Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Holy Rock of Batu Lapan.

Exactly a year ago, I posted an article about the Keramat Habib Syed Ismail that was located opposite the Ford Motors factory at Upper Bukit Timah Road. (link here)

In it, I lamented the fact that I didn't have the foresight to take photos of that place then, even though I was an avid photographer at that time when the keramat existed. For a whole year since, I've searched and asked around to no avail.

Then a few days ago, on one of my facebook groups, a reader posted a 1906 photo and asked if anyone knew what it was?  I jumped out of my seat when I saw that photo.
Here was the picture that was posted in that facebook group.

This was 'The Holy Rock" that was located beside the waterfall at the old Singapore Quarry, a stone's throw away from the surau (prayer hall) at Kampong Merpati. This tiny kampong was located between the KTM railway track and the 8th milestone Upper Bukit Timah Road (known colloquially as Batu Lapan)
This was where the muslim mystic Habib Syed Ismail lived in the early 20th century and where he had a large following due to his religious 'enlightenment'.
When he died, he was entombed there and a keramat built to honour him. This was the Keramat Habib Syed Ismail.

As mentioned in my previous blog about the keramat, Habib Syed Ismail was venerated as a holy saint, even in his time.  It became legend that Habib Syed Ismail would go to his 'holy rock" to meditate and communicate with the spiritual world.  (Please note that there is absolutely no mention of who that person in the photo is)

The keramat became a place of pilgrimage for many, including many Chinese and Indians, seeking answers, supplications or favours. As a result of the posting on facebook, I was led to other details and managed to obtain old newspaper articles with regards to the keramat.

This is from the Straits Times of 25 Dec 1938 when an article regarding the old caretaker of the keramat Habib Syed Ismail was published. It had 2 pictures showing the keramat and are the only pictures of the place that I have seen till now.

The tomb of Habib Syed Ismail.

The Keramat Habib Syed Ismail at Batu Lapan.
The surau or prayer hall is beside the keramat.

I wonder if the small village was named Kampong Merpati (Dove Village)
due to the large flocks of pigeon as seen in the 1938 photo.
A part of the quarry can be seen in the background.
The KTM rail track would be between the kramat and the quarry.

The 1938 newspaper article was on the old caretaker of the keramat.
He claimed to be 142 years old and born in the year 1796 on April 4th. It was also mentioned that he saw Sir Stamford Raffles. The caretaker was named Mr S. Fareed. He had outlived all 11 of his wives.

Keramat caretaker, S Fareed.

* The keramat Habib Syed Ismail was demolished in the 1980s due to land acquisition and Habib Syed ismail was re-interred at the Choa Chu Kang Muslim cemetery.


  1. Hi James - is the 'Holy Rock' still there?
    Kwok Peng

  2. Hi Kwok Peng,
    Actually I am not sure. I guess due to the size, it's not easily moved and might be there still but it would be 'swallowed' up by the forest by now if it is.

  3. This is fascinating! So glad I have found your blog. It's great to see some of Singapore's lesser-known history being recorded. Thank you!

  4. Hi James,
    Thanks for the wonderful articles (including the related one published in 2012). I am curious if Habib Syed Ismail was also called "Datuk"?

    As mentioned before I used to live in Kampong Keat Hong, in one of the houses built by Goh Tong Liang.
    Anyway, I remembered an adult son of a neighbour was constantly prossessed by evil spirits. I think on the 15th or 1st day of the Chinese month, he would be 'roaring' and behaving like a wild animal possibly a tiger. His mother would frantically be begging to 'Datuk'' to cast away the evil spirit from her son. After about an hour or so, the son would slowly calmed down. Then we kids didn't understand why that mom would ask a Malay 'god' (direct translation from Hokkien) to cast away evil spirits. We were told that the Malay 'god', Datuk was very powerful, more powerful that the Chinese 'gods'.

    I could see the whole episode when I looked out of one of the window in the upper floor of the house.

    Thanks for the memories,

    1. Hello Sam,

      Can you possibly shre the year that this happened? Are you referring to the Datuk Gong?


  5. Is there any story or facts about the person Habib Ismail? Any historical or journals in National Archives? Habib not at Palmer road is still there and he is a holy man during Raffles time

  6. My mom just told me that my this man Fareed not freed was related. Great great grandfather to be exact. And what she told me was that she use to go to the kramat to tie stones to it. What u see on the 2nd pic are actually stones tied to it. And it seems like theres a tiger guarding the kramat. It would be nice to know where exactly is the tomb relocated.

    1. Hello loolapalooza
      The name S Freed was as published in the newspaper The Straits Times (25 Dec 1938). Thanks for correcting the name which I will amend in the above post.
      As his grave was re-located to CCK, you might want to check the records available there.

  7. Brian VittachiApril 01, 2015

    Hi James Tann, when I was working at Rail Mall I used to pass by a clearing beside the road where there was a small shrine of sorts. Often I would see candles and flowers left there by, I suppose, devotees. I remember seeing a flock of pigeons, too. From long time residents of the area I heard the urban legend about an old man who used to meditate under a waterfall.
    Since I hike in that area I am going to try and look for that rock and remains, if any, of Kampong Merpati.

    1. Im intrested to know there anyway where i can ask u more about the locations which u saw this small shrine

  8. does any one know where kramat habib syed ismail located now?

  9. @Sam (above post) - Datuk is a Malaysian-Singapore practice of venerating some holy man, in fact the first Datuks were Muslims. If you look at Datuk Gong shrines, the man is wearing the royal colour of yellow for the Malay-Muslims in Malaysia, and has a keris as well. He also wears a tengkolok (the head gear) - Datuk is not Chinese.

  10. I lived at Hindhede Drive Kampong and remember this keramat. Even after the place was demolished, you could know its whereabouts due top the number of pigeons that still flocked there. That was until about 8-10 years ago.

  11. Any idea what remains of this place?

    1. The Hume MRT Station is being built on the site. It is scheduled to be opened in 2021.