Pulau Ubin in the merry month of May

25 07 2021

One of the places in Singapore in which the memories of old are still alive is Pulau Ubin. It is where many in Singapore now find an escape from the staid and maddeningly overcrowded world in which Singaporeans have been made to call home.

Pulau Ubin — at least pre-Covid — comes alive every May, when the Fo Shan Teng Tua Pek Kong Temple honours its main deity Tua Pek Kong, around the time of the Buddhist Vesak Day holiday (which has little to do with the local Taoist deity). The manner in which the festival is celebrated, harks back to the days of village life, with the Ubin’s rural settings certainly lending itself to providing the correct atmosphere.

No village temple festival would of course be complete without a Chinese opera performance. Held to entertain the visiting deity more than the crowd, these performances would in the past draw large crowds and be accompanied by a a variety of night-market-like stalls offering anything from food, desserts, drink, masks and toys, and the tikam-tikam man. While the stalls are missing in the modern-day interpretations of village festivals, Chinese opera performances and these days, getai, are still held at selected temples during their main festivals over the course of several days. Such is the case with the festival on Pulau Ubin, which is commemorated with as much gusto as would village festivals of the past, even if it involves a largely non-resident population. What does complete the picture on Pulau Ubin, is its permanent free-standing Chinese opera stage — just one of three left in Singapore — on which both Chinese opera and getai performances are held.


Photographs taken during the Fo Shan Teng Tua Pek Kong Temple’s Tua Pek Kong festival in May 2014





An Abundant Celebration

14 01 2021

2020 could be thought of having been a lean year. Much of the year was dominated by the global COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout as a result of it. As we move towards the halfway point in the first month of the new year, there is renewed hope. It is perhaps apt that the first cultural festival that we celebrate in 2021, the Tamil harvest festival of Pongal, is all about celebrating abundance.

The Tamil harvest festival of Pongal brings life and colour to Singapore’s Little India.

One thing that Pongal brings to Singapore and in particular to the streets of Singapore’s Little India is great colour. Even if the situation on the ground does seem much less subdued, this seems to also be the case this year. A walk around Campbell Lane, Clive Street and Dunlop Street last evening — the eve of the festival, the colourful displays of festival essentials such as decorated clay pongal pots, floral garlands, stalks of sugarcane, de-husked coconuts and fresh produce, could be seen. The festival, which heralds the arrival of the Tamil month of Thai is celebrated over a four day period in mid-January. The first day of Thai, the festival day proper, falls on 14 January this year.


Sights and sounds of Pongal on the streets of Little India





Thaipusam 2020

9 02 2020

Photographs of Thaipusam, taken in and around the Sri Srinvasa Perumal Temple. The colourful annual festival, celebrated by the South Indian Hindu community, sees a procession of kavadis carried along a 4 kilometre route from the Sri Srinvasa Temple on Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple (Chettiars Temple) on Tank Road.



Posts related to past celebrations of Thaipusam in Singapore:





Preparing for the harvest festival

12 01 2020

One of the great joys of living in multi-ethnic and multi-religious Singapore, is the array of festivals wonderful festivals that bring life and colour to the streets. Just as Chinatown prepares to welcome the Chinese New Year this January, we see Little India come to life for the Tamil harvest festival Pongal. Besides the annual light-ups, the two ethnic precincts also feature crowded street bazaars with the festival essentials on offer.

In Little India, the Pongal is especially colourful with displays of pongal clay pots, produce representing the harvest such as sugarcane – adding much flavour the area around Campbell Lane – where the street bazaar is set up in the days leading up to the festival. There is also a chance to see livestock in the form of cattle and goats, which are brought in for the celebrations each year.

The celebration of the festival proper, begins with the eve – the last day of the Tamil month of Margazhi, which falls on 14 January of the western calendar and carries on for three more days. A description of the festival is  provided by Mr Manohar Pillai in a post on the Facebook Group “On a Little Street in Singapore“:

Pongal is the biggest and most important festival for the Tamilians, since ancient times and transcends all religious barriers since it signifies thanks giving to nature and domestic animals. Cattle, cows, goats, chickens are integral part of a farmer in India. It is celebrated for three days in Tamilnadu starting from 15th to 17th January. Vegetarian food will be served only in Hindu households. Thanksgiving prayers will be offered to the Sun, Earth, Wind, Fire, Water and Ether, without these life cannot be sustained on Mother Earth. The celebrations comes on close to the harvest season which just ended and Jan 15 is the beginning of the new Tamil calendar.

