Singapore pilgrims seek divine help at century-old temple

By AFP   October 26, 2023 | 11:57 pm PT
Singapore pilgrims seek divine help at century-old temple
Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian devotees are making the annual pilgrimage to Da Bo Gong Temple to mark its 100th year. Photo by AFP
On Singapore's tiny Kusu islet, legend has it that a giant turtle turned itself into an island to save two sailors. A century after a Chinese temple was opened on its shores, pilgrims are still flowing in, seeking good fortunes.

Tens of thousands of Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian devotees are making the annual pilgrimage to Da Bo Gong Temple until November 12 to mark its 100th year on the island, whose name translates to "turtle".

Founded in 1923, the green, red and white temple named after the God of Prosperity is believed to grant good fortune, serenity and protection.

Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, is one of the temple's main deities and is thought to answer the prayers of childless couples.

Velmurugan Kolanjinathan, 39, an engineer from India working in Singapore, and his wife Selvarani, 35, made the half-hour ferry trip to the southern island to pray for a child after six years of marriage.

"(Either) a boy or a girl is fine for us," Kolanjinathan told AFP.

He said his friend, whose wife had a baby after praying at the temple, had advised him to try the same.

Grades from God

Others prayed for good fortune for themselves and for the world at the temple, which is built on the island's shore and elevated on stilts to protect it against rising tides.

Triton Lee, 10, said a little prayer could help improve his grades in Singapore's pressure-laden school system.

"When I enter the temple I'm going to pray for... higher scores," he told AFP after disembarking from the ferry.

While he's not doing well in Chinese class, Lee believes he has a chance of getting better grades in maths, English and science.

He prayed at the temple last year and was surprised by the maths results that came after.

"I was astounded to get full marks. I couldn't even speak," the boy said.

"I think both hard work and prayers (lead to good grades)."

The boy's mother, Sam, told AFP that she would pray for world peace.

"At home we pray for peace and happiness and, at a greater level, hoping that the world will get to a more peaceful state," she said.

Waning tradition

For Lau Cheng Poh, 63, and two of his siblings, coming to Kusu on the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar is a tradition instilled by their father.

Like most of the older generation in the city-state, which is largely ethnic Chinese, he had immigrated from China.

"There was no ferry before. So we rode on small boats," said his brother Lau Cheng Eng, 60, adding that coming to Kusu was the equivalent of an overseas holiday for them at that time.

But the brothers said the younger generation is more reluctant to make the yearly pilgrimage.

That's despite more than 31 percent of Singapore residents identifying themselves as Buddhist and 8.8 percent as Taoist, according to a 2020 census.

"I don't want to force my children," said Lau Cheng Poh. "Young people are busy with their own lives."

His son Ivan Lau said he will make the pilgrimage for as long as he can, but worries for its future.

"I got a feeling that this tradition will be lost," said the 29-year-old engineer.

"Like the Chinese dialects, I fear it will become extinct."

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