A temple that always says welcome

Far left: The ceiling along the covered walkway to the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal is decorated with a large lotus with the 12 zodiac signs. Left: Yali pillars line the walkway of the temple. With a lion head and human body, the yali is
The Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple features a five-tier entrance tower called a gopuram, showing the different incarnations of Lord Vishnu, known as the preserver and protector of the universe.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Far left: The ceiling along the covered walkway to the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal is decorated with a large lotus with the 12 zodiac signs. Left: Yali pillars line the walkway of the temple. With a lion head and human body, the yali is
A priest performing prayers at the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
Far left: The ceiling along the covered walkway to the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal is decorated with a large lotus with the 12 zodiac signs. Left: Yali pillars line the walkway of the temple. With a lion head and human body, the yali is
The ceiling along the covered walkway to the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal is decorated with a large lotus with the 12 zodiac signs.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI
A priest performing prayers at the main shrine of Lord Sri Srinivasa Perumal.
Yali pillars line the walkway of the temple. With a lion head and human body, the yali is a mythical figure seen in many Hindu temples, often sculpted onto the pillars.ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI

From places of worship to educational institutions and the former residences of prominent figures, 72 buildings have been gazetted as national monuments. Each is a yarn woven into the rich tapestry of Singapore's history. This is the 20th in a weekly series revisiting these heritage gems.

The Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, perched along Serangoon Road, has welcomed people from all walks of life since it first opened its doors in 1855. Indian immigrants, British colonial rulers, devotees of Lord Vishnu, tourists and Singaporeans have all gathered, admiring the place of worship.

At the weekends, the temple bursts into life with about 2,000 devotees gathering for prayers.

During the Thaipusam festival, between January and February each year, thousands of Hindus and non-Hindus gather along Serangoon Road to watch a procession of worshippers walk 6km from the temple to the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple in Tank Road.

"About 10,000 devotees carry elaborate kavadis and milk pots, and on Thaipusam day, we get around 30,000 onlookers from friends to family and curious onlookers," said Dr K. Vellayappan, 72, chairman of the temple management committee.

The temple was built in 1855 after a group of Indian community leaders purchased the land for about 26 rupees (50 cents today) from the British East India Company.

To get to the old temple in the 1950s, known as Narasinga Perumal Kovil, devotees had to walk along a narrow lane that ran through a garden.

When the temple was reconstructed in 1966, its chief deity was changed from the lion-headed avatar, Narasimha Perumal, to Srinivasa Perumal. The temple was also renamed accordingly.

"The temple used to have a large pond, there was a forest and plants all around," said Mr Rajan Krishnan, who was chairman of the temple committee for nine years from 1990.

In the mornings, devotees cleansed themselves and bathed in the same pond where post-cremation ceremonies were conducted, added Mr Rajan.

Mr Perumal Krishnasamy, 75, who has been visiting the temple since birth, said: "In the early years, there were cattle roaming on the temple grounds. People would come and leave the animals after making a vow too."

By the 1900s, the temple was in a dilapidated state, said Dr Vellayappan. According to a book published by the temple, the building had fallen into disrepair in the 1930s and a chief government architect wrote to the then Mohammedan and Hindu Endowments Board saying it was unsafe for anyone to enter the temple. The roof was said to be in a dangerous condition.

Restoration works for the temple were finally completed in 1966 and it was gazetted as a national monument on Nov 10, 1978. Today, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple features an elaborate five-tier tower that crowns its entrance.

The temple houses several shrines and a main prayer hall, with ceilings and walls carved with elaborate mandalas.

Inside the main shrine, where only priests can enter to perform religious rituals, sits a statue of the temple's main deity, Srinivasa Perumal.

There are also shrines dedicated to other Hindu deities in the temple. On the two sides of the main sanctum are the shrines of Lakshmi and Andal.

Mr Perumal said the temple has gone through many changes.

"As a child, my father took me around the temple every Saturday, teaching me about the temple and life. The things he taught me, I still remember today and have kept me well through the years," he said.

These days, he takes his grandson to the temple from Potong Pasir, where they live. "We go around the temple, doing the same, I tell him about the temple and we pray together. I have grown together with the temple. A lot has changed but my faith remains."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2016, with the headline 'A temple that always says welcome'. Print Edition | Subscribe