Learn moral lessons at Haw Par Villa 虎豹別墅

Haw Par Entrance 2

There is a place that teaches moral values, moral lessons and Chinese classics through the form of sculptures in Singapore. This place is nonetheless Haw Par Villa 虎豹別墅. To many whom have not been to this place and heard that it is a boring place would have been missing out on a good and unique learning experience. The moment anyone mentions Haw Par Villa, the first thing that comes to mind must be “The Ten Courts of Hell”. This is the villa’s best known attraction and likely to be one of a kind in the world. This attraction features gruesome depictions of Hell in Chinese mythology and Buddhism. No one leaves Haw Par Villa without feeling humbled by the hell scenes.

Haw Par Villa was built in 1937 by 2 brothers: Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, hence the name “Haw Par Villa”. During my parents courtship in the old days, this was one of the best and popular attractions in Singapore back then. I am sure many Singaporean parents with similar age would have visited the park more than once. Many old photos kept in my parents’ albums show the same sculptures as you can see them today although some of them have been torn down due to wear and tear. Prior to my recent revisit of this park, originally called the Tiger Balm Gardens, I had been to here twice. The first time was when I was probably 4 or 5 years old when my parents took my brothers and I to this place. The second time was when we had a school excursion and the villa was turned into a theme park. While I may not have much impression of the place when I was 4, I certainly remembered the “Ten Courts of Hell” clearly the next time I went as a teen.

Tiger vintage

Aw Boon Haw’s Vintage car of a Tiger head

Aw Boon Haw's mansion gift to his brother Aw Boon Par

Mansion in Haw Par Villa where Aw Boon Par lived previously

Understanding why Haw Par Villa was built

Understanding why Haw Par Villa was built

The Ten Courts of Hell
In Chinese ideology associated with Taoism, Buddhism and folk religions, there are ten courts of hell or eighteen levels of hell that serve to punish and renew spirits in preparation for reincarnation. Depending on the severity of the sins, the sinners go through punishment and are tortured in different ways. They are supposed to feel the pain like human beings and at the end of the ordeal, they will drink a potion from Meng Po to forget what they had done in their previous lives and go into reincarnation. Each will be given a new lease of life as a rich person, poor person or beast depending on what that person’s previous life deeds were.

10 courts of Hell signage

Entrace to the 10 courts of Hell

Entrance to the 10 courts of Hell 鬼门关

There are quite many gruesome scenes and I was rather afraid my kids will be frightened by them. However, Kel did lots of explanation as we walked through each court of hell. We stopped at each court and read the Chinese signage on what the sins are and what kind of punishment the sinners go through. The sculptures were very well done with detailed facial expressions of pain, suffering and sadness. Some of the sins that yield grisly punishment took me by surprise. Even wrong-doings like evading tax, flouting rules and disrespect to parents had sinners punished in many unforgiving ways. Maybe the word “disrespect” sounds too trivial. I am sure it means disrespect in grossly ways like ill-treat, abuse and heartless treatment of one’s parents. But evading tax and flouting rules surely are common sins. And these are subjected to sufferings that are nothing less than digging the heart out, sawing the body into half, immersing into ice cold pool or hot lava, grinding the body under a crush stone mill, among others. If you are into more horrendous punishment, read here.
There are also some who died a wrong death and these people will get to see how the culprits are punished. All these are explicitly portrayed in the “Ten Courts of Hell”.

The moral stories behind this ghastly depiction serve as a warning against wrong-doings and reminder for good deeds. I do not think that there is anywhere else in the world that tells the mythology of hell in such a lifelike form. Although it looks horrifying, at the end of it all, you know that there is such a thing call retribution and a new lease of life. This place is certainly worth a visit for everyone. We saw many non-Chinese visitors in Haw Par Villa when we were there. As with many places in Singapore, there is always English translation beside the Chinese words. No one will actually get lost in deciphering the meaning behind each scene and story.

Besides the Ten Courts of Hell, there are many other sculptures that portray filial piety stories, good deeds and even scenes from *Journey to the WestFengshen BangThe Twenty-four Filial ExemplarsLegend of the White SnakeRomance of the Three Kingdoms; statues of mythological figures such as the Laughing Buddha and Guanyin, and historical personages such as Jiang ZiyaSu Wu and Lin Zexu; the 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac, and others (*source from wiki).