Clay Pots are used to cook flavoured rice with traditional fire wood in the open air and facing the early morning Eastern Sun. The Sun’s early morning rays are supposedly to bring benevolence to the household. The cooked rice is distributed to all the members of the household and with it the festivities begins. Everyone wears new clothes and very old and useless clothes are burnt the previous night.

The next day the farmer turns his attention to the animals especially the Cattle and Cows.

The third day all people celebrate it with gaiety and grandly.

More on the festival and how it is celebrated in Little India can be found in these posts:


More photographs taken this year:


 





Rats, on the streets of Singapore!

10 01 2020

The arrival of spring, celebrated as the Chinese New Year, brings colour to the streets of Singapore’s Chinatown. Marked these days by a street light up, the anticipation of the festival also sees a host of events and activities as well as the crowd pulling Chinatown Chinese New Year Street Bazaar offering new year delicacies and must-haves, and an invasion of rats this year for the Year of the Rat.

Trengganu Street last weekend.

Anticipating the arrival of spring in Chinatown.

Rats have invaded for the Year of the Rat.

 


Heritage & Food Trail

Always a hit, the nightly stage shows run from 8 to 10.30 pm from 4 to 24 January 2020 at Kreta Ayer Square, opened each night with a lion dance performance. Another well received activity is the Heritage & Food Trail, which takes participants on a historical and cultural tour through the streets of Chinatown, culminating with a feast of Cantonese delights at Singapore’s largest hawker centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Tickets for the trail, which run on 11, 12, 18 and 19 January, can be purchased at Kreta Ayer  Community Club at $15/- per participant or online (with a 10% discount) at:

11 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail11012020

12 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail12012020

18 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail18012020

19 Jan : https://go.gov.sg/heritagefoodtrail19012020

Food, glorious Cantonese food from some of the 200 food stalls in Chinatown Complex Food Centre.

Yes 933 deejays on the heritage and food trail.

Mural hunting during the heritage and food trial.

The “disneyfication” of Chinatown is complete.


A Walk through Temple Street

Photos of the always Colourful Street Bazaar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





Bearing a burden through the streets of Singapore

22 01 2019

Chetty (or Punar) Pusam / Thaipusam

With a greater proportion of folks in Chinatown preoccupied its dressing-up for the Chinese New Year on Sunday, a deeply-rooted Singaporean tradition that took place in the same neighbourhood, “Chetty Pusam”, seemed to have gone on almost unnoticed.

Involving the Chettiar community, “Chetty Pusam” is held as a prelude to the Hindu festival of Thaipusam. It sees an especially colourful procession of Chettiar kavidi bearers who carry the burden from the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple on Keong Saik Road through some streets of Chinatown to the Sri Mariamman Temple and then the Central Business District before ending at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road.

The procession coincides with the return leg of the Silver Chariot‘s journey. The chariot, bears Lord Murugan or Sri Thendayuthapani (in whose honour the festival of Thaipusam is held) to visit his brother Sri Vinayagar (or Ganesh) in the early morning of the eve of Thaipusam and makes its return in the same evening.


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More Photographs of Thaipusam in Singapore:






Pilgrimage to an isle of legends

11 10 2018

The southern isles of Singapore are steeped in myths, legends and traditions. While most seem to lie buried in the sands that have expanded them, one that lives on is the pilgrimage to Pulau Tembakul – Kusu Island – that some accounts have as going back over two centuries to 1813.

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Kusu during a pilgrimage season of the past – crossing the causeway at low tide. (photo: National Museum of Singapore on Facebook).

The annual event draws a steady stream of Taoist devotees. Although the numbers may have fallen from the highs of the 1960s and 1970s, thousands still make the short passage by sea every ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar (which began on 9 October this year) to seek favour and blessings at the island’s holy sites. The sites are a temple dedicated to the popular Taoist deity Tua Pek Kong, and three keramat-keramat, which in this case are the supposed graves of (Muslim) holy persons who are venerated. This practice has its roots in Sufism and is discouraged by mainstream Islam and has over the years found a following amongst the Chinese.

