First established in Arab Street in 1948, this current temple facing Upper Thomson Road, opposite the entrance of Lower Pierce Reservoir was constructed in 1979 with master craftsmen and materials brought in from Taiwan. According to my knowledge, this is the last temple in Singapore built in traditional timber post-and-beam method without the use of nails. Again, like Sian Keng Tong, the timber parts of the temple made use of Chengal imported from Malaysia. The temple committee had visited Leong San See and Hong San See prior finalizing on the design of Kiew Lee Tong at Jalan Tambur.
Apart from being a remakable piece of antique architecture built not too long ago, this Heng Hwa temple is most well-known for its once in 10 years ‘appeasement of spirits ritual’ during the Hungry Ghost Festival. Apparently, this ritual was started during the post 2nd world war period when there were thousands of local Chinese being massacred during the Japanese Sook Ching exercises. This ritual is unique due to its involvement of Taoist priests, Buddhist priests and Opera actors. Besides the ritualistic performance of ‘Mu Lian Jiu Mu’ (Mu Lian saving of mother in Hell), a large wooden pole is also erected for the summoning of wandering spirits. The purpose of this ritual is to direct all wandering souls towards their proper path of reincarnation so that they not wander ceaselessly around a world that does not belong to them. With its status within the Heng Hwa community, Kiew Lee Tong has also passed its flame to another Heng Hwa branch temple in Medan, Indonesia.
I particularly like the arrangement of paper lanterns in this temple. Never seen so many and different types of lanterns in any temples in Singapore. According to Heng Hwa traditions, the smaller lanterns in the outer hall represents each and every diety in the temple. Each diety will have two to three lanterns with the main diety having more. Some of the lanterns date back to 1948, transferred from the original temple in Arab Street. So what are these petit lanterns for? According to Mr Lee, the current temple guardian, the lanterns can be ‘borrowed’ by devotees when there are crisis in the family such as chronic illness and the likes. Towards the inner hall hangs a white round lantern belonging to all the dieties in the temple. The lamp in the lantern is always lit. Two electric lamps on either side of the main altar actually ‘swings’ alternately on its own in the past during festive occasions. This is not poltergeist! This actually mark the ‘arrival’ of the dieties of the temple. In the central altar of the rear hall, there are black-and-white photos of the Lu Xian Zhang, the main diety of the temple. These were pictures of him revealing himself in Arab gardens back in the 1940s. The vase and pagoda fronting the temple symbolizes the presence of Lu with a rhyming ‘Lu Dou’ (Lu is here) in Heng Hwa. Other mystical events that had occured include the inexplicable self-swinging flags atop the pole erected during the ‘appeasement of wandering spirits’ ritual.
Whilst conducting the interview with Mr Lee, the current temple guardian, I realized that the Heng Hwa community is a very close knit group. Whereas Sian Keng Tong and Tioh Hin Cho Beo each belongs to a distinct village in Pu Tian, Kiew Lee Tong was founded by members of 13 villages from Pu Tian, Fu Zhou and Xian You. The majority of the current members come from ‘Shi Ting’ village. I was generously showed albums of pictures taken in the temple since its founding, from colored to black-and-white photos. One photo took my attention. In this picture, there were a few gentlemen fixing the roof of the temple. The were not contracted workers, but clansmen who took the initiative of repairing their own temple! Within the group of men, there was a manager, a wholesaler, a furniture shop-owner and a taxi driver. One of the men on the photo has passed away. Mr Lee lamented that many traditions and rituals are gradually forgotten with time. To him, an admonition from an elder on various taboos are an endearing sign of concern and kinship. These gentle reminders from the past are sadly no longer understood or admonished nowadays.
Interesting Temple ceremonies to watch out for in 2007 –
11 Feb 2007, 7pm – receiving of deities
21 Feb 2007, 7pm – sending of dieties
3 Mar 2007 – Yuan Xiao celebrations (Chinese Valentine’s day)
Contact person: Mr Lee 96221625