Memos from Asia

The Beautiful Religious Monuments that Paint Singapore’s Multicultural Landscape

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One of the first things you will notice when travelling to Singapore is the diversity of its citizens. On this small island-city, a congregation of different ethnic, cultural and religious groups is coexisting in peace and harmony.

Religious diversity is the backbone of Singaporean culture. Mosques, Churches, Temples and Synagogues border each other on every street with a myriad of colours and designs. Built by the island’s early settlers these monuments excite and paint the backdrop of Singapore’s beautiful and aspiring multiculturalism. Touring these magnificent places of worship is so important for both locals and visitors in understanding Singapore’s rich history and culture. Besides also appreciating the many architectural styles and artists which have painted Singapore’s cityscape.

Amidst the skyscrapers and new ecological towers, the route of Singaporean diversity is monumented across the island with beautiful religious buildings located side-by-side. As you walk towards Singapore’s iconic Chinatown you will pass different houses of worship all along the same street – the Masjid Jamae Mosque, the Sri Mariamman Temple and the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Chinatown is testimony to the diversity of Singapore as its streets are lined with several religious monuments which all contribute to the beating heart of Singaporean culture.

Sultan Mosque in Malay Kampong Glam at Night Aerial View

Masjid Jamae Mosque

Built around 1826, the Jamae Mosque is testament to the large community of Tamil Muslim in Singapore. This stunning Mosque has become famous due to its eccentric architecture and appeared on many of Singapore’s early postcards from the 19th century. Although the entrance hall resembles much of its South Indian routes, the two prayer halls are influenced by a Neo-Classical style. It’s a beautiful blend of architectural expression and traditional design.

Not only does the Mosque hold religious activities, prayers and sermons but it also coins itself as a centre for religious education. It holds seminars and discussion on religion and social thoughts for both Muslims and Non-Muslims. Here a place of worship is encouraging engagement from the local community to come and learn more about the cultural and religious heritage of their neighbours and fellow citizens. This is testimony to Singapore’s inclusivity as it strives to create a more understanding and harmonious society.

Masjid Jamae (Chulia) or Jamae (Chulia) Mosque is one of the earliest mosques in Singapore

Sri Mariamman Temple

As the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore, Sri Mariamman Temple acts as a centrepiece for the Hindu community. Built in 1827, the entrance of the temple gopuram was constructed in a Dravidian style with bright colours depicting Hindu gods and mythological figures. Gopurams which originate from Southern India have a unique type of architecture – as the tiers grow higher they continue to get shorter in length than the previous tier, giving the tower this elegant added illusion.

The Hindu temple is dedicated to Goddess Mariamman, one of the principal goddesses of the people from Tamil Nadu. She is known for her powers of rainmaking and in curing illnesses and diseases. Following the main prayer hall, there are several smaller rooms with shrines honouring various Hindu gods.

Fragment of decoration in Sri Mariamman Temple in Singapore. It is an old Hindu temple

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

Probably the most famous religious monument in Singapore is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Completed in 2007, it’s the newest addition to Singapore’s religious monuments. The building which was beautifully designed to reflect Singapore’s Chinese heritage and traditions follows the Tang Dynasty style of Buddhist architecture originating from Northern China.

Given from its name the temple preserves Lord Buddha’s tooth inside in a huge stupa. The room that houses the tooth is sensationally striking and elegant with numerous portrayals of Buddha, lamps and gold decorations. Alongside the temple itself, there is a Buddhist Culture Museum, the Sacred Light Hall and Eminent Sangha Museums which are all worth visiting in order for you to learn more about this beautiful religion. In addition, there is a roof garden with a prayer wheel which radiates spirituality and the essence of the temple.

Singapore has been coined the most religiously diverse nation with 10 officially recognised faiths by a 2014 study (Source link: https://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/). According to the 2015 General Household Survey, the city embraces Buddhism (33.2%), Christianity (18.7%), Islam (14.0%), Taoism (10.0%) and Hinduism (5.0%) (Source link: https://www.singstat.gov.sg/publications/publications-and-papers/GHS/ghs2015content). Early education in Singapore encourages children to participate and learn about each other’s religions – their practices and customs. Many participate in outreach programmes and attend events at local Churches, Mosques, Temples etc.

When festivals such as Deepavali, Hari Raya, Christmas, etc come around everyone participates and looks forward to embracing and celebrating together regardless of background. If you are lucky enough to visit during one of these festivals make sure to get involved and celebrate amongst the locals – ask questions and savour the cultural spirit.

Armenian Church

As the oldest Christian church in Singapore, this house of worship acts as a tribute to the once-influential Armenian community of Singapore. Dating back to the 1830s the Armenian community contributed to the rise of Singapore’s society as lawyers, merchants and entrepreneurs. Adjacent to the Church is an Armenian Cultural & Heritage Centre where you can learn more about their contribution to Singapore’s society – it’s the first of its kind in Asia.

Located near Fort Canning Park it was designed by Irish architect, George D. Coleman who created and constructed much of Singapore’s early civil infrastructure. Considered as one of his masterpieces, this peaceful and elegant place of worship acts as a moment in time for locals. A place where anyone of any background can go to reconnect and take a moment away from the engulfing city in a spiritual solace.

The Armenian Church, dedicated to St Gregory the Illuminator, is the oldest church in Singapore

Masjid Sultan

Without question one of the most spectacular and beautiful religious monuments in Singapore is the Sultan’s Mosque. Its stunning golden tower rises and reflects the sunlight off of the dome as it grasps the spirit and essence of the Mosque’s presence. The current building was completed in 1932 distinctive of the Indo-Saracenic style – a British Indian style that incorporates traditional Persian, Moorish and Turkish characters.

If you look closely at the two golden domes you will see they are decorated with the ends of glass bottles. This is because when the Mosque was first built poor Muslims donated these glass bottles to signify that this Mosque belonged to all and not just the rich. This little detail shows the importance of designing a place where all members of the Muslim community contributed to its making and therefore, feel that it belongs to them.

Amazing view of Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque) at Muscat Street. Muslim quarter (Arab quarter) at the Kampong Glam is a popular tourist destination of Asia.

Singapore’s religious heritage makes and shapes the Singapore we see today. This island-city has witnessed a peaceful blend of ancient religions facing its modern cityscape. With 27 different religious monuments to visit, Singapore is unique in allowing visitors to come and educate themselves, witness, and participate in a splendour of diverse religions. The beautiful architecture, open-minded people and a variety of cultures are what makes visiting this city truly different and exciting. Visit these national monuments in order to understand Singapore’s long and interesting history and culture. Here you can understand how it doesn’t take much to learn from one another, celebrate each other and value our differences in order to create a flourishing society.

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