A devotee making her way to Kusu in 1971 (source: The Aged In Singapore: Veneration Collides With The 20th Century, Nada Skerly Arnold, 1971).

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Two of the island’s three keramat-keramat (found at the top of 152 steps).

Perhaps the most popular of the island’s legends is one tied very much to the name Kusu. The island, which in its pre-reclamation days actually resembled a tortoise at high tide; its head, the outcrop on which the temple was built, and its body, the mound to which the head was linked by a natural causeway at low tide at the top of which the keramat-keramat are found. This legend, which also provides a basis for the pilgrimage, has it that a tortoise (or more correctly a turtle) had rescued two fishermen from drowning by turning itself into the island.  There are several more legends that provide an explanation for the origins of the pilgrimage, the keramat-keramat and the personalities that they are associated with – all of which are unverified (see: Kusu Island – on Infopedia).

Another perspective of the island: The tortoise in the early light of day

An old postcard showing Kusu Island before reclamation.

The Tua Pek Kong temple on the ‘head’ of the tortoise (source: The Aged In Singapore: Veneration Collides With The 20th Century, Nada Skerly Arnold, 1971).

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The head of the tortoise (photo: Steffen Röhner on Panoramio).

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The pilgrimage season in photographs

More on the pilgrimage in modern times: Keeping alive Kusu Island pilgrimage (The Straits Times, 9 Nov 2017).






Panguni Uthiram and a sugarcane kavadi

31 03 2018

Besides being Good Friday, the 30 of March 2018 – being the day of the full moon – also saw several other religious festivals being celebrated. One, Panguni Uthiram, is celebrated by the Hindus on the full moon day of the Tamil month of Panguni. The celebration of the festival is an especially colourful one at the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple and involves a kavadi procession that goes back to the latter days of the Naval Base when the temple was located off Canberra Road. This year’s celebration was also of special significance – being the first to be held at its newly consecrated rebuilt temple building.

The rebuilt Holy Tree Balasubramaniar Temple. It was consecrated in February this year.


The sugarcane kavadi

Seen at yesterday’s procession: a sugarcane kavadi. The kavadi is less commonly seen and is one with a baby slung from stalks of sugarcane that have been tied together, carried by the baby’s parents. The kavadi is used by couples to offer gratitude to Lord Murugan for the blessing of a baby.


More photographs from the procession:


Panguni Uthiram in previous years:


 





Kavadis on Keong Saik

8 02 2018

In photographs: the start of the colourful procession of Chettiar kavidis from the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple on Keong Saik Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road. The procession, along with a Silver Chariot procession, is held every year as part of Chetty Pusam on the eve of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam.


Thaipusam in Singapore:


 





Thaipusam 2018 at The Sri Srinivasa Perumal in photographs

1 02 2018

Thaipusam at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal in photographs:


Posts related to past celebrations of Thaipusam in Singapore:


 





The Silver Chariot through the streets of Chinatown

30 01 2018

The eve of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam sees the Chetty Pusam Silver Chariot procession take place.  The procession is in two parts. The first leg, which takes place in the early morning, sees Lord Murugan (also Sri Thendayuthapani) brought from the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Saik Road to spend the day with his brother Ganesh (Sri Vinayagar). A stop is made along this leg at the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Murugan’s and Lord Vinayagar’s mother, Sri Mariamman or Parvati.

The Chariot bearing Lord Murugan makes a stop at the Sri Mariamman Temple along South Bridge Road,

A second part leaves the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple in the afternoon and makes its way back to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple. Due to the early start of the main Thaipusam kavadi procession (brought about by a lunar eclipse occurring just after sundown on Thaipusam), the chariot is scheduled to leave at about 2.30 pm this afternoon. A procession of Chettiar kavadis will also leave the temple for Tank Road at about 1.30 pm.


