Singapore’s oldest Hindu shrine, the Sri Mariamman Temple, boasts a superb entrance gopuram bristling with brightly coloured deities. A wood and atap hut was first erected here in 1827 on land belonging to Naraina Pillay, a government clerk who arrived on the same ship as Stamford Raffles when he first came ashore at Singapore; the present temple was completed around 1843. Inside, look up at the roof to see splendid friezes depicting a host of Hindu deities, including the three manifestations of the supreme being: Brahma the creator (with three of his four heads showing),
Vishnu the preserver, and Shiva the destroyer (holding one of his sons). The main sanctum is devoted to Mariamman, a goddess worshipped for her healing powers.

Smaller sanctums dotted about the walkway circumnavigating the temple honour other deities. In the one dedicated to the goddess Periachi Amman, a sculpture portrays her with a queen lying on her lap, whose evil child she has ripped from her womb; it’s odd, then, that Periachi Amman is the protector of children, to whom babies are brought when one month old. Once a year, during the festival of Thimithi (Oct or Nov), an unassuming patch of sand to the left of the main sanctum is covered in red-hot coals that male Hindus run across to prove the strength of their faith. The participants, who line up all the way along South Bridge Road waiting for their turn, are supposedly protected from the heat of the coals by the power of prayer.

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