Located in the heart of the central business district, the humble origins of the Seng Wong Beo Temple can be traced back to 1898. It is decorated lavishly in gilded green tiles and blazing red lanterns today, but temple devotees first worshipped in a simple wooden house.
The Seng Wong Beo Temple’s fascinating history is intimately connected to the lives of its founders—Khoo Seok Wan and Reverend Swee Oi. The former was a literary scholar while the latter served as abbot at Hong San See Temple. Both admired each other’s talents and were close friends.
Khoo financed the rebuilding and inauguration of the temple in 1905. Employing artisans and imported materials from China, the temple was constructed to resemble the village temples of Southern China.
Incorporating elements of traditional Chinese architecture, the syncretic temple combined Buddhist and Taoist worship under one roof. In addition to the Provincial City God—protector of the living and patron saint of the departed—other deities such as the White Tiger General, Yama King, and Azure Dragon are also worshipped.
After the Seng Wong Beo Temple was constructed, Khoo and Swee were known to have had lively conversations about poetry and art in the backyard. For a time, the temple also served as the working premises of Swee’s disciples. The temple grounds were eventually requisitioned by the Singapore government in 1985.
An interesting historical fact lies behind the wooden tablet standing within the temple’s main prayer hall: in 1907, Tsao Ping Lung, then-Chinese Consul of Singapore, graced the temple with the gift of a personally written tablet.
Today, the temple is perhaps best known for its practice of conducting ghost marriages—requested by parents on behalf of their deceased children. Shrouded in mystery, this ancient ritual has been carried out by the temple for over a hundred years.
Buildings and sites featured on Roots.SG are part of our efforts to raise awareness of our heritage; a listing on Roots.SG does not imply any form of preservation or conservation status, unless it is mentioned in the article. The information in this article is valid as of September 2019 and is not intended to be an exhaustive history of the site/building.