Photographs taken of the Silver Chariot procession this morning:


Posts related to past celebrations of Thaipusam in Singapore:


 





Photographs of Thaipusam 2017

9 02 2017

Today’s Thaipusam, an annual Hindu festival celebrated in Singapore that being a most colourful of spectacles, is perhaps also a most photographed. The festival sees a procession of kavadis – burdens carried by devotees of Lord Murugan – from the Sri Srinivas Perumal Temple at Serangoon Road to the Sri Thendayuthapani (Chettiars) Temple in Tank Road.

More information on the festival can be found at: http://sttemple.com/pages/16~thaipusam and at the following links:


Photographs taken at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple this morning:

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The Thaipusam Chariot Procession

8 02 2017

One of Singapore’s more colourful religious festivals, Thaipusam, will be celebrated tomorrow, primarily by the Hindus of the Southern Indian community. As always, the festival is preceded by a procession of a silver chariot carrying Lord Murugan, whom the festival honours.

There are two parts to the procession here in Singapore. The first part, which takes place in the morning, sees Lord Murugan transported from the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple at Tank Road to the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple at Keong Saik Road. Lord Murugan (also known as Sri Thendayuthapani) then spends the day with his brother Sri Vinayagar (or Ganesh) before making the return journey in the evening. On the first leg of the procession, a stop is made at the Sri Mariamman Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Murugan’s and Lord Vinayagar’s mother, Sri Mariamman or Parvati.


Posts related to past celebrations of Thaipusam in Singapore:

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The Chariot Route (2017).


Photographs from the first leg of the procession this morning:

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The Silver Chariot passes the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple along South Bridge Road.

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At the junction of Kreta Ayer Road and Keong Saik Road.

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Arriving at the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.

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Preparing to carry the image of Lord Murugan into the temple.

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Lowering Lord Murugan.

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Moving into the Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple.


 





Welcoming the stars of the Big Dipper

30 09 2016

The coming of the Chinese ninth month brings two widely celebrated Taoist celebrations to Singapore, both of which  have a connection with water. One, the pilgrimage to the island of Kusu, is held over an entire month. This sees thousands of pilgrims flocking to the island, where a Tua Pek Kong temple and several hill top shrines are located. The other celebration, held over the first nine days of the month, is the Nine Emperor Gods Festival or Kew Ong Yah or Jiu Wang Ye (九王爷).

Devotees from the Kim San Temple at East Coast Beach.

Devotees from the Kim San Temple at East Coast Beach.

The Nine Emperor Gods festival is especially interesting. The celebration proper begins with an invitation to the gods – nine stars of the Big Dipper, to descend to earth for an annual sojourn. The often very elaborate invitation ceremony is  traditionally held on the eve of the 1st day of the month. Taking place by the sea or a river, it involves the carriage of the gods on a sedan or a palanquin that is always violently rocked as a sign of a divine presence.

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This year sees the invitation spread out over several days, with a few being held on the eve itself, which falls on Friday 30 September. One that I managed to catch over at East Coast Park was that of the Kim San temple from Jalan Ulu Siglap on 29 September, the photographs of which accompany this post. The festival ends with an equally grand send off, with the gods ascending to the heavens on a burning boat. More on this and the festivalcan be found in a previous post: The Burning Boat.

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Mid-autumn at the Siong Lim

15 09 2016

Illuminated by the glow of a one of the more tasteful displays of lanterns I have seen in Singapore, the Siong Lim temple in Toa Payoh (or Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery) provides a most beautiful setting in which to celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. The display, at what is Singapore’s oldest Buddhist monastery, and celebrations held in conjunction with the festival, have been on since Saturday. It will end this evening, the Mid-Autumn Festival proper, with a dragon dance and a mei hua zhuang display, more information on which can be found at the temple’s website.

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Lanterns outside the Mahavira Hall. The hall, which dates back to 1904, is one of two structures within the monastery complex that has been gazetted as a National Monument.

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The 1905 Tian Wang Dian, the second of two structures within the monastery complex gazetted as a National Monument.

The courtyard of the Tian Wang Dian.

The courtyard of the Tian Wang Dian.

