Visitors to Singapore can opt to visit Hell’s Museum for an eye-opening experience, and have one hell of a time exploring the concepts behind graphic representations of sins and punishments in the afterlife.
Billed as the world’s first museum on death and the afterlife, Hell’s Museum at Haw Par Villa (HPV) – once called Tiger Balm Gardens – is split into stations across an indoor gallery and partially covered sculpture garden.
The one-hour guided tour began with an introduction to the world’s major religions and cyclical and linear perspectives of life. After guide Michelle Ng explained the Chinese practice of ancestral worship, we visited a ‘grave’ and looked at a Taoist ‘wake’ with symbolic offerings.
A rock formation with gory heads read in Chinese: “The sea of bitterness has no bounds; repent and you will reach the shore.” This and the diorama of fearsome workers in the Taoist netherworld served as a prelude to the highlight, 10 Courts of Hell.
The current rendition reflects elements of Taoist, Confucian, Buddhist and Hindu beliefs, but is predominantly Chinese in the amalgamation of the judiciary and penal systems.
For instance, in Court 1, the king assesses the deceased’s good and bad deeds. The good cross the bridge to become immortals or are reborn as human beings with good lives. Sinners undergo further judgment and punishment in the Courts.
Punishment depictions are stark: In Court 3, one’s chest is sliced open and heart extricated, or the sinner is tied to a pillar and grilled alive; in Court 4, the sinner is pounded by a mallet or ground by a large stone.
Other attractions include a round tower called “Karmic Kaleidoscope” with 18 tableaux, a village temple and outdoor rural-life dioramas.
The tour can be customised for business events groups of 20 pax upwards, with larger numbers split into multiple groups. F&B catering may be requested, including banquet-style, pop-up bar and live stations.
Journeys to Hell, a two-hour twilight tour of the park and museum can also be arranged. It includes a narrative on the founding Aw family, sculptures and dioramas in the park and highlights of Hell’s Museum.
An absorbing tour presenting various cultural and religious beliefs on death and the afterlife, gazing at effigies – some artistic, others scary, while contemplating the meaning of life and its transience. For group tours, give attendees time to explore further, read panel texts and take lots of photos.