananas, a symbol of abundance. Before each major festival, a flag is raised in the temple’s mandapa announcing the preparations.
A walkway ornamented with colourful frescoes on the ceiling connects the gopuram to the main shrines with Lord Ganesha and Goddess Saraswati prominently displayed.
As if the walkway isn’t impressive enough, a series of square columns decorated with sculptures of deities surround it. The three manifestations of the supreme god could not be missing from a Hindu temple; Brahma the creator, Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the destroyer.
Within the temple compound, worshippers only walk in a clockwise direction. They also need to walk around the temple an odd number of times for good luck.
The enigmatic Vimana
In the main prayer hall, there are shrines capped with decorated onion-shaped domes. Those are referred to as vimana.
Below the central vimana, is the shrine of Mariamman. Essentially, worshippers «purify» themselves with water before offering their prayers to the central figure of the temple.
There are several other vinama inside the temple. Visitors can find one dedicated to Ganesha, The Remover of Obstacles. Another one is of Aravan, always worshipped in the form of his severed head. He sacrificed himself in one of the great battles of the Mahabharata war.
Did you know?
Cows are animals sacred to Hindus. As a matter of fact, the compound is encircled by a boundary wall lined with sculptures of cows.
Tips for visiting Sri Mariamman Temple
Even if you don’t have to follow Tamil traditions, you will far more enjoy your visit if you:
- purify yourself before entering the temple; wash your hands and sprinkle water on your head.
- ring the bells at the entrance to alert the gods of your visit. Make a wish as you do so and it might come true!
- look for the enclosure where worshippers break coconuts as a symbol of breaking their own egos. Try it!
- once inside the temple walk in a clockwise direction and encircle it an odd number of times.
- do not sit with your feet pointing towards the Deities, the priests or other persons.
- abstain from smoking, drinking alcohol and showing extreme demonstrations of affection.
- most importantly, as in any place of worship, treat the priests with respect and refrain from being loud.
Sri Mariamman Temple Dress Code
Take off your footwear and store it near the entrance. You need to also dress conservatively, covering up your shoulders and legs. Hopefully, the temple provides shawls and wraps.
What is the best time to visit Sri Mariamman Temple?
Consider visiting either early in the morning or after the sun sets. During midday, the temple is swarming with tourists. Besides, don’t forget that you will be walking around without shoes; on sunny days the floor literally burns like a fire pit.
Is Sri Mariamman Temple worth visiting?
Paradoxically built in the heart of Chinatown (even if Singapore has its own Little India distinct), Sri Mariamman Temple is fully in line with the country’s multicultural atmosphere.
The fabulously animated gopuram covered in kitsch plasterwork, the ornate detailing of the sculptures gracing the inner compound and the colourful domes of the shrines make Sri Mariamman Temple a sight to behold.
A true taste of Tamil traditions and original Hindu culture and a rare glimpse into the impressive Dravidian architecture, Sri Mariamman Temple is certainly worth a visit.
The mysterious firewalking festival of Thimithi
If you visit Singapore between mid-October and mid-November, don’t miss the chance to see one of the most captivating festivals. Thimithi, is an annual firewalking ceremony celebrated a week before Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights.
It is dedicated to Draupati Amman, a goddess believed to be an incarnation of Mariamman, who had to walk barefoot over hot coals to prove her innocence. During the event, devotees walk over fire pits; only those who are truly devoted to the goddess will make it to the other side unscathed.
Did you know?
Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore has been hosting Thimithi since 1840. The shrine devoted to Draupati is the second most important in the temple.
Thimithi 2022 Date: 16 October
Thimithi 2023 Date: TBA
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, Sri Mariamman Temple has a dress code and there are certain things to know before entering. Read everything you need to know before visiting here.
Sri Mariamman Temple is free. However, to take photos you need to buy a pass that costs S$3 (or S$6 for videos). See what it looks like inside the temple.
As of December 2022, the temple is open from 06:00 to 12:00 and 18:00 to 21:00. However, you might be allowed to enter outside operating hours; make sure to ask. Read more temple rules here.
The Thimithi is celebrated a week before Deepavali, the festival of lights. If you visit between October to November there is a great chance you can witness the festival. Learn more about the mysterious festival here.
The best time to visit the temple is either early morning or after the sun sets. Learn why here.
The temple is located in Chinatown. Use the following public transport:
Bus: 143, 174, 197, 655, 80
Metro: Downtown Line, East West Line, North East Line
Sri Mariamman Temple was founded in 1827 by Naraina Pillai. More about the history of the temple here.
The temple features cows, the sacred animal of the Hindus and lions. See more photos of the temple here.
History of Sri Mariamman Temple
The temple’s history closely relates to Mr Naraina Pillai, an Indian merchant who worked for the East India Company. He was one of the first Tamils to visit the island, accompanying Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore.
“Do not live in a place where there are no temples”, an ancient Indian apophthegm cautions. Taking the advice of his forefathers into consideration, one of the first things Naraina Pillai did was to establish a temple.
In 1823, the site on South Bridge Road was granted and a simple palm temple was erected.
In 1827, a Murthi (image) of Sinna Amman (a representation of the goddess Mariamman) was installed. The same statue can be found today in front of the principal shrine.
Sxiteen years later, in 1843, Sri Mariamman Temple was reinforced with brick. As a matter of fact, the oldest parts of today’s temple go back to that date. The original gopuram had only three tiers whereas the present six-tiered tower was added later.
Did you know?
According to Hindu tradition, temples are renovated every 12 years in a ceremony known as Kumbhabhishekham. The temple’s first recorded such ceremony took place in 1936. During the last Kumbhabhishekham, in 2010, twenty artisans from Tamil Nadu restored the sculptures to their original vivid hues.
More than a Hindu place of worship
From the beginning Sri Mariamman Temple was not only a religious place but also a beacon of the whole Hindu community in Singapore.
The temple provided shelter to new settlers until they moved on to their permanent home and found work. On top of that, it functioned as a social place, where traditional ceremonies, like weddings, and cultural events were held. As a matter of fact, it still does.
Beyond doubt, Sri Mariamman Temple adds an additional layer of culture and history not only to Chinatown but to the whole city itself. It’s not only the biggest and oldest Hindu temple in Singapore but also holds a pivotal role in local life.
A dedicated supporting community
Quite incredibly, the community supporting the temple is not only composed of Tamils but of people from different backgrounds. For example, the 25.000 lemons needed for the annual firewalking festival are supplied for the past 30 years by a Chinese family, free of charge.
It’s a two-week event, so if we run out of lemons, she would bring more baskets without fail. And I’m so amazed. This is the kind of link that family has.
How can you contribute to Sri Mariamman Temple?
The temple welcomes both donations and volunteering. You may contact the temple directly for more information.
Facts about Sri Mariamman Temple
|Built: 1827||Founder: Naraina Pillai|
|Type: Religious Site||Function: Hindu Temple|
|Architecture: Dravidian Style||Festivals: Thimithi|
|Country: Singapore||Address: 244 South Bridge Road|
|Cost: Free||Great for: Culture Enthusiasts|
|Official Website: smt.org.sg||Recommended Time: 1 to 2 hours|
Interested in Hinduism? Try reading some of the following books:
- Ramayana – a modern retelling of the Sanskrit verse epic written 2,000 years ago
- Mahabharata – a short version of the Sanskrit epic of ancient India
- An Introduction to Hinduism – a thematic and historical introduction to Hinduism
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