Take a Harmony Walk

by | November 15, 2019

Celebrate Singapore’s racial and religious harmony through a new programme by the National Heritage Board.


Masjid Bencoolen before its development with its South Indian-style twin minarets and tiered roofs, c. 1950s-1970s. (Courtesy of the National Museum of Singapore and the National Heritage Board)

Singaporeans will be able to embark on free guided walks along Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen Streets by the National Heritage Board (NHB) and learn more about the commonalities shared by diverse communities in the areas of religion, culture and built heritage. For instance, along Waterloo Street, from the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, you can walk two doors down to the neighbouring Sri Krishnan Temple. This is a common sight in the area, where temples, churches, a mosque and a synagogue are all within a stone’s throw of one another.

The Harmony Walks: Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen Streets will be the first of three guided walks, with two others to be launched next year – at Telok Ayer and South Bridge Road. The Harmony Walks: Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen Streets will cover a total of seven religious institutions – Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, Sri Krishnan Temple, Maghain Aboth Synagogue, Cathedral of the Good Shepherd, Church of Saints Peter and Paul, Kum Yan Methodist Church and Masjid Bencoolen.

Alvin Tan, deputy chief executive (Policy & Community) of NHB, said: “Through Harmony Walks, we hope to contribute to ongoing efforts to build and boost trust amongst different communities, and encourage Singaporeans to embrace racial and religious diversity. In doing so, we hope to further strengthen Singapore’s racial and religious harmony and bring Singaporeans together to build a more cohesive society and a more united nation.”

Devotees at Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple, 1962. (Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore)

Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen Streets were originally part of a European quarter according to the Raffles Town Plan, which was published in 1828. However, by the mid-1800s, significant numbers of Eurasians, Chinese, Indians, Jews, Malays, and other communities had settled in the area, bringing with them their respective religions and cultural practices. These communities engaged with and embraced one another, and continue to do so to this day, establishing a brand of cultural and religious harmony that is integral to Singapore and its people.

Participants of the walk can look forward to discovering more about the following commonalities that have helped bridge the gap between the different communities:

  • Community interactions – Hear about the everyday interactions between communities that have helped cultivate a better understanding and acceptance of their social and cultural differences. For instance, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue is served by a family of Hindu cooks and custodians, who have become masters of kosher cuisine.
  • Cross-cultural motifs – See how the interactions and shared practices of different communities have manifested in physical forms, through the mixed architectural features and designs of their houses of worship. For example, the Church of Saints Peter and Paul features lotus motifs, representing purity and enlightenment in Chinese culture, which can also be found on the Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple.
  • Common practices – Discover common practices found across different spiritual and cultural traditions. Both Muslims and Christians practise fasting, the former during the month of Ramadan and the latter during the period of Lent.
  • Maghain Aboth Synagogue. (Courtesy of the Preservation of Sites and Monuments, National Heritage Board)

    Coming together to do good – Learn how different religious institutions reach out to the less fortunate from their own, as well as other communities. The Sri Krishnan Temple used to provide financial support to needy Hindu students, but since 2011, it has opened this programme, entitled the “Sri Krishnan Temple (SKT) Study Award”, to students of all religions.

Harmony Walks: Queen, Waterloo and Bencoolen Streets’ two-hour guided walks will be held weekly from November 23, 2019 to March 31, 2020 (not inclusive of public holidays and with a break between December 9 and 31, 2019). Registration for walks from April 2020 to June 2020 will be available from February 2020. The dates and timings are: Saturdays at 9am, Sundays at 4pm, and last Friday of every month at 4pm.

Registration for the guided walks is available via https://peatix.com/group/6940178.




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