The Origin of Sri Thendayuthapani Temple, Singapore
The Chettiar community is deeply rooted in the Hindu tradition especially in the Saiva Siddhantha. Members of the community are very devoted to Sri Thendayuthapani also called as Lord Muruga.
But it was not until 35 years after their arrival in Singapore that they constructed a proper temple in honour of Sri Thendayuthapani. C M Turnbull, in her book A History of Singapore 1819-1975 records that the Nattukkottai Chettiars built the Subramaniam Temple (a popular name given to the temple by non Chettiars) in Tank Road in 1859.
However prior to that year, they had installed a Vel (spear). a representation of Lord Muruga, under a tree where they offered their prayers. The Vel was installed below a pipal (arasa maram) tree at the bank of a tank (pond). Fresh water from the hill where the Central Park is now, emerged as a waterfall and filled the tank. The location was ideal for the establishment of a temple. The Chettiars took their bath there before offering their prayers to the Vel.The railway line nearby also provided an excellent form of transport to and from Malaya where they had also established their businesses.
Front View until 1980
The tree had to be uprooted when the government acquired the land for re-doing Tank Road. The site where the Vel was now forms part of the slip road that leads to River Valley Road and Clemenceau Avenue.
Prior to the proper construction of their temple, the Chettiars visited and offered their prayers at the Sivan Temple, now relocated at Geylang East and at Sri Mariamman Temple at South Bridge Road. Their important associations with these two temples are described in their recent consecration ceremony souvenir magazines.
Front view after 1983
The First Consecration Ceremony of Sri Thendayuthapani temple
The slab stones found at Sri Thendayuthapani Temple show that the temple was consecrated on 4.4.1859. That would mean that the building works had started one or two years earlier. In fact the community bought the land, where the present temple stands, from the estate of Mr Oxley, the first Surgeon General of Singapore. The temple in its original form was of a simple structure. At the entrance to the temple, two raised platforms similar to that found in Chettiar households in Tamil Nadu were erected. It had an alangara mandapam and an artha mandapam. The alangara mandapam was used to house the decorated deities on special occasions while the artha mandapam was the centre hall leading to the main sanctum.
The main sanctum was of course dedicated to Lord Muruga in the form of Sri Thendayuthapani. The Jambu Vinayagar and Iduambar sanctums were constructed on either side of the main sanctum somewhat similar to the present sanctums. A dining hall with a courtyard, called the Kaarthikai Kattu was used for serving food on Karthikai and special occasions such as Thaipusam. Under the chapter, "Many Gods", Roland Braddell, in his book, "the Lights of Singapore", (first edition 1935) describes quite light heartedly on how the Chettiars used to feed the people.
"... a great reception is held at the temple to which all are welcome, whatever their race or creed, while the devotees are fed in the courtyard from huge cauldrons of rice and curry, which they pile upon fresh banana leaves.."
The Kaarthikai Kattu, erected in 1859 was demolished about 122 years later in 1981 to make way for the Chettiars Wedding Hall. Food is served at the ground level of the wedding hall on days when Kaarthikai is observed and on other occasions. The method of serving food remains the same.
Literary Works on Sri Thendayuthapani
Sri Thendayuthapani had inspired many Tamil scholars and poets to compose songs in praise of Him.
The earliest recorded works is that of Sadisivam Pandithar, a Jaffna Tamil. His poems that were published in "Singai Nagaranthati" and "Chitrakavikal" in 1887 gives some description about the temple. His works also became the forerunner to Tamil literature in Malaya and Singapore.
Notable among other literary works on Lord Thendayuthapani are by R M R Ramanathan and R K M Meyappa Chettiar. Kavignar Kannadhasan, a Chettiar and a distinguished poet have also composed songs in praise of the Lord when he visited the temple in the late 70's.
The Temple Management
Sri Thendayuthapani Temple is one of the oldest temple and is visited by all Singapore Hindus. It has over the years built up a reputation of being managed well. At the head of the management is the trustee who is assisted by representatives of the various Kittangis and now it is called as Chettiars' Temple Society.
The Trusteeship is rotated annually amongst the representatives of the Kittangis. Important decisions affecting the temple and the community are made at a gathering of the entire Chettiar community called the Nagara Koottam.
The Chettiars' Temple Society also administers Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple, located at 73 Keong Saik Road in China Town Area.