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Deity's debut in Telok Ayer

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More than a century and half ago, Chinese immigrants who had just arrived from Fujian would make their way into Thian Hock Keng temple’s dimly-lit halls to offer incense to sea goddess Mazu, thanking her for their safe voyage to Singapore.

To much fanfare this week, an idol of the goddess from China’s southern Meizhou Island landed on our shores for the first time.

Hundreds of devotees yesterday streamed into the temple in Telok Ayer Street to offer their prayers to Mazu, whose idol had been ushered in the night before. These days, devotees pray to her for peace, protection and good health.

Coordinating Minister for Infrastructure and Minister for Transport Khaw Boon Wan, delegates from Meizhou and representatives from 35 temples here that worship Mazu, made incense and other offerings in a ritual ceremony dating back to the Song Dynasty.

The more than 130-strong delegation from Meizhou in Putian, Fujian province, are on a tour aimed at promoting Mazu culture, that began in Kuala Lumpur last Saturday and ends in Singapore today.

Earlier this week, photos of the idols of Mazu and two other deities flown on four business class seats from China to Malaysia went viral online.

The Xiamen Airlines tickets costing about $670 each were widely circulated on social media.

The 1.8m idol of Mazu, along with idols of her assistants Qian Li Yan and Shun Feng Er, were accompanied by the Meizhou delegation.

This Mazu idol is significant because Meizhou is thought to be the native home of Mazu.

Mr Tan Aik Hock, chairman of the Singapore Hokkien Huay Kuan’s general affairs committee, said this felt “like a parent visiting her children”.“This is the first time Meizhou’s Mazu has come to Singapore. It’s a rare opportunity for us to promote cultural exchange and spread Mazu culture, the Mazu spirit.”

He added that many Singapore temples had moved their Mazu figurines to the temple, allowing devotees to pay their respects before several Mazu idols.

On Wednesday, devotees ferried the idol around to several temples and the Boon San Lian Ngee Association before arriving at the Thian Hock Keng temple.

Devotee Chia Peng Siong, 83, who was at Thian Hock Keng yesterday, has made a pilgrimage to the Meizhou Mazu temple and also visits the Mazu temple in Taiwan-controlled Kinmen every year.

Mr Chia, who works as a cleaner, said that worshipping Mazu has kept him safe and helped him tide through some rough times. “When we pray to Mazu, we feel at peace.”