Hinduism in Singapore: An ambitious attempt to capture the rich, complex beliefs of one of the most ancient religions in the world

Hinduism precedes many religions in the world today.
Spanning a wide variety of belief systems, philosophy and rituals, it is often associated with Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism— but what makes it so distinctive?

Source: Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Hinduism is arguably the oldest living religion and has over 900 million adherents worldwide.

Commonly referred to as a “family of religions”, Hinduism weaves an expansive web of customs, beliefs, and practices of worship that makes it the most diverse and complex religion in the world.

Doctrine, practice, society, story, and devotion make up the 5 elements that coalesce into an elaborate braid of the Hindu religious truth. To each his own, this tolerance for multiple perspectives enhances this religious truth as a whole.

This diversity can be somewhat encapsulated in the prayer that goes:

“May good thoughts come to us from all sides”

— Hindu prayer


When “Diverse” Doesn’t Even Cut it: The Aghoris and Caste system

Source: The Mirror

Similar to other religions, Hinduism is divided into several sects with who have their own set of core beliefs and worship. However, any adventurous attempt to unravel these systems of belief would only begin to scratch the surface.

The Hindu Trinity consists of Brahma— The Creator, Vishnu— the Preserver, and Shiva—The Destroyer, all of which, are the “incarnations” of Brahma, the supreme. Stick with us here.

One of the more interesting ones is the Aghori tribe. They are Shaiva sadhus (worshippers of one of the manifestations of Lord Shiva) and feared throughout India.

They carve a living off charnel grounds where Lord Shiva and goddess Kali Ma are believed to dwell. Their post-mortem practices can verge on the extreme; feasting on human flesh, meditating on cadavers, smearing themselves in cremation ashes and using marijuana in search of enlightenment.

They hold no worldly possessions other than a kappala bowl and walking stick fashioned from a human skull and femur bone.

The Aghori believe that they are closer to Lord Shiva by surrounding themselves with death and decay— transgressing worldly taboos and the human ego.

As flesh is temporary and so is life on Earth, they believe death keeps them away from temptations and attachments of the world.

Source: Wim Arys on Unsplash

Hinduism also gave rise to the caste system, which is one of the oldest and yet, most controversial forms of social and religious hierarchy.

The caste system divides Hindus into different groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (duty) and in order of prominence: Brahmin—intellectual and spiritual leaders; Kshatriyas: protectors and public servants; Vaisyas—skilled producers; Shudras— labourers; Untouchables— the lowest level of the societal hierarchy.

The caste system stems from the Hindu concept that celebrates diversity but also believes that people are different and so, each has their own role that will fit well into different aspects of society. This Varna, or social order creates the framework of Hindu moral duties.

For centuries, the caste system determined every aspect of a person’s social, professional and religious status in Indian communities. Today this system is somewhat overlooked, but obligations to marry within a certain caste is still upheld.


Hinduism In Singapore

Source: Dominik Vanyi on Unsplash

Hinduism in Singapore can be traced back to 7 AD when Singapore was better known as Temasek— a trading post for the Hindu-Buddhist Srivijaya empire.

Presently, Hindus make up 5% of Singapore’s population, where approximately 30 Hindu temples can be found in Singapore.

Mainly three festivals are celebrated by Hindus in Singapore— Deepavali, Thaipusam and the Firewalking Festival.

Many are familiar with the festival of lights, or better known as Deepavali, but few Singaporeans know about Thaipusam or the Firewalking Festival.

Source: Dominic Vanyi on Unsplash

Observed as a public holiday up until 1968, Thaipusam is a celebration that honors Lord Murugan, a Hindu God of war and a son of Shiva. The festival is one of faith, endurance, and penance.

Devotees carrying a silver chariot from one temple to another with other devotees carrying kavadi (offerings). Participants shout “Vel!” (spear) above the drumming procession as an ode to Lord Murugan who defeated evil using the vel that was gifted to him by his mother.

In contrast to Hinduism practiced in other countries, Singaporean Hindus hold different customs which have been adapted to their modern, cosmopolitan environment.

The celebration of Thaipusam in Singapore too has adjusted since the ban on instruments and music during the Hindu procession was introduced in 1973 due to past incidents. In 2015, there was also much debate on whether to reinstate this festival, recognised as a day for fulfilling prayers to devotees, as a public holiday.

Source: Channel News Asia

Thimithi, or better known as Firewalking Festival is a ritualistic act of walking over beds of coal in honour of the goddess Draupadi Amman who emerged unharmed after being forced to walk on fire to prove her purity.  

The day symbolizes fulfillment of promises made by devotees and religious faith to their deities.

Do a Deep Dive

This is just the beginning of uncovering the multi-facets of Hinduism.

For example, with a multitude of Gods and Goddesses, which one should Hindus pray to? Do Hindus believe in heaven and an afterlife? Is there still room for Polytheism in a religion of the 21st-century?

What is the symbolism or use of a “milk pit” during the Firewalking festival? Do Aghoris exist in Singapore? 

If yes, will the Singapore government allow such sects of Hinduism? Do the different sects of Hinduism get along, and if so, why can’t other religions follow suit? How does the worship of the goddess Kali compare to the extremes of the Aghori tribe?

To seek answers and a better understanding is to find harmony in a multi-cultural society— and this begins with a conversation.

AskMeAnything is hosting an open-dialogue on Hinduism on August 18th, Saturday. The event will feature a platform to ask your most curious, uninhibited questions. 

Organized by The White Hatters, these sessions provide a safe, judgment-free space to ask questions otherwise deemed taboo.

Book your spot now by heading over to Ask Me Anything on Hinduism August 18th, registrations are now open.


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