A Chinese saying on retribution

A Chinese saying on retribution

A Chinese saying on "It's never too late to turn back"

A Chinese saying on “It’s never too late to turn back”

This tells a filial piety story about a daughter-in-law giving her breastmilk to her famished mother-in-law while her own half-full baby was crying

This tells a filial piety story about a daughter-in-law giving her breastmilk to her famished mother-in-law while her own half-full baby was crying

Wang Xiang 王祥 was ill-treated by his step-mum when he was young. When his step-mum grew fragile and old, she wanted to eat fish in ice cold winter. Wang Xiang, who was filial to her, decided to use his body warmth to melt the top layer ice so as to retrieve the fishes below for his step-mum.

Wang Xiang 王祥 was ill-treated by his step-mum when he was young. When his step-mum grew fragile and old, she wanted to eat fish in ice cold winter. Wang Xiang, who was filial to her, decided to use his body warmth to melt the top layer ice so as to retrieve the fishes below for his step-mum.

Chinese stories like 白蛇传 (White snake legend) scenes are portrayed in well sculpted figurines.

Chinese stories like 白蛇传 (White snake legend) scenes are portrayed in well sculpted figurines.

Ji Gong 济公

Ji Gong 济公

This is a story about a man who saved a turtle and in turn the turtle saved him when he was almost drowning in a sinking ship.

This is a story about a man who saved a turtle and in turn the turtle saved him when he was almost drowning in a sinking ship.

Di Zhang Wang 地藏王

Di Zang Wang 地藏王

Feng Shen Bang 封神榜

Some Chinese way of life

Feng Shen Bang 6

Gorilla

Feng Shen Bang

Feng Shen Bang

Feng Shen Bang 2

Feng Shen Bang 4

Rare post from XX 🙂

Feng Shen Bang 3

Walking through and looking at these well-sculpted scenes, I am ever more intrigued by Chinese history and stories. With the kids and my parents, we toured the villa for 2 hours. If you have slowly read through each signage and understand each story, it may probably take you half a day. We did not stay for as long as we would have liked due to the highly humid and hot weather that day.

The kids like the place and they love to have us being their story-tellers when we explained what each scene represents. For my parents, I am glad I took them here to reminisce their old courtship days. They were also happy to revisit this place with their grandchildren after so many years. That’s what Kel and I have been constantly doing: bringing our parents to as many old and new places while they are still healthy and able to walk and travel. Filial piety in full representation right?!

Things to note:

– There is much walking inside the park with steps and slopes, so wear good walking shoes.
– There are no restaurants and if you want a drink and snacks, there are a few vending machines selling can drinks and snacks.
– Toilets are not so baby friendly.
– Insect repellents, hats, and umbrellas are must-haves in hot and sunny Singapore .
– Bring your own water.

Location: 262 Pasir Panjang Rd

Public transport:

Train: Easiest way to get to this place is to take CIRCLE Line and alight at Haw Par Villa station (CC25). Haw Par Villa is just next to it.

Buses: 10, 30, 51, 143, 188, 200, 175, 176, 589

Fees: Free admission

Opening hours: 9am to 7pm daily

For more pictures, you may visit Remember Singapore.

Sumo

Have you been to Haw Par Villa or a place that promotes moral values somewhere in the world? Tell me about it!!

37 thoughts on “Learn moral lessons at Haw Par Villa 虎豹別墅

  1. Wow thanks for sharing Christy! I live quite close by but I’ve been traumatized by the images when I was young so I’ve always been wondering whether it’s ok to bring the kids haha. Wonder if our youngest ones will get nightmares? 😁

  2. I have the same thoughts as Mummy Ed. I’m very tempted to bring the kids so that they learn about Chinese culture and all. But I wonder if it is too gruesome for them. I think we ourselves have been spooked by it when we were young that we don’t want to do the same to our kids. 😛

    • I told Mummy Ed the same thing, the kids seem to take the gruesome scene well. No nightmares for them. Maybe you can try to let them enter the 10 courts of hell and do a matter of fact explanation without emphasizing too much in particular to the kids’ wrong-doings at home in a bid to scare them to be obedient. Then if they display discomfort, bring them out and there are many other sculptures and teachings out there that are worth exploring. 10 courts of Hell is the highlight, but there are much much more than that.

  3. I am a bit afraid of those sculptures myself! But I think it is an interesting place to teach children about moral values and Chinese culture.So I have to overcome my fear first haha.

