It was a coming together of people of different races and religions during the festival of lights, as 50 volunteers from South East Community Development Council (CDC) celebrated Deepavali with around 500 devotees of the historic Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple yesterday.
The volunteers, aged 15 to 73, toured the 140-year-old temple as they learnt about Hindu practices and deities, as well as the significance of Deepavali.
They also watched a traditional Deepavali prayer ceremony - the Vasantha Mandapa Pooja.
"It was an eye-opener as I've never visited a Hindu temple before," said Christian volunteer Raymond Tan, 56, an information security officer. "They should organise more of this for residents, so we can understand fellow Singaporeans and their culture better."
Another volunteer, Muhd Nadhir Saiful Bahari, 15, had visited the temple four times previously as part of the South East CDC's Racial Harmony Youth Ambassadors programme, but was there for the first time during Deepavali.
"It's very engaging; it's a good chance for me to hear and see what they do during the celebration," said the student from Springfield Secondary School.
Speaking of the significance of the visit in the context of religious terrorism around the world, South East District Mayor Maliki Osman, who joined the volunteers, said: "We want to make sure we don't take our social cohesion... our religious harmony, for granted. We must make sure that Singaporeans appreciate that harmony."
The president of the Singapore Ceylon Tamils Association, Dr R. Theyvendran, said the temple welcomes these visits which help "make Singaporeans one".
"There is (now) greater awareness and greater integration of people," he said.
Recognised as a historic site by the National Heritage Board, the temple in Ceylon Road has had a history of contributions and collaborations among people of different races and religions.
Muslims, Buddhists and Christians donated money to support the rebuilding of the temple in 2003, which involved Chinese contractors and Chinese Buddhist architect Priscilla Chow, who designed the new look for the temple with designers and craftsmen from India.
The visit to the temple is part of South East CDC's efforts to foster greater awareness and appreciation of racial and social harmony.
WATCH THE VIDEO
View the traditional Deepavali prayer ceremony Vasantha Mandapa Pooja at http://str.sg/4YsV.