THOUSANDS of students and parents flocked to temples yesterday to pay their respects to the Chinesethinker-philosopher Confucius, ahead of his birthday on Friday.
And no time is more apt than now - the current examination period in schools - to make fruit and paperofferings to Kong Zi, as he is known to the Chinese. He is, after all, believed to bestow luck and mental acuityon those sitting for exams.
Petitions typically peak at exam periods, at the start of a new school year or when the devotee believes his or her academic performance is on the wane.
Confucius, born more than 25 centuries ago in China, is also credited with promoting values such as respect for elders and reciprocity. His teachings have since been studied worldwide and translated into many languages.
The 168-year-old Thian Hock Keng Temple on Telok Ayer Street marked his birthday yesterday with traditional court dances, prayer rituals and an exhibition on his life and teachings. Devotees had their foreheads anointed with oil by Buddhist monks. Mini abacuses, symbolising ability with numbers and hopes for As in maths, were given out to them. Confucius is believed to have invented the predecessor to this counting tool by fashioning one out of rope threaded with beads.
The exhibition, targeting the younger crowd, showcases the history behind Confucius and the values he expounded. It will be on till the end of this week.
The temple spokesman explained that although Confucius' statue is sometimes placed among the pantheon of deities in Chinese temples, Confucianism is more often thought of as a way of life than as a religion related to Buddhism or Taoism.
The Singapore Taoist Federation also held a celebration for Confucius at the San Qing Gong Taoist Cultural Centre in Bedok North with prayers.
Mr Chung Kwang Tong, secretary-general of the Taoist Federation Youth Group, said Taoists respect Confucius as a great sage and a contemporary of the Taoist guru, Lao Zi.
At this Bedok temple, devotees made offerings and lighted lanterns called guang ming deng to pray for good exam results. They also waited in line for Taoist priests to daub a red dot on their foreheads, which symbolically 'opens their eyes of wisdom'.
One family postponed an outing to Sentosa to make the trip to the temple to pray for blessings. Mrs Aliceal Lim, 45, her engineer husband Vincent, 48, and their three children aged 13 to 18 will visit Sentosa next month instead.
At this time last year, two of the Lims' children - Lester, now 13, and Cheryl, now 17 - were just weeks awayfrom the Primary School Leaving Examination and the O levels, respectively, when the family went to the temple to mark Confucius' birthday for the first time.
Mrs Lim, an office administrator, said yesterday: 'We're here to ask for extra help and blessings through theyear, we're not expecting a miracle. It's additional psychological help, but in the end, the children must do well and work hard on their own.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on 22 Sep, 2008.