Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple



Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, located on Waterloo Street, is a popular place of worship for devotees of Guan Yin, the Chinese goddess of mercy.1 Built in 1884, it is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Singapore and a hallmark of late-19th-century Chinese temple courtyard architecture.2

History
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple first started as a temple dedicated to the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. Other deities found in the temple include Ta Ma Tan Shith (or Da Mu Tuo Shi), chief of the six Buddhist patriarchs; and Hua Tuo, a Han-dynasty doctor who is the Chinese patron saint of medicine.3


The temple underwent alterations and additions in 1895.4 It was demolished in the late 1970s5 and rebuilt in 1982 with the job commissioned to Tay & Yeo Architects.6 With the reconstruction, the temple doubled its former size. In 2001, the temple was declared a historic site by the National Heritage Board.7

During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore (1942–45), many came to the temple to seek refuge.8

The temple is known for its philanthropy. It has donated to the National Kidney Foundation and set up a sum of S$1.5-million endowment for a computing professorship at the National University of Singapore.9 The temple also disburses bursaries to needy students.10

Description
Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple forms a part of a network of historically significant religious buildings in the Waterloo Street area, including the Church of Saints Peter and Paul on Queen Street, Sri Krishnan Temple and the Maghain Aboth Synagogue.11 The Chinese temple is a hallmark of traditional Chinese temple courtyard architecture and is reflective of craftsmanship popular in the late 19th century. Following the reconstruction work in 1982, new features were added while some old ones were retained.12

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 then led to the main prayer hall where the three main deities – Guan Yin, Ta Ma Tan Shith and Hua Tuo – were kept on separate altars.13 Another altar with a large idol of Shakyamuni Buddha was kept in the rear hall.14

In the current structure, all the deities are placed within a single altar with the statue of Shakyamuni Buddha placed just behind that of Guan Yin. Though the positions of the main deities have been changed, other idols in the temple are kept in their old places.15 The current temple has two roofs at different heights. One enters the temple through a large gateway flanked by two smaller gates on either side. Yellow swastikas adorn the ends of the roof rafters. The ridges have simple curves with calligraphy or decorations denoting good omen.16 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.17

Qian (divining sticks) – wooden sticks with writing on them – are placed in a brass can and shaken.18 The sticks that fall out 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.19

Most devotees visit the temple on the first and 15th days of the lunar calendar.20 However, the temple’s most festive period is the eve of Chinese New Year when the temple is kept open all night long. Thousands of devotees flock to the temple and the entire street fronting the temple is packed with worshippers waiting to offer incense to the goddess of mercy for an auspicious start to the year.21



Author

Naidu Ratnala Thulaja



References
1. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
2. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
3. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
4.. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
5. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic site. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
7. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic siteThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic site. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Temple funds new chair at NUS. (2000, December 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Temple funds new chair at NUS. (2000, December 16). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
12. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
13. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
14. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore’s 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
15. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore's 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])
16. Edwards, N., & Keys, P. (1988). Singapore: A guide to buildings, streets, places. Singapore: Times Books International, p. 263. (Call no.: RSING 915.957 EDW-[TRA])
17. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic site. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic siteThe Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Ho, S. B. (1993, November 9). English divination slips in two Chinese temples. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
20. Sim, A. (2001, September 29). Kwan Im Temple now a historic site. The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
21. Uma, D, G., et al. (2002). Singapore's 100 historic places. Singapore: Archipelago Press, p. 111. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SIN-[HIS])



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.

 

Subject
Architecture and Landscape>>Building Types>>Religious Buildings
Religious buildings
Singapore--History--1867-1942
Arts>>Architecture>>Religious buildings
Historic buildings--Singapore
Temples, Chinese--Singapore