Tucked away from the bustling city of Singapore, Haw Par Villa presents a sight that many would not fathom as an attraction in Singapore. Statues and dioramas based on Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese history and mythology were always in my sight as I stepped foot into Haw Par Villa.
Since reopening March 2019, Haw Par Villa sports a fresh look for its traditional hellish attractions; while the villa has changed, the stories have not.
A far cry from the massive technicolour scale that the entire villa is built upon, I was met with the deathly outlook of the main attraction – Ten Courts of Hell. Dedicated to the teaching of ethics and morality, the concept was loosely adapted from traditional Chinese folklore. The Ten Courts of Hell shows the different methods and severity of punishments to be meted out based on one’s past deeds.
Being greeted by ominous looking Horse Face (马面) and Ox Head (牛头) upon entering the exhibit and it is no wonder many depict it as an eerie place. Filled with gruesome statues portraying Hell, it was a perplexing experience, to say the least. Definitely a haunting experience not for the faint-hearted.
The entire exhibit showcases the individual Courts of Hell where different punishments are given for the different types of wrongdoings. This is definitely a hands-on session for Civics and Moral Education. However, one thing that they had in common was the grisly, brutal depictions of the various tortures.
One thing that caught my eye though was Hu Fa Shi Zhe (护法使者), a greenish monster with eyes as big as lanterns and a controller of ghosts and devils, which was shown carrying out the punishments for all of Hell’s Courts. The fact that he was involved in all of the punishments took me by surprise, wouldn’t he be tired of punishing? Well, he actually does justice to the look that he portrays as he seems to enjoy punishing evildoers.
Perhaps, it is why we are brought up not to commit such wrongdoings, I certainly would not want to experience such stuff!
Apart from the Ten Courts of Hell, there is way more stuff to explore regarding well-known Chinese folklore in Haw Par Villa. Do take a look at the various statue depictions and dioramas with their stories also shown. It was an impressive sight to marvel at the giant monumental statues that are often only seen in smaller sizes.
In particular, there is a large Guan Yin statue showcasing the famed Romance of the Three Kingdoms towards the end of the lore which struck me. It is also common to see passersby devoting a moment to pray in the large space available too.
Statues of animals from the Chinese Zodiac are also present in various spots of the park alongside dioramas from famous tales such as Journey to the West and Legend of the White Snake.
Tributes are also paid to the family and the founders of Haw Par Villa, Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par. There are memorials set up in the park to honour their contributions to this park. A site of the former villa has also been preserved in the park alongside statues that line up the pathways beside it.
Surprisingly, a replica of the Statue of Liberty can be seen at the site of the Pagoda Pond. The pagoda tower was originally 15 storeys high when it was first built but Aw Boon Haw instructed his craftsmen to replace the top storeys with a statue of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.
I was astonished by the sheer amount of details put in the design of each exhibit and it supplements the stories about them as well. Given that there are many who may not know the history of Chinese culture, such imagery aids in learning more about these forgotten tales.
You can pay a visit to the museum to find out more about the origins of Haw Par Villa apart from enjoying an air-con break from the hot sun. A model of the villa can be found inside in the museum alongside certain artefacts such as a rickshaw that can no longer be found in Singapore.
Being able to learn more about Chinese folklore and culture through the surreal landscape is certainly an eye-opening experience. Leaving Haw Par Villa, the one striking experience was the gruesome 10 Courts Of Hell exhibit.
Although a little part of me wants to explore the villa at night, that would probably be a bad idea. It’s free to explore Haw Par Villa yourself or you could also get a guided tour from the Haw Par Villa Visitor Centre.
Pricing: Free admission ; S$10 for 1 hour guided tour
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