Silat to Serragon: Exploring a few of Singapore’s historic places of worship

Religious beliefs are one of the primary societal factors that often influence decisions regarding environmental conservation. In Singapore, there is a fascinating mix of religions and beliefs. In fact, a 2014 study by PEW, found Singapore to be the world’s most religiously diverse nation. This diversity is driven largely by the country’s history as a trading point for Southeast Asia and the government’s official embrace of religious tolerance. It should also be noted that most of the buildings in Singapore are quite new (<15 years old) due to the country’s planned development approach. As a result, much of the city’s architectural history is in the worship centers that have remained over time.

Our journey

We roamed the city for an entire day and visited seven places of worship throughout the course of our journey. With the exception of the Sikh temple and the Islamic mosque, where we had in-depth conversations, we focused primarily on visiting the sites. Further facts and information about the various worship centers can be found by just clicking on the site name.

Here’s a summary of our route:

Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road, Sikh: Gurdwara Sahib Silat Road (Silat Road Sikh Temple) is a Sikh temple located on Jalan Bukit Merah. Our visit to this site was particularly interesting since we were given a group tour of the Gurdwara and graciously hosted by a member of the local congregation. The Sikhs have a practice of feeding all who visit their temple in search of food – over 2000 people each day at Silat Road Temple – and all of the cooking is done by volunteers. Several students from our group helped make the food for the evening’s langar (shared meal) during out tour. Before we left, attended a bit of the morning service and tasted the lunch meal – it was delicious! The yellow colored flag pole pictured below is an item found at all Sikh temples. In times past it signaled to weary travelers the location of Sikh temples where they could rest and eat.

Entrance of the temple
Students pitching in to help make dinner
Nishan Sahib flagpole
Group photo with our host

Wat Ananda Metyarama, Theravda Buddhist: There are many Buddhist temples in Singapore, as it is the most represented religion in Singapore. Wat Ananda Metyarama is the oldest Theravada Buddhist tradition Temple in the country. Theravada (aka Thai) Buddhist is the more conservative of the two major traditions of Buddhism (the other being Mahayana), which developed from Hinayana Buddhism. It is practiced mainly in Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos.

Figure 1 (Census 2015). “Religion in Singapore”. Wikipedia.
Entrance to the temple
Entrance to the worship area

St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Catholic: The site of the St. Andrew’s Cathedral was originally reserved by Sir Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore. Construction on the current building began in 1856. The building was closed to the public due to an ongoing service at the time of our visit.

Church courtyard
Closer view of the church entrance

Kwan Im Thong Hood Choo Temple, Buddhist: This temple was very crowded and is one of the most visited in Singapore. Kwan Im Thong Hood Choo is a Chinese Buddhist temple and is thought to bring good luck to those who visit for worship. It is located along Waterloo Street, a relatively small block that serves as home to worship centers from at least four other religions – a testament to Singapore’s high degree of religious tolerance. The block is also frequented by thousands of people for the plethora of shops and street vendors.

Entrance of the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple
The Waterloo Street area

Sultan Mosque, Islam: This is one of the largest mosques in the country. Our guide at the mosque was particularly welcoming and I learned a great deal about the foundations of Islam. It was refreshing to hear a positive point of view on the religion and I was happy to have had the experience. Working, sleeping, education, and seeking justice all constitute worship for Muslims. This is reflected in the fact that the mosque is a community center for prayer, resolving disputes, meetings, and many other activities. One interesting note about the Sultan Mosque’s architecture, as pointed out by “Dr. Dan” (our professor and resident Singapore expert), is that the black ring below the gold dome is made entirely of bottles contributed by members of the mosque that could not afford to donate money during the construction.

View of Sultan Mosque in the distance
Several people worshipping inside the mosque
Several students with our guide

Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple, Hindu: This temple is located in the “Little India” area of Singapore. It is one of the oldest temples in the country and the original temple was constructed in 1881. This site was closed to the public for an event but, as you can see, the exterior architecture is quite stunning.

Entrance to the Sri Veeramakalimman Temple

Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, Hindu: The Sri Srinivasa Temple is also located in “Little India”. It is one of the oldest temples in Singapore and is very striking in its architecture.

View of the Rajagopuram
Sri Srinivasa temple interior

Hope you enjoyed the notes from our trip! Thank you to Eudora Miao and Stefanie Prufer for planning the day! Also, a huge thanks to Dr. Tom Schultz and Dr. Daniel Rittschof (“Dr. Dan”) for their leadership in making the trip happen every year.