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Seva & the Shrine: Transcending the Boundaries of the Hindu Temple in Singapore

Part 2 Dissertation 2013
Srisaravanan Subramaniam
National University of Singapore | Singapore
The concept of 'seva', or service to others, is a core tenant of Hinduism. Apart from spiritual functions, the temple has always accommodated social and charitable roles. In Singapore, Hindu temples have evolved from basic shrines to full-fledged institutions over a short period of time, while negotiating religious, political, social and economic boundaries.

These perimeters have led to the production of clearly segregated prayer and auxiliary spaces. Through the provision of such spaces, the temple has been able to evolve while serving wider roles, as necessitated by the restrictions placed on it and the changing needs of its devotees. These reciprocities enable the temple to transcend its boundaries.

Considering the disappearance of temples and the constricted space that religious institutions occupy within the larger landscape, this dissertation explores how the Hindu temple in Singapore continues to evolve and not become “monuments and symbols of Hindu traditions” as a prominent politician cautioned 20 years ago. There are many aspects of the temple to consider as it develops: the mythos of its creation (normally tied to hierophants or sacred locales), the interests of its community and even the ideologies of the state. This paper sets out to illustrate that the architectural development of the Hindu temple in Singapore is predicated on its role as not only a religious institution, but also a social institution.

Srisaravanan Subramaniam

Chee Kien Lai
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