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The Moon Goddess descends to colour Chinatown

2 09 2016

One of my favourite times of the year as a child was the Mooncake Festival, as the Mid-Autumn Festival is commonly referred to in Singapore.  It is a time for mooncake shopping, running down to the bakery or sundry shop to buy pig-shaped pastries packed in plastic baskets resembling those commonly used then to transport live pigs, and the excitement that came with picking out a cellophane lantern from one of the colourful displays that seemed to decorate the fronts of just about every sundry shop there was found in the neighbourhood.

The Moon Goddess, Chang'e, will descend on Chinatown this Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Moon Goddess, Chang’e, will descend on Chinatown this Mid-Autumn Festival (played by a dancer who will perform at the opening ceremony on 3 September).

The festival is one I still look forward to with much anticipation. The celebration is one that at a community level seems to be celebrated on a much grander scale these days and one thing in more recent times to look out for is the colourful displays of lanterns at several events being held across Singapore. One event that always seems to draw the crowds is the Kreta Ayer-Kim Seng Citizens Consultative Community’s (KA-KS CCC) Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival and its colourful street light-up. The event this year returns on Saturday 3 September 2016 and will certainly not disappoint with its display of 900 hand crafted lanterns as well as a host of activities that will take visitors on a journey back to the stories at the very origins of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown and its annual light-up is always something to look forward to.

The Mid-Autumn Festival in Chinatown and its annual light-up is always something to look forward to.

Light clouds over Chinatown this Mid-Autumn.

Magical light clouds will be seen over Chinatown this Mid-Autumn.

The centrepiece of this year’s light-up is a 12 metre high sculptured lantern. Located on the divider at the junction of Upper Cross Street with Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road, it depicts the moon deity Chang’e. It is in honour of the goddess that the festival is commemorated. The moon goddess is accompanied by three other large scale lanterns, two of which are also characters central to the folktale that serves as the basis for the festival, Hou Yi and the Jade Rabbit. The other large scale lantern is of the Moon Palace in which Chang’e resides. These can also be found along the divider between Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road.

The 12m high Chang'e lantern.

The 12m high Chang’e lantern.

The large-scale moon palace lantern.

The large-scale moon palace lantern.

And the jade rabbit with the elixir of immortality.

And the jade rabbit with the elixir of immortality.

The characters and the Moon Palace, are also represented in a smaller scale over South Bridge Road, nestled in magical looking coloured clouds. Hou Yi, the archer, is depicted taking aim at the nine suns that folklore tells us he brought down. The act, which left us with one sun, saved the Earth from a fate that we now seem again to be threatened with.  The Jade Rabbit, is seen pounding away in the clouds. A resident of the moon, it is the rabbit who prepares the elixir of immortality, a dose of which Hou Yi was rewarded. A popular version of the tale has it that in a bid to prevent it from falling into the hands of a would be thief, Chang’e swallowed her husband’s elixir. As an immortal, she could no longer live on earth and was sent to the moon, the celestial body closest to her husband. Clouds are also seen above Eu Tong Sen Street and New Bridge Road and altogether there are about 900 lanterns, the result of a collaboration between the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and expert craftsmen from China, on display.  LED lighting is being employed for the first time, saving some 70% in energy usage. The illuminations will colour Chinatown for about a month from 3 to 30 September 2016.

Hou Yi, Chang'e's husband and the archer who shot nine or ten suns scorching the earth, also features.

Hou Yi, Chang’e’s husband and the archer who shot nine or ten suns scorching the earth, also features.

As does the moon palace and the jade rabbit.

As does the moon palace and the jade rabbit preparing the elixir of immortality.

Clouds over New Bridge Road.

Clouds over New Bridge Road.

One thing that also draws the crowds to Chinatown are the festive bazaars. For the event, the ever popular Mid-Autumn bazaar is being held. Lining Pagoda Street, Trengganu Street, Sago Street, Smith Street and the open space in front of People’s Park Complex, the bazaar is always one to soak in the festive atmosphere and crowds are expected to throng streets that will be filled with stalls that offer a range of festive goodies such as traditional mooncakes and delicacies, as well  as decorations, lanterns and much, much more. The bazaar start a day earlier on Friday 2 September, and will be held until the night of the festival proper, which falls on Thursday 15 September 2016,

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There are also many other activities to look out for, such as the popular Chinatown Mid-Autumn Walking Trail. The trail, now into its third year, is free. Registration is however required as each trail session is limited to 10 persons. Sessions will be conducted at 3.30 pm on 4, 10 and 11 September 2016 and lasts about an hour and a half. Registration, on a first-come-first-served basis, can be made at this link.

