SINGAPORE - For the first time, a statue of the sea goddess Mazu from Meizhou Island in Putian, in China's Fujian province, has landed on Singapore shores.
The Mazu statue arrived at the Thian Hock Keng temple in Telok Ayer Street on Wednesday (July 5) and on Thursday morning, temple representatives and devotees gathered at the temple to take part in a ritual ceremony - dating back to the Song Dynasty - in honour of the goddess.
Thursday's ritual ceremony comes more than a century after early Chinese immigrants first stepped into Thian Hock Keng's dimly-lit halls to offer incense to its Mazu goddess, thanking her for their safe voyage by sea from Fujian province to Singapore.
Today, devotees pray to Mazu for peace, protection and good health.
Earlier this week, photos of the statue of Mazu and two other deities flown on business class from China to Malaysia went viral online. The Xiamen Airlines flight tickets costing about $670 each were posted online and widely circulated on social media, The Star reported.
The 1.8m statue of the sea goddess from the Putian Meizhou Mazu Temple, along with statues of her assistants Qian Li Yan and Shun Feng Er, were accompanied by a more than 130-strong delegation from Meizhou.
The Mazu statue is significant because Mazu is from Meizhou.
Mr Tan Aik Hock, chairman of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan's general affairs committee, said that the Mazu statue's arrival in Singapore "is like a parent visiting her children" because Meizhou is the birthplace of Mazu.
Special travel arrangements were made for the statue of the revered goddess and the two accompanying statues from China - business class airline seats - by the Meizhou Mazu temple.
"This is the first time Meizhou's Mazu has come to Singapore. It's a rare opportunity for us to promote cultural exchange and spread Mazu culture, the Mazu spirit," he said.
Making Thursday's event all the more special, Mr Tan added, was the fact that many Singapore temples had shifted their golden Mazu figurines to Thian Hock Keng so devotees could pay their respects before several Mazu statues at the same time.
The ritual ceremony here is part of a week-long "Mazu In South-east Asia, Revisiting The Maritime Silk Road" trip that began in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday and will end in Singapore on Friday.
It is the first time the Meizhou Mazu statue is visiting South-east Asia, according to representatives from the Meizhou temple.
On Wednesday, the statue of Mazu was ferried around in Singapore on a procession to seven temples and the Boon San Lian Ngee Association, before arriving at the Thian Hock Keng temple that evening. Representatives from eight dialect groups here welcomed the statue then.
On Thursday morning, Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan, and representatives from the 38 temples that worship Mazu in Singapore attended the ritual ceremony.
The statues and representatives from Meizhou will return to China on Friday.
Mr Chia Peng Siong, 83, one of the devotees who was at the Thian Hock Keng temple on Thursday to pay his respects, said that he has been to the Meizhou Mazu temple and visits Taiwan-controlled Kinmen every year to pray to Mazu at the temple there.
Mr Chia, who works as a cleaner and believes Mazu keeps him safe, said: "When we pray to Mazu, we feel at peace."
Another devotee, Ms Lee Sok Nuah, 55, who works near the Thian Hock Keng temple and was enjoying the performance there, said: "When my mother was still alive we would pray to Mazu more often. But we still pray to the sea goddess because Singapore has a port."
While it is not clear how many Mazu devotees Singapore has, Mr Lin Jin Bang, chairman of the Putian Meizhou Mazu Temple board of directors, estimates that there are around 300 million Mazu devotees around the world and 100,000 Mazu temples globally.