Lifestyle, Arts & Culture

A Virtual Tour Of Hell’s Museum at Haw Par Villa

A Virtual Tour Of Hell’s Museum at Haw Par Villa

Much spooky, very creeps: here, Eisen Teo, Senior Researcher at Singapore History Consultants and Chief Curator of Hell’s Museum takes us on a virtual tour of the exhibition.

Hell’s Museum is located inside Haw Par Villa (262 Pasir Panjang Rd, Singapore 118628), which is managed by Journeys Pte Ltd. It is the world’s first museum dedicated to death and the afterlife – providing comparative insights on how death and the afterlife are viewed and interpreted across religions, cultures, and ages. Hell’s Museum opened to the public on 29 October along with the official relaunch of Haw Par Villa after a period of refurbishment.

Hell’s Museum includes Haw Par Villa’s world-renowned 10 Courts of Hell, an institution more than a thousand years old, the result of the mixing of Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist and even Hindu concepts and teachings of punishments in the afterlife.

Besides the 10 Courts, the galleries in the museum bring visitors into different aspects relating to death and the afterlife through immersive exhibitions of commissioned videos and multimedia elements. Visitors will be able to gain a better understanding of the commonalities across the world’s major belief systems – of how communities around the globe and in Singapore draw meaning from death and dying.

The Museum is now open to the public, from 10 am – 6 pm daily (excluding Mondays), with tickets priced at SGD18 for adults (13 years and above) and SGD10 for children (7 – 12 years). Due to the graphic subject matter, children under the age of nine years old are not encouraged to visit the Museum.

Hell’s Museum has an indoor Gallery, with an outdoor Sculpture Garden. There are 10 “Stations” in the museum – four in the Gallery, six in the Sculpture Garden. One of the Stations in the Sculpture Garden is the 10 Courts of Hell. Here are some highlights:

Visitors enter the Lobby of the museum to collect their tickets. In the Lobby, they can take a photograph at the Trick Eye artwork – where they can play out the eternal tug-of-war between heaven hell!

Visitors will head to the next station — Purgatory and Permanence: Paths into the Afterlife where they’re presented with a map showing 32 belief systems from around the world. This section aims to showcase and provide comparative insights that will give visitors a better understanding of the commonalities and differences across the world’s major belief systems across time and space.

Heading forward, visitors will explore the afterlife in key belief systems that follow the cyclical concept of time (like Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Taoism) and the linear concept of time (like Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam).

To further illustrate the commonalities across cultures and religions, we’ve created replicas of two altars from festivals commemorating the dead.

With the help of the Mexican Association (Singapore), we’ve created an altar that is commonly seen during the annual Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. These altars are made to honour and remember those who’ve passed and to help guide the spirits back to the land of the living – back to the arms of their loved ones.

The Day of the Dead Altar  usually consists of favourite objects of the deceased – from their favourite food, books and even toys. Other objects commonly placed include flowers, incense, and candles.

On the other side, we have an altar that is a common sight for many Singaporeans during the 7th Lunar month, when the Hungry Ghost Festival and Ullambana Festival are observed.

The side-by-side showcase of two altars only proves that despite being thousands of miles apart, many of the world’s cultures commemorate the dead in similar ways, reflecting universal human needs.

The Ashes, Niches and Graves: Living with Death aims to showcase how different cultures and societies say their farewells to their loved ones, including commissioned videos on funerary rituals. It also displays how death has been managed around the world and in Singapore throughout history. Methods of handling the dead include burial, cremation, and even mummification.

One attraction in this station is the recreation of a burial crypt which is currently used in the Choa Chu Kang Cemetery.

To keep “dying” traditions alive and share with visitors the deeper meaning and philosophy behind them, we recreated an elaborate Hokkien Taoist funeral in a void deck, and a Chinese grave featuring traditional tomb architecture.

The Prayers and Verses: Scripting the Afterlife features scriptural quotes that touch on life, death, and the afterlife, from various world religions and their holy texts. Visitors are encouraged to read and ponder these quotes.

This station also includes a deep dive into the world of Taoism. This section tries to reconcile two sides of the religion – abstract philosophy and colourful rituals. This prepares visitors for their eventual visit to the 10 Courts of Hell, which is Station 6. 

The 10 Courts of Hell charts the passage of the deceased through the judiciary of the Chinese netherworld in 10 stages over three years.

We’re sure many visitors have had the experience of visiting the 10 Courts of Hell during their childhood. Now, we’re proud to announce that Hell is no longer hot! We’ve refurbished the exhibition with air-conditioning, lighting, information boards, and a video explaining the evolution of the 10 Courts over more than a thousand years.

We want visitors to leave this Station feeling that they’ve learned something new about an oft-misunderstood place.

The remaining stations deal with living our lives. Having contemplated death and viewed various visions of what awaits us, visitors are invited to ponder how they may wish to spend their remaining time on earth.

Dioramas and a village style temple in the Sculpture Garden complete the Hell’s Museum experience by encouraging a reflective moment before ending the museum visit.

Once you’re done with this story about Hell’s Kitchen at Haw Par Villa, click here to catch up with our November 2021 issue!