Thursday, January 15, 2009

Sights of Singapore 1 - Waterloo Street (Kwan Im Tong Hood Cho Temple)

With Lunar New Year just around the corner and it happened to be 十五* last Saturday, we went to pray at Kwan Im Tong Hood Cho Temple to thank Guan Yin (Chinese term for Godess of Mercy or Bodhisattva) for her blessing of the past year and for a better year ahead.

*Translated to Fifteen in Chinese Characters – which refers to day fifteen of the lunar month. It is special day to Chinese because the moon is full on that day and many would make offerings to Gods.

Located at Waterloo Street, or better known as Si Ma Lu (四马路),the iconic temple had been a popular worship place for Buddihists and Taoists. It was first built in 1884 and had been rebuilt, but retaining its original architecture and craftmanship, twice in 1895 and 1982. It was named as one of Singapore's historical sites in 2001.

I have always thought the temple was kind of magical. I heard stories from my grandmother that the Japanese war plane dropped a bomb and hit the temple during the Second World War. Amazingly, the bomb did not go off. Many thought it was Guan Yin Goddess who sheltered the bomb and prevent it from blasting the temple.

As it was"十五", the temple was rather packed with a lot of worshipers.

Next to the Kuan Im Tong was the Indian temple - Sri Krishnan Temple. Actually, there is also a church in the area as well. Singapore is one of the few places in the world where different religions and worship places can co-exist at ease.

Most interestingly, people do not just tolerate each other's religions, most of us understand each other's culture and sometimes like the above, the religion catered to “different set of believers” as well. Sri Krishnan temple has got a incense burner outside for people who is on the way to pray at Kwan Im temple to also seek blessing from the Hindu Gods! I believe this is uniquely Singapore. As you can see, there are many worshippers .

At the side, there is a sandalwood incense burner for those who wanted to pray through Hindu rituals. One just have to fan the fumes towards themselves and the auspicious fumes will somewhat expel the bad aura surrounding you. I did that then and immediately felt better already!

Even foreigners know how to pray Hindu style.

Do not underestimate the miniature economy that both temples generate. In the photo above, you can see there are many vendors selling lotus and chrysanthemum flowers which were traditionally used for prayers. In addition to that, they also sell incenses on the side for people who wanted to donate them to the temple. However, as there were many such donations and that the temple usually provides free incense too. There has more than enough incense for all to use.

It is very similar to Erawan shrine in Bangkok where there are many flowers vendors too who sell incenses and candle on the side.

Though there are many vendors, the business can be quite brisk for all as there are many worshippers per day. Just for info, one bouquet such flowers cost $4 dollars...

See, this is how lotus looked like before they bloom. They are huge! Lotus is actually the sacred flowers for both Hindu and Buddhism cultur. They are well-liked as they symbolised purity. They usually grow in muddy ground in a pond, but the leaf and flower grow above water and looked clean, thus purity. Btw, the big lotus leaf can be used for cooking as well.

Anyway, the above lotus cannot be used for prayers yet. They need to under go some processes. See picture below.

They have to be trim to the correct size. Because most of them have not bloom yet, the flowers vendor would have to "pry" the flower open and fold the outer layer of petals into special pattern like below.

I thought with the fold and everything makes the lotus looked nicer!

They comes in three colours. The violet-pink ones, the white one and the shocking red colour. I always wondered if the red ones were actually white ones sprayed with paint, thus the unnatural red colour. Btw, the yellow colour flowers are chrysanthemum. They smell nice, but I like them better in tea.

Another special popular business around the area is fortune telling specialised in interpreting divination. Kwan Yin temple is famous for providing wooden divination lots or called "qian" which devotees can used to seek for God's opinion on certain matters or future.

Because the lots are written in poems of ancient tales, they need some intepretation into modern language before one can understand what "God" is trying to advice you. Non-believer might be skeptical about this, but I sometimes would do it. So far, I have not been misled and the divination has been quite true.

This stall is unattended. The Chinese character says interpret divination as fate, palm and face reading.

Another popular icon of Waterloo street is the Laughing Buddha! It was said that one will be blessed with different things by touching different parts of the Buddha. One will get longevitiy by touching the ears, good fortune will follows by touching the belly etc.

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