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Another popular activity is the Mass  Lantern Walk at which 3000 participants are expected. This will be held on Sunday 11 September 2016 and will follow a route around Chinatown. The walk commences at Kreta Ayer Square at 7 pm and will end at the Main Stage in front of Lucky Chinatown at New Bridge Road.

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For the first time, the event will feature a Learning Journey. This closed activity is being conducted for a group of 200 students on 10 September in an effort to have the younger ones better appreciate Chinatown and the story behind the festival. Other activities during the festive period include nightly stage shows that feature performers from Singapore and also from China and Celebrating the Moon at Chinatown Heritage Centre (normal admission charges apply). More information can be found at http://chinatownfestivals.sg/.

 

 





Ubin comes alive

21 05 2016

Photographs taken mainly of the Teochew opera performance held on the first day of festivities this year (20 May 2016). The main festivities of the annual celebration take place today, the day of the full moon. The event lasts until Wednesday and will see nightly Teochew Opera performances on one of the last free-standing Chinese opera stages left in Singapore, except for the final night when a Getai will be held. More on the schedule of this year’s festival can be found in this post: The full moon on the fourth month on Ubin.

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The full moon of Panguni

23 03 2016

The full moon of the Tamil month of Panguni paints the Sembawang area with the colours of a Hindu festival, Panguni Uthiram, celebrated by the Holy Tree Sri Balasubramaniar Temple. The celebration of the festival, which involves a street procession of kavadis, is a tradition that dates back to 1967 during the days of the British Naval Base.

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The temple back then was off Canberra Road within the base and the procession took a route from the laundry shop at the junction of Canberra and Ottawa Roads, down Canberra Road, left into Dehli Road and into Kowloon Road, before continuing back up Canberra Road, ending at the temple.

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The procession this year, as with the one last year, took a shortened route from Canberra Drive, down Canberra Lane to Canberra Link and to Yishun Industrial Park A. Now surrounded by the obvious signs of urbanisation and change, the procession now has a very different feel to it than it did in the good old days.JeromeLim-8636

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More information on the celebration, as well as some photographs of the celebration of the festival at its original site, can be found at the following links on the temple’s website:

Posts and photographs from the celebrations of the previous years’ that I managed to catch can be found at the following links:

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More photographs from Panguni Uthiram 2016

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The end point was at the temporary temple as the temple building is being rebuilt and will only be ready later this year.

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The eighth night

1 03 2016

Chinese New Year, celebrated over a fifteen day period that culminates with Chap Goh Mei or Yuanxiao Jie (元宵节), is an occasion for much joy and feasting for the Chinese community here in Singapore. It is also an occasion when the many sub-cultural practices brought in by the diverse group of early Chinese immigrants are brought to the surface. One such observation is that of the Heavenly Jade Emperor’s birthday. Commemorated on the ninth day of the Chinese New Year, it is celebrated by members of the Hokkien community.

The Thian Hock Keng at Telok Ayer Street, Singapore's oldest Hokkien Taoist temple.

The Thian Hock Keng at Telok Ayer Street, Singapore’s oldest Hokkien Taoist temple.

For the community, who were among the earliest group of immigrants to come ashore in British Singapore, the observation is of great importance. Referred to as Pai Tee Kong in Hokkien (or Bai Tian Gong, 拜天公 in Mandarin), it is sometimes also called the “Hokkien New Year”.

Pai Tee Kong prayers held at the former Keng Teck Whay.

Pai Tee Kong prayers held at the former Keng Teck Whay.

As to how the community came to regard the birthday as the most important of the fifteen days, there are several versions of the story (one of which is found here). The many variations do have one thing in common – that members of the community were able to elude would be attackers by taking refuge in a field of sugarcane and praying to the Jade Emperor for deliverance.

Stalks of sugarcane going on sale on the seventh day.

