Hunched over trays in the kitchen of a Hindu temple, a platoon of 12 volunteers and four cooks would spend two back-breaking hours on Fridays and Sundays peeling pungent onions.
But they will no longer shed tears, as a new machine in the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple's kitchen has cut the time taken to peel 30kg worth of onions to just two minutes. It will also eliminate the need for volunteers for the task.
The automated peeler is one of six new pieces of equipment in the 120-year-old temple's new, state-of- the-art $500,000 kitchen.
The others include an automated vegetable cutter, an automated rice washer, and a combi-oven steamer that can produce 250 pieces of idli (steamed cakes) in 10 minutes. There are also 80-litre and 150-litre machines that can churn out curry for 1,500 people in 30 minutes or less.
Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple's president, Dr R. Theyvendran, said the new kitchen will help speed up cooking operations to serve some 1,200 devotees, including foreign workers, who swing by on weekends for free vegetarian lunches and dinners.
Its vice-chairman, Mr Prama Ganeshan, added: "We can now cook more elaborate meals for the elderly and the needy."
The machines were imported from places such as Germany and Taiwan, and a consultant from Gayatri Restaurant here was brought in for the project. The modernised kitchen is believed to be the first such facility in a temple here.
The kitchen upgrade is part of a $4.5 million renovation throughout the temple's Ceylon Road premises that started last August. All Hindu temples undergo renovations and repairs every 12 years to re-energise its deities.
The project also involved a South Indian temple architect and 15 craftsmen adding decorative elements to the interior of the temple which follows the Chola architectural style.
This includes 18 new colourful, ceramic ornamentations on its ceiling - one of which features a large green parrot suckling on the nectar of an Indian prayer flower.
Indian temple architect Palani Krishnamoorthy, who has worked on 120 temples in Malaysia and 700 in India, said he feels honoured to beautify the temple, which was marked out as a historic site by the National Heritage Board and has about 3,000 devotees.
The temple in the Katong area can trace its roots to the 1850s when a stone statue of elephant-headed god Lord Vinayagar was found near a senpaga tree in the area where it stands today. Dr Theyvendran said the management is awaiting approval from the authorities to erect a $1.5 million 32-feet Lord Vinayagar statue, to be carved out of a single slab of granite stone.
The temple's consecration ceremony will take place on Monday, when about 10,000 people are expected to throng its grounds.
This article was first published on Jan 22, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.