Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, located at Waterloo Street, is a popular place of worship for local devotees of Kuan Yin or Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy. Built in 1884, it is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Singapore and is a fine example of late 19th century Chinese temple courtyard architecture.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple started first as a temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin. Other deities were added later with time. These include Ta Ma Tan Shith, a.k.a. Da Mu Tuo Shi, chief of the six Buddhist patriarchs, and Hua Tua, a doctor of Han dynasty who is the Chinese patron saint of medicine.

The temple underwent alterations and additions in 1895. It was demolished in the late 1970s and rebuilt all over again in 1982 with the job commissioned to Tay & Yeo Architects. With the reconstruction, the temple grew twice in size. In 2001, the land on which the old temple once stood was officially designated a historic site by the National Heritage Board.

During the Japanese Occupation, the temple was a popular place for people seeking refuge. In recent times, it has been a focal point of philanthropic activity, contributing generously to the needy and sick. Some of its most well known philanthropic activities include giving donations to the National Kidney Foundation and donating a sum of S$1.5m to the National University of Singapore to set up a professorship in computing. The temple also gives out bursaries to needy students irrespective of race. It is also a patron of the arts in Singapore.

Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho temple forms a part of a network of historically significant religious buildings in the Waterloo Street such as the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Sri Krishnan Temple, Malabar Jama-ath Mosque and the Maghain Aboth Synagogue. The temple, a hallmark of traditional Chinese temple courtyard architecture, is reflective of craftsmanship popular in the late 19th century. With the reconstruction work in 1982, many new features were added while some old ones were retained.

In the old days, visitors to the temple entered through a recessed porch and screened anteroom which gave access to a large, covered courtyard. The courtyard led to the main prayer hall where the three main deities; Kuan Yin, Ta Ma Tan Shith and Hua Tua; were kept on separate altars. Another altar with a large idol of Sakyamuni Buddha was kept in the rear hall.

In the current structure, all the deities are kept within a single altar with the statue of Sakyamuni Buddha placed just behind that of Kuan Yin. Though the positions of the main deities were changed, other idols in the temple were kept in their old places. The current temple has two different roofs at different heights. Entrance to the temple is gained through a large gateway flanked by two smaller gates on its either side. Yellow swastikas adorn the ends of the roof rafters. The ridges have simple curves with calligraphy or decorations denoting good omen. Another feature of the new temple is that there is no candle or incense burning inside the temple hall. The urn for offering incense is placed outside the temple hall to prevent the soot from staining the ceiling.

The temple's most well known feature is its divination activity. Qian or divining sticks, which are wooden sticks with writing, are placed in a brass can and shaken. The clanking of these cans have been resounding in the temple since 1884. When the sticks fall out they are interpreted to foretell a person's future. In 1990, the temple became the first temple in Singapore to provide divination slips with English translations for English-educated devotees and tourists.

Most devotees visit the temple on the 1st and 15th days of the lunar calendar. However, the temple's most festive season is the eve of Chinese New Year when the temple is kept open all night long. People turn up in thousands and the whole street fronting the temple is packed with worshippers wanting to offer incense to the goddess of mercy for an auspicious start to the year.

Variant Names
Guan Yin Tong Temple.

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja

Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places (p. 263). Singapore: Times Books International.
(Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW)

Lip, E. (1983). Chinese temple architecture in Singapore (pp. 66-67). Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 726.1951095957 LIP)

Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore's 100 historic places (p. 111). Singapore: Archipelago Press.
(Call no.: SING 959.57 SIN)

Ho, S. B. (1993, November 9). English divination slips in two Chinese temples. The Straits Times, Life!, p. 4.

Leong, P. (2000, October 13). Young people move back into Kampong Glam. The Straits Times, Home, p. 61.

Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic site. The Straits Times, Life! Design, p. 8, 9.

Temple funds new chair at NUS. (2000, December 16). The Straits Times, Prime News, p. 6.

Temple named as historic site. (2001, 30 September). The Straits Times, Prime News, p. 6.

The information in this article is valid as at 2003 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Religious buildings
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings
Historic buildings--Singapore
Temples, Chinese--Singapore

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