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singapore flagThian Hock Keng 天福宫
Temple of Heavenly Bliss

thian hock kengIn 1840, 21 years after Raffles had established Singapore as a trading post, a Hokkien temple was built on the spot where new migrants came ashore.

This temple, known as Thian Hock Keng (天福宫), Temple of Heavenly Bliss, was built in honor of the Sea Goddess Mazu (妈祖). Early Chinese migrants left China in search of opportunities for themselves and for their families who remained in China.

The only mode of transport was by sea and migrants endured the long, uncomfortable and at times fatal journey.

They had no control over the elements, the sea conditions or the future ahead of them. Psychologically, their only hope was to ask for the blessing and protection of the sea goddess.

Upon their safe passage and arrival in Singapore, their relief can only be imagined and offering their prayers at the Thian Hock Keng was a way to show their gratitude and appreciation for the safe passage.


Thian Hock Keng celebrates Chinese New Year
See how the performers used their body to create formations while
moving the dragon in the air!

Start of Thian Hock Keng temple

The Sea Goddess’s altar was originally housed in a small shrine sponsored by these grateful migrants. This humble set-up provided later migrants with an established place for their rituals and prayers, and became a focal point for the Hokkien community up to the early 20th century.

thian hock kengAfter these migrants had settled down in Singapore, the worship of the Sea Goddess continued. Successful migrants contributed to transform the shrine into an official temple.

In 1840, the Thian Hock Keng Temple was founded and served as the center of Hokkien Chinese activities in Singapore. The deities honored in the temple include Mazu 妈祖 (Sea Goddess), Baoshen Dadi 保生大帝 (Deity of medicine), Guan Gong 关公 (Deity of righteousness), and Guan Yin.

The emergence of the new Mazu temple reflected opportunities that awaited new migrants and community spirit of those who succeeded economically. Festive events were celebrated especially events related to the Sea Goddess and other key deities as well as Confucius's birthday. The celebrations continue to this day.


Chinese New Year at Thian Hock Keng  

In 1907, the temple received an Imperial Calligraphic Panel bestowed by the Empress Dowager Cixi (慈禧太后) of the Qing Court. This Imperial honor reflected the significance of Thian Hock Keng in the lives of migrants as well as the influence of overseas Chinese in China’s political landscape.

It was an attempt by the Imperial court to generate support for the Imperial Conservatives represented by Empress Dowager Cixi against two other political competitors, the Imperial Reformists and the Revolutionaries. Each camp had their respective supporters in Singapore.

Thian Hock Keng and Hokkien Huay Guan

As the population expanded and as more people settled down, new social needs arose. Thian Hock Keng was the meeting place for Chinese community leaders to discuss social welfare issues and led to the formation of the Hokkien Clan Association, 福建会馆. Eventually the Hokkien Clan Association moved out of the temple and set up their office across the street where it continue to stand today.

During the Sino-Japanese war, Thian Hock Keng was a popular performance venue to raise funds for the China Relief Fund. Mr. Tan Kah Kee was the chairperson of Hokkien Clan Association and the China Relief Fund. 

In 1973, it was gazetted as a National Monument. Today, Thian Hock Keng temple plays multiple functions in multi-cultural Singapore. Religious events continue to be organized for devotees.

Thian Hock Keng today

Traditional festivals such as the Chinese New Year, Zhong Yuan Jie, Mid Autumn as well as cultural performances are organized at the Thian Hock Keng temple attracting locals as well as tourists.

These activities are opened to the public and audiences of any background are welcomed. A common performance is the Nayin presented by Siong Leng Musical Association, 湘灵音乐社.

 
Nanyin performance at Thian Hock Keng

Almost daily, busloads of tourists and students arrive at Thian Hock Keng to understand its history and its social significance. In this role, Tian Hock Keng temple acts as a medium for cross cultural and international understanding.

Thian Hock Keng’s continued existence is a tribute to the social spirit of successful migrants who reached out and cared about the welfare of their fellow migrants.

In its multiple roles today, it manifests the spirit of the founding migrants by serving the religious, social and cultural needs of Singapore today and visitors from all over the world.

 

thian hock kengThian Hock Keng 天福宫

Address:
158 Telok Ayer Street,
Singapore 068613
Singapore
www.thianhockkeng.com.sg

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