A pleasant find on the ground floor of Tanjong Pagar Plaza Market and Food Centre, at 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza - the Tanjong Pagar Tua Pek Kong Temple is embedded into the brick wall of the market. No prizes for guessing which Taoist deity is worshipped by a number of stallholders here.
It is possible that this temple-in-a-wall began as a simple altar set up on a table, then grew in scale and grandiosity as the stallholders’ business prospered. To the stallholders who believe in him, Tua Pek Kong is very much part of the social milieu of the urban space. The survival of the market and the survival of the temple are intertwined now. It is fascinating to observe such organic growth of popular religion in a shared social space.
Conversely, many present Chinese temples in Singapore were formed from the collapsing of multiple temples into one physical structure. This was a consequence of islandwide urbanisation and redevelopment from the 1960s to the 1990s. Many temples, especially in the rural areas, had to relocate. As they did not have sufficient funds to construct new structures on their own, many merged and pooled resources to form combined temples.
Currently, the temple formed from the largest number of constituent temples is the Tampines Chinese Temple at Tampines Street 21. It opened in 1992 after the merger of 13 (!) temples, mostly from the historic Tampines area. I can’t find another temple formed from that many constituent temples - if you know of one, please tell me!
The existence of these combined temples is a testament to the impact of urbanisation and urban redevelopment on religious spaces in Singapore, and the flexibility of popular Taoism and Buddhism with regards to the organisation of sacred spaces.