    • Haha! It indeed looks gruesome enough. I was scared when I was a teen when I could remember it, and even when I am an adult, I was a little uncomfortable. However, it is different this time round as I am educating my kids and reading for myself for the first time on the explanation and that helps to alleviate my fears since it is like a story. It did disturb me when I was typing and researching in depth on this post in the middle of the night past midnight. LOL! At one point, I closed my laptop and rushed into the bedroom to sleep.

  4. I have been thinking for the longest time too! Probably visiting during the next holiday. My little one is still young. All those sculptures may not be of interest to her though and I don’t really like those gluesome 10 courts. May have to ask my hubby along. Otherwise, good luck to me! LOL…

    • I agree, younger ones may not benefit from the walk through of the sculptures. The 10 courts are gruesome enough. Try going there next time when your kid is older and you are ready for it. Otherwise just visit everything except 10 courts. This place is not for everyone even though the moral side is 🙂

  5. This is one of our favourite places to take visitors – it really shows a side of Singapore you won’t see at Marina Bay (unless you look well beneath the surface, I suppose – it’s there somewhere, I’m sure).

    I love the way some of the stories have been depicted in a “contemporary” way – like the turtle story, with everyone in 1930’s-style dress.

    The kids seem to cope remarkably well with the gruesomeness, don’t they? I think sometimes their minds only take on what they can handle.

    • Beneath the marina bay sands surely has that side! The first time I went to your blog it was this turtle story picture that have me hooked on to your blog till now. I am curious by how a foreigner views the place. How did your kids take to it after that? Did they have nightmare? My kids were fine and never mention it after that. Maybe they have it at the back of their minds just like me who I was young.

      • The kids seemed ok.

        We first went before we had kids, and thought it was quite kitchy in the way it’s decorated, but also a fascinating insight into a recent era of Singapore’s history. You can just imagine those brothers riding around in that car!

        There also used to be a museum of Chinese immigration there until quite recently. We went a couple of years ago with my Aunt and she really enjoyed it – then next time we went it was closed and I’m not sure what the story is.

      • Was there a museum? Actually I haven’t got much impression of the place from the last I went 20+ years ago. All I know are some sculptures being taken down. The remaining ones that we see today probably stood the test of time or just worth refurbishment.

        It’s interesting that you think of it as a tourist spot for visitors and brought your aunt there. This place is usually the last we locals have on our mind as a must – see place of interest!

      • No, you should definitely bring any visitors there! Everyone I speak to from Singapore remembers it as a highlight (or at least memorable part) of their childhood. Definitely share it!

        It’s sad some of the statues haven’t stood the test of time – I would have liked to have seen them.

  6. Of all the many posts you have to share, you share the oh-so-creepy Haw Par Villa?? Hahaha… But your kids seem to enjoy it. I think it was just my parents. When they brought me to Haw Par Villa when I was a kid, they were full of horrid tales. That 10 courts of hell… “If you do blah blah blah, you will end up like this…” Why on earth did my parents do that to me?? But come to think of it, I think I would do the same to my own kids. Evil parenting runs in our blood.

  7. We brought the kids there once and my youngest was terrified of the 18 storeys of hell..lols. My mom used to bring me here quite often when I was young and brought back many fond memories.

  8. I live right next to hpv and I never took the time to go for a walk. I probably should. Like everyone else, I was afraid my kids might get a nightmare!

    I remember the old hpv in our days. 10 courts of Hell was a boat ride. There’s also a water coaster! Very high one but so much thrill. There was also a dress up photo stage where you can be a prince, princess, maid, or king. I was hpv’ child model then hahahaha I will do a write up on hpv after I find my old photographs 🙂 thanks for the memories

  9. Creepy place but sure bring back lots and lots of my young memories. Despite scary, the stories behind each sculptures teaches moral education as well as Chinese myth. Thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,
    Soon Koon

  10. I have one childhood photo which was taken at HPV….and never been back since our courtship days. Now with the MRT at its doorstop, it’s so much more convenient.

  11. One of those places I would visit on my own jus got snap snap. But not with my girls. Cos they confirm scared one. Perhaps when they are older we can plan a visit.

  12. Like the others, I’m hesitant to bring my girl as I’m afraid it will give her nightmares. The images are very visual and some look in the 10 courts of hell look gruesome even to me as an adult.. think we’ll save it for when she’s older.

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