Haw Par Villa is one of Singapore’s most unusual attractions. Built by Burmese-Chinese brothers who conducted business in Singapore, it dates back to 1937. Originally named the Tiger Balm Gardens, the park was created with the goal of reminding people of traditional and long-standing Chinese morals and values. Home to numerous fascinating and thought-provoking larger-than-life statues, sculptures, and painted scenes, Haw Par Villa combines religious elements from Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, as well as Chinese mythology, history, and folklore. It truly is an interesting place to spend a few hours when visiting Singapore.
Who Were the Brothers?
Born in Myanmar to a Chinese father, the brothers Haw (Tiger) and Par (Leopard) were entrepreneurs with a medical background. Using an ancient Chinese formula, which had been used by their herbalist father, the brothers created the now world-famous Tiger Balm, a strong-smelling ointment that can be used for a variety of ailments. Seeking to expand, Haw took his trade-marked product to Singapore and Malaya, later relocating his enterprise to Singapore. The more outgoing of the two brothers, Haw built a mansion nestled amongst unusual gardens for his younger brother, Par. The gardens could also be accessed by members of the public.
Ten Courts of Hell
One of the most well-known features of the park, although by no means its only attraction, is the so-called Ten Courts of Hell. Enough to send shivers racing down your spine, it is definitely not a place for the faint-hearted. Grisly and gruesome, it shows what is believed to happen to sinners in the afterlife, according to traditional Chinese beliefs. Surrounded by drab grey concrete, the graphic statues really give you plenty to talk about!
Tortured faces line the way to the Ten Courts of Hell, where you’ll be greeted by guardians who take the dead to be judged. Your life is reviewed in the first court, where, if you’ve been good, you can skip across the Golden Bridge to reach Paradise. If, however, the opposite is true, you are punished, incredibly viciously, for your past transgressions.
People who disrespect their family are beaten with stones, those who were ungrateful have their heart sliced out, and drug addicts are roasted on a piping hot pillar. The punishment for looking at pornography and wasting food is to be hacked into to pieces with a giant saw! Liars and gossips can expect to have their tongue wrenched out. Murderers and rapists have their limbs chopped off, whilst people who hurt others for their own advancement are dismembered.
After a person has been suitably punished for a long period of time, they will meet Men Po before being reincarnated into their next life. A looming statue of Men Po awaits you in the Ten Courts of Hell!
Other Statues and Scenes around the Park
There are statues that show a diverse ways of living a virtuous and proper life, and spiritual images of the Lord Buddha in various poses and different Chinese deities. There are sumo wrestlers and other sportspeople, animals and mythological beasts, hybrid human-creatures, and people performing a range of everyday activities.
Admire the detailed characters from the Chinese zodiac: the Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.
Colourful Chinese dragons, saffron-clad monks, armies engaged in battle, ferocious tigers, large seashells, rock faces, attractive bridges, and charming pagodas are amongst the other many features you can enjoy. Not to mention the lush surrounding flora.
Some famous people from the past are depicted throughout the gardens, including Su Wu, a Chinese diplomat, and Jiang Ziya, a Chinese military mastermind.
There are intricate painted scenes from famous tales such as the Legend of the White Snake, Journey to the West, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
The park also contains memorials in honour of the brothers, Haw and Par, as well as those dedicated to their parents.
If you want a break from all the mind-boggling visual excitement, sit and relax for a while next to the pretty fishpond. You can buy bags of food to feed the awaiting koi carp and turtles too.
Practical Information for Visiting Ha Par Villa
There are no admission costs to the complex, and the attraction is open from 9 am to 7 pm each day. There is a gift shop onsite, where you can stock up on Tiger Balm as well as other items. The park now sometimes hosts special events and exhibitions, and it has started to operate evening activities for youths.