Birthday of the Monkey God
2016 belongs to the monkeys. In February, we crossed into the Year of the Monkey of the Chinese Zodiac. Celebrations for the Spring Festival, better known as the Lunar New Year, spanned the first fifteen days of the first lunar month. What followed after on the 16th day was the birthday of the Monkey God Tai Sheng Ye.
On 23 February, the Qi Tian Gong or Monkey God Temple at Tiong Bahru estate saw huge crowds, as hundreds of devotees came with incense and offerings of bananas and peanuts to worship the Monkey God. The Monkey God is worshipped in more than 40 temples in Singapore but Qi Tian Gong in Tiong Bahru is reportedly the oldest one, with its roots established in 1920 in a small attap hut shrine in the vicinity. The temple moved to its current location of an Eng Hoon Street shophouse in 1938. The Eng Hoon Street temple premises were rented until 1985, when the trustees finally acquired ownership of the shophouse.
The Monkey God is also known as Sun Wu Kong, one of the protagonists in Wu Cheng-en’s 16th-century published classical novel Journey to the West. Recognised as one of the four greatest classical novels of Chinese literature, Journey to the West tells the story of Sun Wu Kong, the mischievous hero blessed with magical prowess and how he aids Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang on his hazardous pilgrimage to retrieve Buddhist sutras.
The celebrations at Eng Hoon Street were complemented with traditional opera performances from Lao Sai Tao Yuan, an institution in its own right. Established in the mid-19th century, Lao Sai Tao Yuan is one of the oldest surviving opera troupes in Singapore.
Qi Tian Gong is one of several hidden gems in the Tiong Bahru estate. In this estate, one can find the only housing block with three residential addresses, a pre-war air raid shelter housed under a block of flats, and a sculpture in a public garden crafted by the same artist who crafted the world-famous Merlion.