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Yueh Hai Ching Temple


Yueh Hai Ching Temple (Chinese: 粤海清庙), also known as Wak Hai Cheng Bio in Teochew, is a Chinesemarker temple in Singaporemarker, and is located at Phillip Street in the Downtown Core, within the Central Area, Singapore's central business district.

Yueh Hai Ching Temple is Singapore's oldest Taoist temple. It was constructed between 1850 and 1855, and was rebuilt in 1895. The temple holds a special significance for the Teochewmarker community, whose way of life was closely associated with the sea. It is the only temple in Singapore to have stunningly detailed three-dimensional moulded ornament on its roofs. Chinese Emperor Guang Xu presented a plaque to the temple in 1907.

History

Yueh Hai Ching Temple, which means Temple of the Calm Sea, is special to the Teochew community, the second largest Chinese dialect group in Singapore after the Hoklo (Hokkien). The Teochews who first came here were often fishermen and sailors and dominated the early trade in seafood. The temple is known as Wak Hai Cheng Bio in Teochew. It is the only temple in Singapore to have such stunningly detailed three-dimensional moulded ornamentation on its roofs.

The temple is believed to have started in 1826 as a wood-and-attap shrine just off the seashore, and was built by immigrants from Guangzhoumarker. Reclamation of swampy land pushed the shrine inland. Like Thian Hock Kengmarker in Telok Ayer Street, Yueh Hai Ching Temple was popular with newly-arrived migrants who came to give thanks for a safe passage over the ocean. For those who made a living from the sea, being in the good graces of water spirit was even more important.

The temple was also a meeting place for the Teochew community and remains so in the hands of the Ngee Ann Kongsi today. The present temple was built from 1850 to 1855, and rebuilt in 1895 following plans submitted by Ngee Ann Kongsi.

Emperor Guang Xu presented a plaque bearing the name of the temple to the abbot in 1907, an indication of the high standing of the temple in the Chinese community.

Yueh Hai Ching Temple was gazetted as a national monument on 28 June, 1996.

Architecture

Yueh Hai Ching Temple shows the traditional Chinese temple structure of a walled compound with an entrance gate and a forecourt. The forecourt was originally larger but a part of it was acquired for urban redevelopment.

The temple actually consists of twin temples, each with its own entrance and of similar size and arrangement but with different features. The temple to the right is dedicated to Xuan Tian Shang Di (玄天上帝; Heavenly Emperor), a male deity, while the one to the left is to Ma Zu or Tian Hou (妈祖 or 天后; Mother of Heavenly Sages), a female deity. The altar in the Xuan Tian Shang Di shrine was brought from Chinamarker in 1852.

Features

  • The enclosed courtyard is characteristic of Chinese architecture. It forms a private world for the people within the buildings. Conforming to the tradition of feng shui, the open space concentrates the qi (breath) in the building complex. The wide forecourt gives a panoramic view of the temple.


  • Chinese buildings and courtyards are traditionally arranged on an axis. This line can stretch north to south or, in the case of Yueh Hai Ching Temple, east to west. The length of the complex faces the main gateway.


  • Unlike in traditional western architecture where pillar and walls received more attention, Chinese architecture paid a lot of attention to the roofscape. The elaborate roofscape with its heavy three-dimensional ornamentation is one of the temple's most striking and imposing features. The roofscape consists of clusters of one- and two-storey structures in miniature with human figure. They depict a Chinese town.




  • The roof ridges end in a figure which may be interpreted variously as either a dragon or a phoenix. A phoenix is a good omen because of its symbolic value — the creature is believed to be able to spit water onto the roof if there is a fire.


  • The walls between the halls are well-ventilate with large ornamented circular window openings with mouldings of dragon or phoenix.


  • The twin temples of Tian Hou and Xuan Tian Shang Di have parallel entrance halls and shrine halls of equal size and elaborateness. They open out to each other through a small inner doorway apart from the forecourt doors.


  • Behind the main halls is another smaller open courtyard. Traditional Chinese buildings are extended laterally rather than upwards by adding more courtyards and buildings to the sides or back of the existing compound.


  • The temple's living quarters, utility rooms, and storage space are located at the rear building.


  • Yueh Hai Ching Temple has gable roofs with solid walls at the ends. This is known as renzi yin shan.


  • Exposed structural elements are another key feature of traditional Chinese buildings. The timbers and bracket that hold up the huge roof with its mass of ornamentation are open to view. These exposed trusses and beams are heavily ornamented and brightly painted.


  • There are two small five-tiered pagodas at either corner of the temple's front. Next to them are incense burners.


  • The temple has both round and square granite columns on bases of matching shape.


References

  • National Heritage Board (2002), Singapore's 100 Historic Places, Archipelago Press, ISBN 981-4068-23-3
  • Lee Geok Boi (2002), The Religious Monuments of Singapore, Landmark Books, ISBN 981-3065-62-1
  • Preservation of Monuments Board, Know Our Monuments


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