Religious melting pot in Waterloo St

Religious melting pot in Waterloo St
Besides Hindu worshippers, the Sri Krishnan Temple in Waterloo Street also sees devotees from the Chinese temple next door stopping by to light joss sticks (above) and say quiet prayers. -- PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, SRI KRISHNAN TEMPLE

It is after midday on a Friday and the Sri Krishnan Temple in the Bugis area is closed for the afternoon. But this does not stop a constant stream of Chinese devotees from stopping in front of it, murmuring silent prayers.

Tendrils of incense rise from joss sticks in an urn with the inscription "Waterloo Chicken Rice" in front of the entrance to the Hindu temple, two doors from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple known to many as the Simalu Guanyin Temple.

Waterloo Street, where the two venerable places of worship meet, is arguably the best showcase of Singapore's religious melting pot. The main deity at one temple is Guanyin or the Goddess of Mercy, while Krishnan, a god known to destroy evil and spread love, watches over the other.

But devotees of one temple spill over to the other; the area overflows with fortune tellers, sellers of fresh chrysanthemum and lotus flowers, and cheerful refrains of "Miss, do you want to buy flowers?"

"The area in Waterloo Street epitomises the multi-religious aspect of Singapore," said local urban historian Lai Chee Kien.

He said Hinduism and Buddhism have multiple deities and many similarities, and it is not unusual for some devotees to practise rituals across both religions.

Close proximity of religious buildings can also encourage cross-worshipping, he added.

"There is that symbiotic relationship," he said.

Benefiting from the popularity of Waterloo Street as a religious destination is Madam Catherine Teo, 60, who inherited the flower business started by her grandmother. Her earnings have enabled her to put her five children through university, she said.

She sells chrysanthemums, lotus flowers and orchids to Taoists and Buddhists, and plastic jasmine flowers to Hindus.

She is there rain or shine. "When it rains, my shop stays open, and I use my umbrella to keep my flowers from getting ruined."

The future looks sunny for both temples.

The 144-year-old Sri Krishnan Temple was recognised for its social significance and gazetted for conservation in June.

It started as a shrine built by a wealthy merchant for the deity Krishnan at the foot of a banyan tree in Waterloo Street in 1870.

Now, it has an ornate tower and a five-storey ancillary block with a multi-purpose hall.

As for the 130-year-old Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, it has been receiving more young people and professionals, said Dr Tan Choon Kim, 74, chairman of its board of trustees.

"More and more people are coming to pray," he said, adding that they include a small number of Caucasians.

Many visit the temples on the first and 15th day of each month in the Tamil and Lunar calendars as they mark the new and full moon. The dates often coincide.

Mr Joseph Lim, 39, a project manager with three children, aged 11 months to eight years, usually visits at around 5am on the first and 15th of every month.

"I used to go with my whole family, but now I just go with my dad. It is like a tradition for us," said Mr Lim, who has been visiting the temple since he was six.

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