Stalks of sugarcane going on sale on the seventh day. Legend has it that a field of sugarcane offered Hokkiens fleeing from attackers a place of refuge.

Where the story differs is in when it took place and who the Hokkiens were running from, ranging from the incident taking place during the time of the Song or Mongol dynasties with Hokkien (or Fujian) province under attack by the armies loyal to the ruling dynasty, to it taking place during the days of the Ming Dynasty and the Hokkiens being pursued by bandits or pirates. Whatever it was, it was on the ninth day – coincidentally the birthday of the Heavenly Jade Emperor – Taoism’s most supreme deity, that the Hokkiens were able to emerge from their hiding place and celebrate the new year.

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Preparations to greet the Heavenly Jade Emperor begin in earnest on the eve of the ninth day. Stalks of sugarcane are purchased by Hokkien families who place them by the doors of their homes or on either side of a table of offerings. The offerings include items such as pineapples, sweets, roast pigs and huat kueh (steamed “prosperity cakes” often used as prayer offerings), all of which also have a special significance.

A table of offerings together with two stalks of sugarcane, placed at the front of a business. Similar tables are also seen outside the homes of Hokkien Taoist families.

A table of offerings together with two stalks of sugarcane, placed at the front of a business. Similar tables are also seen outside the homes of Hokkien Taoist families.

Temples are probably where the celebrations are at their most colourful. At the Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Hokkien temple and the spiritual home of Hokkien culture in Singapore along Telok Ayer Street, a temporary altar to the Jade Emperor is erected to which prayers and offerings made. It is however just next door at the former home of a Hokkien Peranakan mutual-aid society, the Keng Teck Whay, that one of the more elaborate ceremonies is held.

The temporary altar to the Jade Emperor at the Thian Hock Keng.

The temporary altar to the Jade Emperor at the Thian Hock Keng.

The crowd at the Thian Hock Keng on the eighth night.

The crowd at the Thian Hock Keng on the eighth night.

The beautifully crafted 19th century Keng Teck Whay, long in a state of disrepair, has only very recently been restored by the Singapore Taoist Mission. The mission now runs the National Monument as the Singapore Yu Huang Gong temple and maintains many of the practices of the Keng Teck Whay. Dedicated to the Heavenly Jade Emperor, the temple’s Pai Tee Kong, all of which was conducted in the Hokkien vernacular, is especially elaborate and a wonderful reminder that Singapore, in all its modernity, is still where many traditions have not lost their place.

The ceremony at the former Keng Teck Whay ...

The ceremony at the former Keng Teck Whay …

Which was taking place at the same time as a getai performance across the street. Street opera and getai performances are often held to provide entertainment to the deities during Taoist festivals.

… which was taking place at the same time as a getai performance for the Thain Hock Keng across the street. Street opera and getai performances are often held at temples to provide entertainment to the deities during Taoist festivals.





Spring is in the air

9 02 2016

Every eve of the Lunar New Year, we are reminded of the old Chinatown when the now sanitised streets and the annual festive bazaar that comes up in the lead up to the New Year, comes alive. Chinatown is at its most atmospheric then as crowds throng its streets in search of festive goods being disposed off at a bargain – much like it was in the days of old. The eve also sees Taoist temples getting ready for the crowds – it is customary for Chinese of the Taoist faith to visit the temple in the early hours of the New Year to offer respects to the deities. One temple that gets busy is the oldest Hokkien temple, the Thian Hock Keng, where festivities this year were accompanied by Hokkien marionette puppet shows and stilt walkers – part of a series of events for the Lunar New Year that will also see a getai held on 15 February. The temple is also holding a series of guided tours during the period, more information on which can be found at http://www.thianhockkeng.com.sg/events_2016_cny.html.

Crowds on the streets of Chinatown late on the eve of Chinese New Year in search of a bargain.

Crowds on the streets of Chinatown late on the eve of Chinese New Year in search of a bargain.

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Monkeys were everywhere.

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The Sri Mariamman hindu temple.

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Stilt walkers outside the Thian Hock Keng.

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The Singapore Yu Huang Gong.

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The puppet show stage at the Thian Hock Keng.

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Calligraphy.

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A puppeteer in action.