The Ten Courts of Hell is the hallmark attraction at Haw Par Villa. World famous for depicting all sorts of gruesome punishments for sins in one’s life, this harrowing journey to the netherworld is a short walkthrough within a dark tunnel.
Although similar to Hell Houses and some “Haunted” attractions, this attraction is not a Haunted House (well, not in the usual sense) and does not use effects as part of the experience. Rather, it is a glimpse into the beliefs of afterlife in Chinese culture and folklore, both modern and traditional. I’d say the purpose of this attraction is more of a cautionary tale than entertainment.
Potentially disturbing imagery in this entry.
This building is both the entrance to the Ten Courts’ Tunnel, and the enquiries / lost and found booth. Probably the only place where you’ll see park staff on duty.
In the past, this attraction was a boat ride through the mouth of a dragon. This is a scale model of the old dragon. I’ve heard a lot of stories about why the dragon was removed – from fengshui, maintenance issues, management conflicts to superstitions. The dragon used to be a big part of the Haw Par Villa’s entrance.
A custom “Tiger” car.
Steps away from that: An eerie path, flanked with rocks leading to the Ten Courts.
Apart from heads (with blood flowing out of eyes) on some surfaces of the rock… there’s this bizarre display of rabbits and rats… with some limbs cut off.
The less morbid side has a tiny sign which reads “善有善报，恶有恶报，不是不报，时间未到”. In essence: “What comes around, goes around… eventually”.
Large figures located near the entrance to the tunnel, with offerings.
This wishing well, with The Goddess of Mercy Guanyin facing the entrance of Ten Courts of Hell.
And here we are: The Ten Courts of Hell.
Ox-head and Horse-face – The guardians of the Ten Courts.
And now: Inside the tunnel.
The first scene depicts the bridges that souls in afterlife would walk through – with the more virtuous taking the golden and silver bridges out of Hell. Basically there are three outcomes here:
The completely virtuous: The golden bridge to Heaven/Paradise and become immortal.
Those whose good deeds outweigh the crimes committed: The silver bridge leading to a path of reincarnation to a mortal.
The evil doers: Banished to the other courts of hell.
The “evil doers” would not be able to pass the bridges, and have to face the Mirror of Retribution and have all their misdeeds shown.
Atonement is achieved through punishments and torture in the remaining courts, as depicted in the photos below. There are different Kings of the netherworld presiding in each court, passing judgment for different types of sins – well, basically everything is covered.
Some of my photos have been enhanced with mild colour filters, but the Ten Courts attraction does not actually use dramatic lighting effects or any sort of sound or animated props. It’s a very quiet and “static” attraction. If anything moves, it’s all in your head.
Every scene has a sign (in English and Chinese) to describe the crimes and punishments.
After the last court, the souls would reach Meng Po‘s pavilion, also known as the Pavilion of Forgiveness. A drink (in some story variations: tea or soup), called the Waters of Oblivion, is given out here. This will wipe the slate clean for the sinners, erasing memories of their past life and experience in the Ten Courts.
The cultural belief that some people could recall their past lives is loosely based on the idea that they had not drank the mystic brew in a previous life. That means one would be reborn again with memories of their past lives (and the whole Hell experience). This also neatly establishes the origins of the Ten Courts folklore, anyway.
The souls are then led to the Wheel of Reincarnation, also known as Samsara, where the cycle of life and afterlife continues…
Well, we’ve come to the end of Ten Courts of Hell experience. That’s quite a journey.
The Haw Par Villa photowalkEntrance Gardens | Ten Courts of Hell | Pavilion and Pagoda
Mysterious Gardens | The Hilltop
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