Formerly known as Sri Narasimha Perumal Temple, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple is the first Hindu temple in Singapore dedicated to Sri Perumal, the Hindu deity more commonly known as Vishnu. Even though the impressive structure standing today was built in the 1960s, the temple is one of Singapore’s oldest Hindu temples in terms of establishment. Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple serves as a reminder of the Indian community’s contributions to the development of Singapore over the years.
Vaishnavite Community in Singapore
Before the temple’s construction, there was only one shrine in Singapore dedicated to Vishnu, located in Sri Mariamman Temple on South Bridge Road. Most Hindu temples in Singapore were built by Indians who were followers of Shaivism, the sect that reveres Shiva as the supreme deity. Hence, the early Vaishnavite community (devotees of Vishnu) decided to erect a temple catering exclusively to their spiritual needs and rituals.
In 1851, a group of influential Indian community leaders – including Arunachala Pillay, Cootaperumal Pillay, Ramasamy Pillay, Appasamy Pillay, Chockalingam Pillay, and Ramasamy Jamidar – collectively purchased a piece of land from the British East India Company for 26 rupees and 8 annas. They constructed a temple dedicated to Narasimha Perumal, an avatar of Vishnu, on the site in 1855. This was the foundation of the present-day Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple.
By 1932, the 80-year-old building was in dire need of repairs. Its deities were moved to a temporary wooden shrine in front of the original structure, but it was only 20 years later, in 1952, that plans to rebuild the temple were afoot. The Mahomedan and Hindu Endowment Board, which had been managing the temple since 1907, initially proposed to build shops and houses around the temple to fund the redevelopment through the lease of these properties. This idea, however, was dropped as the size of the temple compound would be reduced. Instead, Hindus in Singapore pitched in with 70,000 Malaya and British Borneo dollars, and the Hindu Advisory Board raised additional funds for the construction.
When Sri Narasimha Perumal Temple was being rebuilt, a two-storey wedding hall was also being constructed within the temple compound. Funded by and named after P. Govindasamy Pillai, an Indian philanthropist and community leader, the hall was officially opened by then Yang di-Pertuan Negara Yusof bin Ishak, on 19 June 1965.
When the temple was completed in 1966, its chief deity was changed from the imposing lion-headed avatar, Narasimha Perumal, to the gentler and more gracious form, Srinivasa Perumal. The temple was also renamed accordingly.
Every year in the Hindu month of Thai, which falls in January or February in the Gregorian calendar, the Hindu community celebrates Thaipusam, a festival honouring the Hindu god Murugan. As part of the celebrations, a grand street procession is held, starting from Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and ending at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple on Tank Road. Many worshippers carry large, elaborately decorated structures called kavadis and impaled themselves with spikes and hooks, while other devotees bear paal kudams (milk pots) on their heads. Devotees of Murugan perform these different forms of physical mortification as thanksgiving to granted prayers or as petitions to the deity.
Architecture and Deities
The traditional South Indian-style Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple features a magnificent five-tier gopuram (entrance tower). Added when the temple was rebuilt, the tower is striking for its depiction of various avatars of Vishnu and other Hindu deities, as well as the floral and abstract patterns. Due to its monumental height, the gopuram can be seen from a great distance; this allows devotees who are not able to visit the temple to still offer prayers to the deities from afar.
Elaborate relief carvings and colourful circular mandalas, symbolising the universe and nirvana, decorate the mandapam (prayer hall). Inside, a statue of Srinivasa Perumal is enshrined in the main sanctum where only priests can enter to perform religious rituals. Flanking the entrance to this sanctum are two figures known as Dwarapalakas, or door deities. The various avatars of Vishnu line the top of the walls just in front of the entrance to the main sanctum.
There are also shrines dedicated to other Hindu deities in the temple. On the two sides of the main sanctum are the shrines of Vishnu’s consorts, Lakshmi and Andal. Hanuman, the monkey deity (known as Anjaneyar to Tamils), and the elephant-headed god Ganesha are also honoured in the temple. Crowning each of the temple’s sanctums is a vimanam, a highly decorated dome.
Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple Today
Following the Hindu tradition of renovating temples every 12 years, Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple continues to undergo regular renewal and restoration. The temple remains a popular place of worship for the Hindu community in Singapore, especially devotees of Vishnu.