The streets of Little India in Singapore was alive with bright colors. Pungent smells and vibrant music music filled the air. The Hindu temples of Singapore sparkled in the afternoon light. It was the most liveliest scene I’d ever seen.
“You must see the Hindu temples in Singapore when you’re in Little India,” my friend, Nunuk instructed the night before. I was in Singapore for a few days, enroute to Indonesia. And I had asked Nunuk for some suggestions of places to visit.
This was not my first time in Singapore. Since I have family in Indonesia, we often visited Singapore since it was so nearby. I have many summer memories of visiting Singapore during our trips to visit relatives in Indonesia.
Exploring Singapore’s culture
Singapore was our family’s favorite stopover place. We visited Singapore to spend the night and get adjusted to the time difference. I actually can’t count how many times I’ve been to Singapore. And I can’t even remember my very first trip there.
The funny thing is, in all the times I’d been to Singapore, I never really saw much of the city. Sure we did an excursion out to the island of Sentosa once. And we also once checked out the night safari at the Singapore Zoo. But for the most part, Singapore to me involved shopping along Orchard Road. I knew there was more to the city. But I never really had an opportunity to venture out.
This time, though, I was on my own. And I was determined to play out my own version of “No Reservations.” I wanted to explore the off-the-beaten-path parts of the city.
Singapore is a melting pot of different cultures. It’s influenced by the Chinese, Indian, Arab, and Malay traders who passed through the island throughout its history. On top of that, there are remnants of British colonialism, as evidenced by much of its architecture and the chosen national language of English. Little India is one of many ethnic neighborhoods in Singapore. Each neighborhood is distinct, yet critical in shaping the national culture.
Exploring the Hindu temples of Singapore
I walked along the shop lined streets. My walk took me past stores selling colorful fabrics and saris. Bollywood music blared out of a nearby video store. The smell of incense floated under my nose as I passed a spice shop. Burying my head into my Lonely Planet guidebook, I tried to figure out where I was supposed to go to find the Hindu temples of Singapore.
Suddenly, the sound of songs and chanting caught my ears. It was coming from somewhere nearby. I followed the music around the corner of a building. And I found myself in front of a temple, the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. It’s a temple dedicated to the goddess Kali.
In my travels, I always enjoy visiting different places of worship: the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris; the Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo, the Borobudur temple in Yogyakarta. The prospect of seeing some Hindus temple in Singapore excited me. I wondered what the temples were like. My only knowledge of Hinduism came from reading the Bhagavad Gita in high school. So I really knew nothing about their various deities or why the cow is sacred to them.
An experience to remember
What I saw before me was a vibrant explosion of color. Waves of music accented the air. I had an overwhelming feeling of being transported into another world. I know I was over-idealizing that moment, but there was something magical about being in that place.
As I walked through the temple, I looked at the statues and paintings. And I observed the people who came to worship. It was beautiful, and I was struck with awe at how diverse this world really is.
Years later, I visited that temple again with my husband and children. I wanted to give them a chance to see the Hindu temples of Singapore for themselves. But this time around, the temple looked different to me. Perhaps it was a function of age. The colors and the music were still there, as were the statues and worshipers. But I didn’t have the same feeling of awe as before.
Gaining experiences through travel
I guess that’s the thing with travel. Your experiences are influenced by how you remember them, or what you happened to be feeling at that moment. As a recent college grad in 2004, I was bright-eyed and idealistic. To me, the world was full of magic and places to be explored. And now, eight years later in 2012, my view of the world is a lot more complex than that. Being a wife and mother has changed my perspective.
It wasn’t that it was less magical. But it was that I was seeing the reality along with the magic. This doesn’t take away from the memory of that first visit. But rather, it enhances the experience and makes it more multi-dimensional.
Many of the Hindu temples of Singapore are dedicated to various deities. But the temple dedicated to Kali will always stick in my memory. In Hindu belief, Kali is the goddess of time and change and destruction. Although at first glance this may seem bad, these three things (time, change, destruction) are what we need to grow and evolve.
Travel enables us to explore and experience new things. But traveling back to place we’ve visited before affords us a glimpse into how we ourselves have changed. For me, visiting the Hindu temples of Singapore allowed me to see that.
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