Bidadari heritage walk

In 2016, Singaporeans took their last glimpse of the Bidadari Cemetery in a heritage trail before the heritage site was resigned to history.

Organised by the Geylang Serai Integration and Naturalisation Champions, the Bidadari Heritage Nature Walk took participants right into the heart of the old cemetery.

Bidadari Meaning

“Bidadari,” in this context, carries a profound and layered meaning. Originating from the Malay language, it translates to “fairy” or “nymph,” evoking a sense of enchantment and mystique.

However, beyond its linguistic roots, Bidadari holds a deeper cultural resonance as the estate has served as a final resting place for various communities, embodying a delicate balance between nature, history, and urban development.

Bidadari Cemetery
According to the National Library Board, the former Bidadari Cemetery was the main Christian cemetery in Singapore between 1908 and 1972. However, the cemetery also served the Muslim, Hindu, and Sinhalese communities. Exhumation began from 1996 onwards.

Bidadari Cementery Walk

However, participants were only allowed through parts of the former cemetery. They also saw holes in the ground where bodies were before (no bodies!), before they moved on to the Mount Vernon Columbarium, and past the Gurkha Cantonment.

Birdwatchers also kept an eye out for migratory species, while history buffs saw significant structures such as the gravestone of social reformer Lim Boon Keng. Dr Lim studied medicine at Edinburgh University on a scholarship, and later went on to push for reforms such as education for women.

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Mount Vernon Columbarium
Mount Vernon Columbarium was completed in 1976 at a cost of $200,000 for 3,000 niches. Each niche sold for $200. Singapore’s former president, Ong Teng Cheong (deceased 2002), Member of Parliament Telok Blangah (d.1976), and Radin Mas (d.1977) laid in rest here. Mount Vernon Columbarium closed for good in 2018.

Cleared for Bidadari BTO flats

Many sites along the trail were eventually cleared to make way for Bidadari BTO residences between 2017 and 2023 (and counting).

At the Mount Vernon Columbarium, for instance, walkers saw notices posted to remind people to claim the niches of their deceased family members by June 2016.

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Mount Vernon Columbarium

Bidadari Park

The forested area that used to be the cemetery, for example, played host to 141 species of birds, or 40 per cent of the birds found in Singapore. Many of these were migratory species that flew here from as far as China or Russia to escape the winter cold.

The upcoming Bidadari Park presents a unique opportunity to continue supporting and benefiting migratory birds. Careful urban planning and conservation efforts to preserve the greenery will allow migratory birds to rest and feed while transiting through Singapore along the East Asia-Australasian Flyway network.

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Bidadari Memorial Garden

One of the 45 people who went on the 2016 Bidadari Heritage Trail was Ms Patricia Teo, who was impressed by the Bidadari Memorial Garden, where the gravestones from various religions and ethnic groups have been placed. “Singaporeans tend to always go overseas to see things, but actually there is a lot to see here,” said the 51-year-old then.

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Bidadari MRT and Mall

As Bidadari undergoes a significant transformation with the development of the Bidadari MRT station, new BTO housing projects, and Woodleigh Mall within the vicinity, the landscape of this once serene area is poised for a dynamic urban metamorphosis. The integration of the Bidadari MRT station not only enhances connectivity but also transforms the locale into a hub of accessibility, seamlessly linking residents to various parts of Singapore.

Simultaneously, the introduction of BTOs signals the creation of a thriving community, intertwining modern urban living with the rich historical tapestry that Bidadari embodies. Woodleigh mall, serving as a commercial focal point, not only caters to the practical needs of residents but also injects a vibrant energy into the heart of Bidadari.

While the landscape is evolving, it is essential to strike a delicate balance between progress and heritage, ensuring that the essence and cultural significance of Bidadari are woven into the fabric of these contemporary developments, creating a harmonious coexistence of the old and the new.

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This article first appeared on The Straits Times in 2016.