Temple of the Heavenly Jade Emperor

The Singapore Yu Huang Gong, formally occupied by Keng Teck Whay (association) was founded in 1831 by 36 Peranakan merchants, mostly from Malacca. Construction was believed to be completed between the late 1840s and early 1850s making it approximately 170 years old. It’s one of the oldest mutual aid associations that also functions as an ancestral temple and a private temple, dedicated to the worship of Jade Emperor (Yu Huang Da Di) and San Guan Da Di.

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↑ Our knowledgeable guide, Rosalind Tan.

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It has now been taken over by the Taoist Mission who have painstakingly restored the building which was declared unsafe for occupancy back in 2012. When we approached the temple, we were reminded to always enter through the left doorway and exit through the right doorway. As you enter, you can see a large alter with deities residing in the square hall. A octoganal pagoda sits above it.

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The beautifully restored Pavilion is only accessible to worshipers of the temple once a month, on the first day of the new lunar month. In view of its rich heritage values the building was among the first to be earmarked for preservation in 1973, but was only gazetted in 2009, probably because it was not ready to be opened to public.

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The Former Keng Teck Whay Building is designed and constructed in the traditional Hokkien style, characterised by the curved roof ridges with upturned ‘swallow tail’ sweeps on the ends. Sculptures and carvings – including those of dragons, fishes, and flowers – decorate the roofs. These were made using the jian nian (剪粘, ‘cut and paste’) technique, where ceramic bowls are trimmed into smaller pieces and put together to form intricate figures and icons.

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A European spiral staircase and Peranakan tiles were added during the 1906/1907 renovation, which was also the period when western architectural features were introduced at Thian Hock Keng and Chung Wen Pagoda.

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There are three structures within the compound: an entrance gateway, an octagonal pagoda rising above a square hall, and a double-storey hall at the back. The prominent pagoda lends a remarkably symmetrical layout to the combined compounds of Thian Hock Keng, Chong Wen Ge, and the Former Keng Teck Whay Building. The 3-storey pagoda is squarish on the ground floor and octagonal on the upper floors, with an auspicious bottle gourd at the top. According to Taoist Mission this represents Taoism concept of “Round Heaven and Square Earth” derived from Yin-Yang Bagua.

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↑ Taken from atop the pagoda. A view across the rooftops of Thian Hock Keng and Chong Wen Ge. A similar pagoda can be seen from where we stood.

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↑ The abbots quarters

Hidden away from the public eye is the hall at the back, which served the dual function of a meeting space and an ancestral hall. A stone ancestral tablet inscribed with the names of Keng Teck Whay’s founding fathers is enshrined in the hall, allowing members of the association to venerate the pioneers. In front of this is a small open area where we enjoyed tea with the abbot.

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↑ Photo courtesy of Belinda Tan

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Many thanks to Belinda for organising this tour, Jerome for the invite, Rosalind our fantastic guide, Master Lee and Master Tan for being such hospitable hosts. For more info about the temple, you can visit their Facebook Page . Also, Jerome has written a great article with beautifully taken photos of the temple here.

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Address: 150 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068608.

Sources: NHB, beokeng.com, Asiaone.