Sri Mariamman Temple
Naraina Pillay
First Indian and Tamil Pioneer Of Singapore; accompanied Stamford Raffles in 1819; the first brick maker And building contractor of Singapore; The earliest Indian community leader Of Singapore.

Sri Mariamman (Rain maker) Mother Goddess, Protective deity; the Temple centre of early South Indians to sustain their identity, culture and heritage.

Gazetted as a national monument on 6 July 1973

Naraina Pillay was a government clerk in Penang and would have come to the attention of Stamford Raffles who was in 1805 the assistant secretary to the Governor of Penang which was founded by the East India Company in 1786. Raffles must have found Naraina Pillay a dependable, honest and versatile person that he selected him to accompany him during his second visit to Singapore in May 1819.

Soon after his arrival in Singapore, Naraina Pillay established himself in Singapore. He became a business man with all the qualities of a leader and pioneer; he had his finger in so many pies. He set up the first kiln in Singapore to bake bricks and also became the first building contractor in the Settlement. Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson in their book 'A History of Singapore Architecture' write: 'Pillay started the first Singapore brick company, an operation that was to make him not only rich but a fundamental contributor to the history of Singapore's early architecture'.

Naraina Pillay opened a shop to sell cotton piece goods which were in great demand in Singapore. A tragedy hit Naraina Pillay when fire burnt his shop and he went bankrupt in 1822. Raffles helped Naraina Pillay to restore his fortunes. This is clear evidence of Raffles' concern for the Tamil pioneer who became one again a wealthy merchant. He had a shop in Commercial Square (Raffles Place).

Later, he asked a few carpenters, brick-layers and cloth merchants from Penang to come to Singapore to join him; one such merchant was Viahpoory.

In early 1823 Naraina Pillay obtained the present site to build the Sri Marimman Temple in South Bridge Road.

The first site offered by the government for the Temple was in Telok Ayer Street but there was no fresh water close to the site. The Resident, Major William Farquhar then offered an alternative site near the Bras Basah stream (the present Stamford Canal). The exact location is not known. The Town Planning Committee eventually advised Naraina Pillay to build the Temple on the present site at South Bridge Road.

Hindu civilization dates from very ancient time and Hinduism in its quintessence is a belief in the university of ONE GOD, Brahman the infinite. The essence of the Hindu religion is the oneness of life in all its manifestations. God is one and is seen in three of his major aspects: Brahma, the creator, Vishnu, the preserver (who remedies evil to preserve the good), and Shiva, the destroyer and procreator; these are represented by three deities.

Sri Mariamman the Mother Goddess nourishes and protects all beings. Sri Mariamman is associated with rain; she gives life, nurtures and sustains it. She is the source of all energy without which nothing moves in this world; she has various forms which describe her attributes in eloquent appearances. The Mother Goddess is also called Devi, the divine, the celestial and the first to be worshipped; she is the gentle and loving Nirmala, the pure, peerless or incomparable. She also carries the name of Kalyani and Sumangali or Shankari, one who confers happiness and prosperity. As Rajeswari she is the ruler of the Universe and as Kali, the deity that destroys evil.

The deity Mariamman can be traced as far back as 4,000 years ago to the Indus Valley civilization of Mohenjo-daro and Harappa in North West and it is believed to be a Dravidian civilization.

The worship of the female aspects of Shiva is a major feature of the Navaratri Festival.

The fire-walking ceremony also held in this Temple has direct bearing on the 'Mahabharata', the great war which embroiled the whole of ancient India, but the conflict centres on the rivalry of two closely related Aryan clans, the Kauravas and the Pandava brothers, fighting for the possession of the Doab, the territory between the Ganges and the Jumna. Duryodhara (the eldest of the Kauravas) artfully provoked Yudhisthra (the eldest of the Pandavas) to play dice and by trickery caused him to lose his kingdom, his brothers, his own person and his wife, Thirobathi.

The ceremony is held here because the idol of Thirobathi is installed in it and she is considered as an 'avatar' (a re-incarnation) of the universal Mother.

The boat caulking Indian community who lived in Jalan Sultan and had migrated from Poigaiyur, Nagapatanam, installed their village deity Thirobathi Amman in the Temple and managed the fire-walking ceremony until 1975.

The fire-walking ceremony is a purification one; it is a ceremony where a devotee submits himself to walk over fire as a fulfillment of a vow or as an set of repentance of his sins or as a form of penance.

Several rituals are conducted in the Temple before the actual fire-walking.

The fire pit is about 3 metres long and is filled with firewood and ignited; when the flames die down they leave behind a pit of smouldering embers.

The Temple's head priest carrying a'karakam' (water vessel containing various items in it) on his head leads the devotees across the fiery pit. When they have crossed the pit they step on to a pool of milk.

The fire-walking demands from the devotee deep devotion, abstinence of worldly pleasures and fasting. No harm comes to the devotee who has devoutly and with piety prepared himself for the ceremony. Women devotees are not allowed to walk across the fiery pit but walk around it.