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Radin Mas: Legacy of a princess

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 6, 2013

HER story has passed through generations as the namesake of Radin Mas.

Yet a humble little hut is all that is left to commemorate Javanese princess Radin Mas Ayu.

Nestled at the foot of Mount Faber, her tomb is easy to miss. Only a small sign hanging at the entrance of the shrine tells the story of the filial 16th-century princess who sacrificed her life for her father's.

Even though she died in 1511, Radin Mas Ayu lives on in the constituency that bears her name.

"So many things in this neighbourhood are named after her - the primary school, community centre and the old Radin Mas kampung," said unofficial caretaker Zainol Atan, 60. "Till today, she is still our princess, and we must respect her."

The rich history of Radin Mas dates back to the 1800s. Spanning Redhill, Bukit Purmei and Tiong Bahru, it was once home to one of Singapore's oldest kampungs.

Today, it is a predominantly residential area infused with modern structures like Henderson Waves and an enclave of hip cafes in Yong Siak Street.

But there are also hidden treasures which offer a window into Singapore's past.

The black-and-white colonial bungalows along Mount Faber Road, for instance, have been gazetted as heritage buildings by the Urban Redevelopment Authority for their unique history and 1920s architecture.

True to its Malay-Muslim roots, Radin Mas is also the location of the Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim Mosque, which was built in 1890 and is managed by the Johor government.

Sitting on Telok Blangah Road, the mosque, with its whitewashed walls and green roofs, still attracts devotees from all over the island.

Building contractor Mohammed Hushim, 51, who lives in Bedok, said: "I like this mosque as it is less strict and we are allowed to rest in the prayer areas."

But the mosque is not the only age-old religious landmark in the area. Just down the road from it, the Church of St Teresa has occupied its Kampong Bahru spot since 1929.

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The gleaming white structure is the only building in Singapore with Romano-Byzantine architecture. Inspired by the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Paris, the church is "a place where many Catholic couples want to get married", said literacy intervention teacher Genevieve Liao, 24.

Former resident Lim Mei Ling, 48, has fond memories of another religious institution next to the Catholic church.

Tang Gek Beo, or the Eastern Hell Temple, has been around for over a century. It houses the rare Heartless Black and White Demons - hell guards said to escort souls for sentencing by the King of Hell.

Said Ms Lim, a senior buyer: "The high walls of Tang Gek Beo looked like a castle to us children then, and we would imagine what went on behind those walls."

According to temple caretaker Guo Xiu Ru, 63, the temple has seen three to four generations of devotees.

The long-time resident of Radin Mas said: "Previously, the temple was surrounded by trees and kampungs, but they have all been replaced by HDB flats. Now, only buildings like this temple and the church are left."

Slices of Radin Mas' history were recently preserved in a book titled A Village Remembered: Kampong Radin Mas 1800s To 1973. It was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Sunday.

The next chapter will see new facilities like Henderson Waves, Singapore's highest pedestrian bridge at 36m, take centrestage. The bridge, which connects Mount Faber to Telok Blangah Hill, is popular among families and joggers.

It is also a favourite among young lovers.

Student Adele Tan, 23, said: "I can tell my mother that I'm going to Henderson Waves with my boyfriend, and she won't raise her eyebrows as she would had I said Mount Faber (a hot spot for couples in parked cars)."

Financial planner Marilyn Quek, 30, who has been living in Radin Mas for 25 years, said the area has the perfect blend of old and new. "The modern facilities help the younger generations bond with their families and friends, while the old religious landmarks give them continuity with tradition," she added.

It is a sentiment that Mr Zainol shares. "Places of heritage like the (Radin Mas) shrine should be preserved to keep our multicultural tradition," he said.

"If not, Singapore would slowly lose her history."

audreyt@sph.com.sg

rachelay@sph.com.sg

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Sept 6, 2013

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