Heritage Gem

Singapore's own temple of love

Left: Mr Ang Wenjie and Ms Chong Gaik See offering prayers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, last November, as part of their marriage solemnisation ceremony. Right: The altar to the Jade Emperor in the temple, which also houses other famous de
The Yueh Hai Ching Temple, gazetted a National Monument in 1996, is also known as "the love temple", as men and women come to pray to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, to boost their chances of tying the knot.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Left: Mr Ang Wenjie and Ms Chong Gaik See offering prayers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, last November, as part of their marriage solemnisation ceremony. Right: The altar to the Jade Emperor in the temple, which also houses other famous de
Above: A devotee lights joss sticks outside the right hall. Incense urns were moved outdoors to prevent smoke damage to historic carvings inside.ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Left: A devotee lights joss sticks outside the right hall. Incense urns were moved outdoors to prevent smoke damage to historic carvings inside. Right: Temple caretakers admire a porcelain carving of a tiger and its cubs in the right hall, said to re
Temple caretakers admire a porcelain carving of a tiger and its cubs in the right hall, said to represent the dangers worshippers "escape" when they leave the temple after prayers.
Left: Mr Ang Wenjie and Ms Chong Gaik See offering prayers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, last November, as part of their marriage solemnisation ceremony. Right: The altar to the Jade Emperor in the temple, which also houses other famous de
Mr Ang Wenjie and Ms Chong Gaik See offering prayers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, last November, as part of their marriage solemnisation ceremony. ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE
Left: Mr Ang Wenjie and Ms Chong Gaik See offering prayers to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, last November, as part of their marriage solemnisation ceremony. Right: The altar to the Jade Emperor in the temple, which also houses other famous de
The altar to the Jade Emperor in the temple, which also houses other famous deities such as Confucius and the god of medicine Hua Tuo. The Yueh Hai Ching Temple, gazetted a National Monument in 1996, is also known as "the love temple", as men and women come to pray to Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, to boost their chances of tying the knot. ST PHOTOS: DESMOND WEE

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

On any given day, men and women slip quietly into this temple nestled among office buildings in Raffles Place.

They have come to the Yueh Hai Ching Temple, or Guangdong Calm Sea Temple, to seek divine favour in the voyage of love.

By tying a red string around Yue Lao, the Chinese god of marriage, one of the many deities housed at the temple, they hope to boost their chances of tying the knot.

The neck of the Yue Lao statue inside the temple at 30B, Phillip Street is adorned with a thick bundle of red threads left by devotees, which the deity is said to use to tie the feet of destined lovers together.

It was here that bunker surveyor Ang Wenjie, 29, solemnised his marriage to administrative operations executive Chong Gaik See, 26, last November. They had prayed to Yue Lao at other temples four years ago to find a partner.

"Both of us are Buddhists. For her, she's a very traditional person, so we thought that if we were able to solemnise our marriage at a Yue Lao miao (shrine), we would receive more blessings," he said.

They are the second couple to do so after software engineer Mah Chun How, 34, and accounts assistant Kang Say See, 29, who solemnised their wedding there last September.

The matchmaking deity has become more popular after word spread of how it had blessed the Mahs, after their story was reported in the media last September. While Yue Lao used to receive one or two devotees a day, temple caretakers said it now gets around eight visitors a day and up to 18 on weekends.

Some of these worshippers hail from Indonesia, China and Thailand. A few are Hindu devotees.

Way before Yueh Hai Ching Temple, which was gazetted as a National Monument in 1996, won fame as "the love temple", it was known as a place where people visited to give thanks for safe sea journeys.

Also known as Wak Hai Cheng Bio in Teochew, it began as a makeshift shrine built by Teochew migrants in the late 18th century.

Grateful to the sea deity Mazu for granting them safe passage by sea from China, they dedicated a shrine to her in an attap hut. A temple to the deity of the north, Xuan Tian Shang Di, was built subsequently.

A man named Lin Pan was believed to have merged the two into a single temple in 1826. Mazu's shrine is now in the left hall while Xuan Tian Shang Di is in the right hall.

"It was to balance out yin (female forces) and yang (male forces)," said Mr Lee Sean Wah, chairman of the Ngee Ann Kongsi's Temple and Prayers Sub-committee, on why a male deity was introduced alongside a female deity. "If you turn your back to the temple, Mazu is on your right and Xuan Tian Shang Di is on your left. This is because of the principle of nan zuo nu you (male on the left, female on the right)," the 70-year-old added in Mandarin.

Until 1845, Yueh Hai Ching Temple was managed by Teochew welfare organisation Ban See Soon Kongsi. In the same year, the Ngee Ann Kongsi was founded by wealthy Teochew merchants and assumed management of the temple. The temple was used as the Kongsi's first office from the 1930s until the Kongsi moved to its current Tank Road premises in 1963. The temple was also a meeting place for the Kwangtung Hui Kuan in the 1930s.

Other deities were introduced in the following decades on worshippers' requests. Now, the temple houses other famous deities such as the Jade Emperor, Confucius and the god of medicine Hua Tuo.

Mazu's statue used to be paraded in the streets around the temple in an annual procession on her birthday until the practice was banned by the British colonial government in the early 20th century. Teochew opera plays were staged in the courtyard on festive occasions, drawing crowds who would reserve seats hours before each performance.

Today, the temple is moving with the times. A mobile application to teach visitors about its history as well as Teochew culture has been developed by the Kongsi and is now available for download on Android phones after a soft launch yesterday.

The temple was also restored a few years ago, with the Ngee Ann Kongsi's restoration efforts winning the temple a Unesco AsiaPacific Cultural Heritage Conservation Award of Merit in 2015.

The temple is a draw for Western tourists and groups of exchange students from Nanyang Technological University, with its ornate features.

Elaborate porcelain carvings of scenes from popular opera plays can be seen on the roof. They were made using the qianci method, where porcelain shards from cut pottery are glued together to form human and animal figures. "Each of these stories has a moral lesson behind it, and looking at the carvings can remind visitors to emulate the good example of our forebears," Mr Lee said.

One story, for instance, tells of how Madam White Snake braved obstacles to steal a herb which could revive her husband Xu Xian, demonstrating her courage and devotion.

Inside each hall, a carving of a pair of dragons can be seen on the right wall while on the left is a carving of a tiger and its cubs. Worshippers would enter the temple by the right to receive the dragon's blessings, before leaving by the left to escape the dangers represented by the tiger.

Though the temple's location in the Central Business District means it draws irregular crowds of worshippers, Mr Lee is optimistic it will remain relevant into the future.

"As long as people have faith in the deities, they will continue to come," he said.

TAGALOG TAKING ROOT AMONG LOCALS

Correction note: This story has been edited to correct the age of accounts assistant Kang Say See. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore's own temple of love'. Print Edition | Subscribe