Sometimes you stumble across places that you don't really understand the greatness of until you've been there. That's exactly how our visit felt Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown in Singapore. We've passed by here on previous trips to Singapore, but never really felt like we had the time to go inside. This time we were glad we did. This is truly one of Singapore's most interesting sights.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is tucked into a block in Chinatown, midway between large high-rise complexes with laundry hanging on racks outside the window and the historic low-rises in downtown Chinatown. The location is really far from impressive, but if you manage to walk away from the temple and see the temple from a distance, it is easier to see the grandeur of the temple. This is not an ancient old temple, but this temple was inaugurated as recently as 2007. Built in the old Tang style, this Chinese Buddhist temple is built in four stories of wood, with lacquered red roofs and green shutters. Very nice in its simplicity and, despite its size, blends in quite well in the old quarters.
As we approached the temple, the sound began to reach us. A beautiful monotonous chanting, almost like a song, that never seemed to end. Never did the singer seem to breathe either, but the rhythmic flow went on and on. We were drawn to the sound like flies to a sugar cube. This beautiful song needed to be investigated. The doors were open, so we entered. Both me and Anders were wearing shorts and a t-shirt (of which I basically had knee-length shorts), but I was the only one who got stopped. I was considered to be wearing too few clothes, which I had to accept. An efficient little lady quickly handed me a sarong that I could wrap around my legs. Now we had to go inside. Slightly annoyed, I saw a man (tourist) walking around with his hairy legs in the temple in shorts so small they could almost be classified as Speedos. But he escaped sarong. I wonder who was the most indecent really…
We entered a large hall, where the sound turned out to be monks reciting a sutra and many participants sat quietly next to it, following their books. If the outside of the temple was minimalistic, the inside of this hall was all the more ornate. Hundreds of small Buddhas stood behind the walls and at the front of the large room shone three large gold statues of Buddha and two women. Lanterns shone over the dragons on the walls and masses of large orchids and incense filled the room with fragrance.
The whole ceremony was very beautiful and it was soothing to listen to the monotonous recitation of the sutra by the monks. In order not to disturb too much, we went on towards the other side of the temple and Ancestral Memorial Hall. Hundreds of candles and oil lamps burned in memory of loved ones who had passed away. A good opportunity to stop and think about those who are no longer with us, but who will always be in our thoughts.
We now made our way up to the roof of the temple, to work our way down towards the ground again. Somewhere along the way we would probably find what gives the temple its name, the tooth of the Buddha. On the roof, under the open sky, was a small pavilion – Ten Thousand Buddhas Pavilion – surrounded by a garden with trees and orchids. In the center of the pavilion was a giant Vairocana prayer wheel. Inside the wheel are over 3000 handwritten prayers and by going lap after lap and pulling the wheel around, the prayers are spread. A bell jingled slowly. With each revolution that the prayer wheel slowly turns, the bell chimes.
We went down one floor to the fourth floor, took off our shoes and entered the hall. It is completely silent. Along the walls, people sat on cushions and meditated. At the back of the hall we were greeted by a glass wall and a large shiny gold stupa surrounded by paintings and dragons. 320 kilos of gold went into building the stupa. A sumptuous holder for Buddha's tooth. We moved closer to the glass. There was the tooth. Or, it wasn't really a tooth, but rather it felt like half the jaw was left? Only monks are allowed to get closer to the relic, so it was difficult to really see the tooth. But it appeared to be a very large tooth. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed of the stupa and the tooth, but I doubt that it would be possible to see the tooth in the photo at that distance anyway.
On the third floor is located Buddhist Culture Museum, which tells the story of the Buddha's life and displays even more relics of the Buddha and lots of statues and Buddhist objects from all over Asia. Following the story of Buddha's life, from wealth to poverty and from ignorance to enlightenment, was a good refresher of the old religious knowledge from school.
On each floor there were places of reverence and devotion and I have long since lost count of the number of Buddhas we saw. Maybe the pavilion on the roof has the answer to how many buddhas are here? Ten thousand Buddhas actually sounds quite reasonable.
We realize that we have been here for 1,5 hours now, we who were only going in a little bit. So we round off our visit to the temple, about the same time as the monks finish the sutra. Remember that sometimes the most unplanned sights turn out to be the biggest sights.
Where is Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum?
The temple is located on South Bridge Road in Singapore, 5 minutes walk from the subway station Chinatown.
Both the temple and the museum are free to visit, but you are only allowed to visit the Buddha's tooth during certain times of the day. Check opening hours and any ceremonies at Buddha Tooth Relic Temples' site.
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Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.