A brush with Buddhism at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, Singapore

The multi-storeyed Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum dominates the colourful streets of Singapore’s Chinatown with an otherworldly magnetism. Get to know its history and architecture in this tour guide.

Those who are fond of reading would have realised at some point that they know a little of everything; yet they are an expert on very few subjects. Our relationship with Buddhism had been something like that. This religion had always held spiritual appeal for us, given its focus on detachment, isolation and meditation. The very word ‘Buddhist’ resonates with profound wisdom and serenity.

So when we stumbled upon the grandiose Buddha Tooth Relic Temple with its glittering golden opulence and rhythmic, melodious chanting, we were more than a little surprised.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at Chinatown, Singapore

Table of Contents
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Architecture
Buddha Tooth Relic Museum
Finding Calm at The Pagoda & Prayer Wheel
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple History & Design
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Address, Timings, & Dress Code

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Architecture

Yet, by the end of our tryst with this renowned place of worship, we discovered that at its heart, it was still the silent, spiritual Buddhism we knew. From the outside, it impresses with its curved Tang-style architecture, typical of pretty Chinese houses and wafting fragrance of incense sticks, a classic fixture in Chinese worship.

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at Chinatown, Singapore
The curved roof typical of Tang-style architecture

And from the inside, the ornate vat holding ceremonial ash, the giant mound of rice and the life-size deities presiding over a sea of bowing monks in sombre black robes inspire real awe. Visitors are not allowed to enter the main hall where the monks pay homage to the Buddha with their hypnotic incantations. They may, however observe and pray from the upper storey designed like a balcony that offers a 360 degree view of the proceedings below. The Sacred Tooth Relic may also be viewed from afar, on the Sacred Light Hall on the fourth floor.

The vat full of ceremonial ash and incense sticks inspires awe
The vat full of ceremonial ash and incense sticks inspires awe
A giant mound of rice
A giant mound of rice

Buddha Tooth Relic Museum

The tooth relic may be found within a massive 3500 kg stupa, of which 320 kg is gold! The Eminent Sangha Museum also hosts cultural shows and cinema screenings.

Those who do not own the little bound books inscribed with words of worship, may wander around the museum and marvel at eerily accurate statues of erstwhile monks. Within the glass cabinets that circle the entire upper storey, there reside excellently preserved relics of Buddhism. We stood among these tongue and bone relics with our eyes closed, absorbing the positive vibrations and arcane calmness that the chants had imparted upon the devout listeners and reverent walls.

Years of flawless chanting seemed to have preserved the magical draw of the temple that doubles as a rich repository of Buddhist history, despite the thousands of tourists that throng its entrance everyday.

The head monk reads from his prayer book
The head monk reads from his prayer book

Finding Calm at The Pagoda & Prayer Wheel

Once the voices have stilled and you are possessed by the urge to sit for a moment and reflect upon the various emotions that have risen to the surface, you may wish to visit the roof garden. It is a secret oasis of calm, surrounded by a cool garden, pagoda and prayer wheel and is ideal for some moments of undisturbed rumination. Then again, you may simply want to revel in the echoes of the beauty you’ve just experienced. The only other time we’d seen a Buddha prayer wheel was at a Buddhist temple at India’s storybook hill station Manali, inscribed with the words Om mani pudme hum. This one is called Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel, named after the Vairocana Buddha who embodies the significance of shunyata or emptiness.

1200px-PrayerWheelsRumtek
A prayer wheel at Rumtek Monastery by Sivakumar (from Wikimedia Commons)

When you prepare to leave the temple and explore the other delights of Chinatown, a treasure trove awaits you.

The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery routinely prints free-to-read books of stories and teachings from the Buddha as a parting gift to those who come to His doorstep.

There are pictorially represented stories for children and little pocket books full of everyday wisdom for those who do not prefer to read reams of obscure scriptures. If what you read touches you in some way, you can transfer a donation to the monastery, so more souls may be gladdened by teachings of kindness, temperance and generosity.

The fearsome guard at the entrance
The fearsome guard at the entrance

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple History & Design

The temple was built in 2007, and gets its name from the left canine tooth of the Buddha, which can now be seen in the grounds of the shrine. It was retrieved from the Buddha’s funeral pyre in the Indian town of Kushinagar. Chief Abbot Venerable Shi Fa Zhao designed the temple that cost S$75 million to build. The design is evocative of the Buddhist mandala.

The temple monks conduct a workshop on discovering Buddhism, drawing on the 2500 year old teachings of Shakyamani Buddha. The temple serves delicious and affordable vegetarian food in its basement.

There are some who say that Singapore lacks culture. Our brush with Chinese Buddhism convinced us otherwise.

Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Address, Timings, & Dress Code

Timings: The temple is open everyday from 7 am to 7 pm.
Address: 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840
Dress code: Wear clothes that reach up to the knees and are not sleeveless or backless.
Note: Pets are not allowed inside the temple. You can also register for a free weekly tour of the temple.

Get a FREE 40-page India Travel Guide when you subscribe:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Advertisements