One-stop centre for home temples?

UNDER ONE ROOF: Taoist Federation Singapore chairman Tan Thiam Lye mooted the idea of temple hubs.

SINGAPORE - Many mediums from home temples yearn for a place where they can worship openly, free from complaints.

And a temple hub seems like a potential answer to their problems.

Taoist Federation Singapore chairman Tan Thiam Lye estimates there are about 1,000 temples operating out of residential units, such as HDB flats.

But using flats for public worship is strictly prohibited, while private homes cannot be used without planning permission.

Home temples were thrust into the spotlight after a medium drowned off Changi Beach Park while performing a water ritual last Sunday. His temple in Hougang operated out of a HDB flat.

But these mediums do not have much options due to lack of funds and space, Mr Tan says.

"Many of these temples date back to the kampung days. When they were evicted from their villages into flats, they brought along their deities," he tells The New Paper on Sunday in Mandarin.

But quite a few of them do not have enough funds to build a proper temple. So they continue to maintain and care for the deities at home, setting up a shrine for worship.

He says: "Many of these temples have been asking for land to build a temple since the 1970s. Some of them have waited for more than 30 years."

Mr Tan is also the chairman of San Qing Gong Temple in Bedok and the Hougang Tao Mu Temple, just two of several other appointments.

Many of these home temples serve a certain community, says Mr Tan, and its followers will congregate during the deities' anniversary celebration.

"When they celebrate the deities' birthdays, the mediums will rent a space nearby to hold the celebration since they cannot hold it in their homes. There's not enough space to do so."

Worshippers don't go to these home temples to pray all that often, yet some of the more popular ones still receive complaints from neighbours.

To address the complaints on issues like human traffic, Mr Tan mooted the idea of a one-stop centre for home temples last year.

He says: "Just like the hub for selling cars, anyone who wants to buy a car can go to a certain area and get all types of car in the same place."

But the building would be faith-specific, such as Taoist temples in one building and Buddhist temples in another.

He said: "Buddhists are vegetarians. It will not be very respectful if we are eating pork while they are praying."

He envisions a building where home temples will be housed at units in purpose-built complexes.

Referring to strained ties with neighbours, he said: "This way, we will not disturb anyone."

The Federation has submitted a plan to the Government, calling for these complexes to be located at five different districts in Singapore.

The Federation's administrator, Mr Chung Kwang Tong (Wei Yi), says: "We divided Singapore into five districts and there will be a hub in each district.

"We shouldn't be bringing all the temples into one spot. It should be near to their kampung and the area they resettled."

The idea has been pitched to the Ministry of National Development (MND) for its consideration, says Federation chairman Mr Tan.

There have already been two meetings with the ministry so far, and the next meeting has been postponed to the end of the month.

MND says it is open to proposals of co-location, which optimises land use.

An MND spokesman said: "Nonetheless, careful assessment of the local context is needed to ensure that disamenities, such as traffic and parking problems, are mitigated.

"A study on co-locating compatible places of worship is ongoing. This study is still in its initial stages and we will share more details when it is available."

Small gatherings okay if no nuisance caused

Under the Urban Redevelopment Authority's guidelines, residential premises cannot be converted into places of worship without prior planning permission.

Says a Ministry of National Development spokesman: "This is to protect the general amenity and character of our housing estates and minimise disturbances arising from religious activities to the residents."

But small prayer gatherings and older places of worship in private residences are allowed.

He says: "Some homeowners do occasionally get together with their family members or a small group of friends for prayer gatherings in the privacy of their homes.

"Such gatherings are acceptable if they do not cause nuisance to their neighbours.

"There are also older places of worship located in private residences that have existed prior to the establishment of the Planning Act in 1960. They have been allowed to remain but they should not cause undue nuisance to their neighbours."

This article was published on April 13 in The New Paper.Get The New Paper for more stories.