Not for the faint of heart or squeamish. If this is you – look away now.
What is it?
The Ten Courts of Hell is a separate building inside Haw Par Villa (formerly Tiger Balm Garden) which is a large Asian outdoor cultural and sculpture park in Singapore. It was built in 1937 by the millionaire philanthropist Aw Boon Haw, who brought the world Tiger Balm. It contains an ecletic mix of about 1,000 sculptures and dioramas, split into different zones. The Ten Courts of Hell is one of those zones and is dedicated to the teachings of traditional values through Chinese folklore.
Where is it?
Haw Par Villa is located next to Haw Par Villa MRT on the Circle Line, on Pasir Panjang Road.It is one minute walk from the MRT station and the entrance can be seen on the right as you exit the station. The Ten Courts of Hell is on the right of the entrance up the hill and accessed via Hell’s Museum.
How much is it?
Entry is free for everyone.
There are chargeable guided tours twice daily at 10am and 4pm. ($10 adults/$5 children). I did not take the guided tour but tourists who did were recommending it unsolicited.
There is a warning ahead of the entrance advising discretion and parental guidance due to the graphic nature of the exhibits. It is needed as they are quite gory.
The entrance is guarded by ‘Ox-head’ (hell soldier) and ‘Horse-face’ (a wicked ghost guard at the gates of Hell) who are escorts to the nether world. Disseminated through religious and traditional folk customs, they tell people of ferocious features and stern executors. According to folklore, when spirits arrive they would chase them into the gates of Hell with a steel spear and ivory stick to face the various punishments given by the Yamas or Emperors of Hell.
The First Court of Hell – Yama: King Qinguang
In the First Court of Hell , King Qinguang conducts preliminary trials and each prisoner is judged according to his deeds in his past life. The ‘good’ are separated from the ‘evil’ and the King recommends appropriate reward or punishment. Punishment is carried out in the various courts.
[As an aside here, I am glad I am Christian and believe in a crucified and risen Saviour and know that all my wrongs are forgiven so I can enter heaven. This Court of Hell and judgment and punishment is a harsh one.]
Those with virtuous conduct in their past life will be led over the Golden Bridge to paradise. Those whose past good deeds outweigh crimes go to the Silver Bridge to reach paradise. Those who are ‘evil doers’ in their past life will be sent to the ‘Mirror of Retribution’ and taken to a Court of Hell to be punished.
The Second Court of Hell – Yama: King Chujiang
Crime: inflicting physical injury, conmen, robbers. Punishment: thrown into a volcanic pit
Crime: corruption, stealing, gambling. Punishment: frozen into blocks of ice
Crime: prostitution. Punishment: thrown into a pool of blood and drowned.
Third Court of Hell – Yama: King Songdi
Crime: ungratefulness, disrespect to elders, escape from prison. Punishment: heart cut out
Crime: drug addicts and traffickers, tomb robbers, urging people into crime and social unrest. Punishment: Tied to a red hot copper pillar and grilled.
Fourth Court of Hell – Yama: King Wuguan
Crime: tax dodger, refusal to pay rent, business fraud. Punishment: pounded by a stone mallet. ( This might actually be a popular punishment today for tax dodgers and fraudsters!).
Crime: disobedience to one’s siblings, lack of filial piety. Punishment: grounded by a large stone. (This does seem an unduly harsh and probably very unpopular punishment.)
‘Wang-Si’ town accommodates those who were wronged and driven to their death. They would be asked how their enemies would receive retribution and then they would be judged and punished.
Fifth Court of Hell – Yama: King Yanluo
Crime: plotted another’s death for property or money, money lenders with exorbitant interest rates. Punishment: thrown into a hill of knives.
Sixth Court of Hell – Yama: King Piencheng
Crime: cheating, cursing, abducting others. Punishment: thrown onto a tree of knives.
Crime: misuse of books, possession of pornographic material, breaking written rules and regulations, wasting food. Punishment: body sawn in two.
(I think this court would cover most people!).
Seventh Court of Hell- Yama: King Taishan
Crime: rumour mongers, sowing discord amongst family members. Punishment: tongue pulled out.
Crime: rapists, driving someone to their death. Punishment: thrown into a wok of boiling oil.
Eighth Court of Hell- Yama: King Dushi
Crime: lack of fillial obedience, causing trouble for parents or family members, cheating during examinations. Punishment: intestines and organs pulled out.
Crime: harming others to benefit oneself. Punishment: body dismembered.
Ninth Court of Hell – Yama: King Pingdeng
Crime: robbery, murder, rape, any other unlawful conduct. Punishment: head and arms chopped off.
Crime: neglect of the old and the young. Punishment: crushed under boulders.
Tenth Court of Hell – Yama: King Zhuanlun
In the tenth court there is the ‘wheel of reincarnation’ and the ‘Pavillion of forgetfulness’.
After receiving their sentences prisoners arrive at the tenth court for final judgement. Prisoners are then taken to an old lady called ‘Men Po’ who gives them a coup of magic the to drink making them forget their past lives. They will then go through the ‘wheel of reincarnation’ and depending on past life they would be reborn as either human or animal and would have an easy and comfortable life or a suffering one.
The Pavilion of Men Po