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Haw Par Villa theme park: journey into Chinese folklore and mythology through grotesque statues and sculptures

David Goran

Located along Pasir Panjang Road, in the southwestern part of Singapore, Haw Par Villa or the Tiger Balm Gardens is an oriental-style theme park that contains over 1,000 statues and 150 giant dioramas, depicting surreal scenes from Chinese mythology, aspects of Confucianism and terrifying visions of Buddhist hell.

Bizarre and gruesome recreation of the afterlife. Photo Credit

Bizarre and gruesome recreation of the afterlife. Photo Credit

 

Known for its statues depicting scenes from Chinese folklore. Photo Credit

Known for its statues depicting scenes from Chinese folklore. Photo Credit

Described as “fascinating, delightful, bizarre and entertaining” and named after Burmese-Chinese brothers Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par (the same people who developed the Tiger Balm ointment), the park was built in 1937, planned to be a place where parents can take their children to teach them about good morals, the consequences of their actions, and to see the horrors they may face in the afterlife.

It's like no other place in the world. Photo Credit

It’s like no other place in the world. Photo Credit

 

The brothers wanted to create a park rich in Chinese folklore and mythology. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

The brothers wanted to create a park rich in Chinese folklore and mythology. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

Lifesize figure of Thai dancer, Photo Credit

A life-size figure of Thai dancer. Photo Credit

The best-known attraction in Haw Par Villa is the Ten Courts of Hell, a walk-through exhibition depicting the gruesome torments that await sinners in the underworld, with specific punishments for different sins, ranging from murder to deceit, thievery, envy and lust.

The courts depict men and women, both young and old. No one is spared the consequences of their deeds on earth.

Entrance to the “Ten Courts of Hell“. Photo Credit

Entrance to the “Ten Courts of Hell“. Photo Credit

 

Sufferers in Buddhist Hell. Photo Credit

Sufferers in Buddhist Hell. Photo Credit

 

God in Buddhist Hell. Photo Credit

God in Buddhist Hell. Photo Credit

According to Chinese mythology, a soul passes through a series of courts before it enters heaven and punishment awaits those who are proven unworthy.

Due to the graphic nature of the exhibition, with sinners impaled on spears and others hanging upside down, visitors discretion and parental guidance are advised.

Statues of Zhu Bajie (left) and Tang Sanzang (right). Photo Credit

Statues of Zhu Bajie (left) and Tang Sanzang (right). Photo Credit

 

Colourful statues that show Chinese mythology. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

Colorful statues that show Chinese mythology. Photo Credit1 Photo Credit2

 

Laughing Buddha. Photo Credit

Laughing Buddha. Photo Credit

Mercrab. Photo Credit

Mercrab. Photo Credit

The theme park also has more dioramas of scenes from other Chinese legends, such as The Twenty-four Filial Exemplars, Madame White Snake, Journey to the West, Fengshen Bang and Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

A Dragon statue. Photo Credit

A Dragon statue. Photo Credit

 

A lion statue. Photo Credit

A lion statue. Photo Credit

 

Tiger Car. Photo Credit

Tiger Car. Photo Credit

Supposedly, in its heyday, Haw Par Villa had drawn at least a million visitors per year but unfortunately, today there seems to be a lack of interest among the tourists.

Here is another one from our vault:Designing tomorrow – the futuristic “New York world’s fair“ in 1939 was one of the most expansive American world’s fair of all time

The park is undergoing a makeover and efforts are being made to restore it to its former glory.