Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple, situated on Ceylon Road, was established in the mid-19th century by Ceylonese Tamils from Sri Lanka. On 7 February 2003, the temple was designated as a historic site and is today visited by tourists and temple worshippers alike.
Located in Katong near East Coast Road, this Hindu temple strongly identifies with its location and the community it represents – the Ceylonese Hindus. Ceylon Road, in fact, derived its name from the many Ceylonese, or Sri Lankan Tamils, one of the earliest groups of immigrants in Singapore, living around the area.1
The temple’s history began when a stone statue of the Elephant God, Vinayaka or Vinayagar, was recovered after it washed up on the banks of a stream near a senpaga, or chempaka, tree.2 Tamil labourers, along with a prominent member of the Ceylonese community, Ethirnayagam Pillay, installed the statue under this tree in the 1850s. As the deity Vinayagar was found and installed near a senpaga tree, the temple came to be known as the Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple. The deity was originally housed under a simple attap shed with a wooden roof under the tree. In 1913, the Ceylonese Tamils bought some land at the current temple site, built a bigger attap shed, hired a priest for daily prayers and consecrated the temple. They soon began to see the need for a concrete structure.3
The work of constructing the temple was undertaken by the temple’s management committee, formed by community members elected at the 1923 Annual General Meeting of the Singapore Ceylon Tamils Association.4 The committee was headed by S. Muthucumaru, who bore the cost of constructing the main shrine area, or moolasthanam, while many Ceylonese Tamils donated towards the rest of the temple construction. By May 1926, the building construction plans had been finalised and the chief sculptor was invited from Ceylon to begin his work. On 3 February 1930, a consecration ceremony was held to mark the completion of the temple. In June 1939, additions to the temple – a priest’s quarters and a school – were made.5
During World War II, a bomb fell near the temple’s premises, causing severe damage to the building. However, thanks to the generosity of P. Thillainathan, a doctor who undertook the full responsibility of restoring the premises, the temple soon resumed operation. The temple then underwent a series of restoration work over the years.6 In 1989, the main gateway (or maha gopuram), an air-conditioned Hindu wedding hall, seven classrooms, a library and a cultural hall were added. In 2000, rebuilding work was undertaken to prevent structural damage caused by heavy soil subsidence.7
On 7 February 2003, the temple was re-consecrated for the fifth time.8 The temple was deemed unique as non-Hindus, including Buddhists, Christians and Muslims, had also contributed to the rebuilding project in one way or another.9 The temple was subsequently designated a historic site by the National Heritage Board.10
The Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple was built in the ancient South Indian temple architectural style that flourished in the 7th-century Chola dynasty. Some of the most beautiful and intricately carved temples in India were constructed during the Chola dynasty. The main tower entrance of Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple is a 21-metre tall, five-tiered structure. The teakwood door at the main entrance is 4.5 m high, as large doorways were once required for kings who entered temples on elephants.11 The temple’s roof, topped by a dragon with images of many deities, was designed and carved in 1971 by G. Radakrishnan, a traditional temple architect.12
On 9 August 2009, a new 4.5-metre musical pillar – which produces melodic sounds when tapped – was unveiled, the first in Southeast Asia.13 As all Hindu temples hold consecrations every 12 years, Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple held its subsequent consecration on 26 January 2015.14
1. Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage: Through Places of Historical Interest (Singapore: Dhoraisingam S. Samuel, 2010), 267. (Call no. RSING 959.57 SAM-[HIS]); Constance Mary Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988. (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 95. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])
2. Tee Hun Ching, “The Folks Who Rebuilt a Temple, Straits Times, 7 February 2003, 6; “Milestones,” Straits Times, 7 February 2003, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “Milestones”; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 267.
4. “Milestones”; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 269.
5. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 269.
6. Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 269; “Milestones.”
7. Tee, “Folks Who Rebuilt a Temple”; Samuel, Singapore’s Heritage, 269.
8. M. Nirmala, “Rebuilt Temple Consecrated with Ancient Hindu Rituals,” Straits Times, 8 February 2004, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Milestones”; PM Goh Is Guest of Honour at “Mahakunbhabishegam” Consecration Ceremony of Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple at 19 Ceylon Road, 7 February 2003, photograph, Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts. (From National Archives of Singapore media image no. 19990007020 – 0054)
9. Yip Wai Hong, “Temple a Credit to Our Culture,” Straits Times, 14 February 2003, 6; “Hindu Temple’s Splendor Unveiled,” Straits Times, 7 February 2003, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Tee, “Folks Who Rebuilt a Temple.”
10. “Sri Senpaga Vinayagar Temple,” National Heritage Board, accessed 15 December 2016.
11. Tee, “Folks Who Rebuilt a Temple.”
12. “The Sky’s the Limit for this South Indian Sculptor,” Straits Times, 24 January 1976, 13. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Tan Weizhen, “Temple Gets $200,000 Musical Pillar,” Straits Times, 10 August 2009, 35. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Walter Sim, “Hindu Temple Ceremony Attracts 10,000,” Straits Times, 27 January 2015, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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