A sea of red lanterns, the rhythmic clanging of cymbals, the all-pervading fragrance of joss sticks, throngs of worshippers and tourists alike.
We are at Thian Hock Keng, Singapore’s oldest Chinese temple, welcoming the Year of the Goat!
Located at 158 Telok Ayer Street, Thian Hock Keng is the most important temple of the local Hokkien community. Incidentally, Hokkiens constitute over 40% of the Chinese-origin population of Singapore and have their roots in the Fujian province of southeast China.
Singapore in the early 1800s was a very different place what it is today – Chinese secret societies, opium dens, boatloads of Chinese immigrants braving the rough South China Sea to land on the shores of the Telok Ayer basin.
Yes, back then, Telok Ayer Street was by the sea. Hard to believe, given how far from the shoreline it is today, after decades of reclamation.
So what did the Chinese immigrants do after landing? They rushed to a little prayer house located on Telok Ayer Street, to give thanks to the goddess Ma Zu.
Revered as the protector of seafarers and navigators, Ma Zu was venerated with money and joss sticks, for helping these travellers survive their arduous sea journey.
Between 1839 and 1842, this prayer house was renovated under the leadership of prominent members of the Hokkien community, like philanthropist Tan Tock Seng. The temple was named Thian Hock Keng or the Temple of Heavenly Happiness.
The temple architecture is typical of the southern Chinese style with intricate carvings of dragons and phoenixes. Also interesting to note that the entire structure was assembled without a single nail.
So while we go back to enjoying the festivities here at Thian Hock Keng, I wish you a prosperous Year of the Goat!
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Huat Ah!
Happy New Year! Be prosperous!