This structure—the Temple of Heavenly Happiness—was completed in 1842 to replace a simple shrine built 20 years earlier. It's one of Singapore's oldest and largest Chinese temples, built on the spot where, prior to land reclamation, immigrants stepped ashore after a hazardous journey across the China Sea. In gratitude for their safe passage, the Hokkien people dedicated the temple to Ma Chu P'oh, the goddess of the sea. It's richly decorated with gilded carvings, sculptures,
tile roofs topped with dragons, and fine carved-stone pillars. On either side of the entrance are two stone lions. The one on the left is female and holds a cup symbolizing fertility; the other, a male, holds a ball, a symbol of wealth. If the temple is open, note that as you enter, you must step over a high threshold board. This serves a dual function. First, it forces devotees to look downward, as they should when entering the temple. Second, it keeps out wandering ghosts—ghosts tend to shuffle their feet, so if they try to enter, the threshold board will trip them.
Inside, a statue of a maternal Ma Chu P'oh surrounded by masses of burning incense and candles dominates the room. On either side of her are the deities of health (on your left) and wealth. The two tall figures you'll notice are her sentinels: one can see for 1,000 miles; the other can hear for 1,000 miles. The gluey black substance on their lips—placed there by devotees in days past—is opium, meant to heighten their senses. Although the main temple is Taoist, the temple at the back is Buddhist and dedicated to Kuan Yin, the goddess of mercy. Her many arms represent how she reaches out to all those who suffer on earth.
Sep 14, 2008
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