It is interesting how architecture can change one’s mood in an instant. After our visit to the striking Sri Mariamman Temple, the sight of the Tang dynasty inspired structure from afar was magnetic enough that it is impossible to miss. Without any backgrounder, we went through the main entrance of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which we found out (too late) is also a museum.
(Steps away from the colorful Hindu Temple is the glorious Buddhist Temple. Just as that Hinduism and Buddhism are closely related religions that are in some ways parallel and in other ways divergent in theory and practice.)
Our visit turned out to be intimidating at first because a mass/service was ongoing. We thought that we cannot go in until we saw non-Buddhists and the (obvious) tourists who were welcomed. Black robes were even available at the entrance, which I assumed are only for the devotees.
Though I am a Catholic, I found the experience very moving. Just by being so still. I guess it was due to a mixture of fascination with the architecture and the solemnity of the service. Although I noticed that the devotees hardly did mind the shuttering, the temple being one of the main tourist attractions in Chinatown, I let my photo itch be subservient for at least 30 minutes as respect to everyone inside until the service finished.
Before the monk gave the final blessings (just like in the Catholic mass), they had a “peace be with you” counterpart-moment. That I found to be a very heartwarming and joyful scenario. Peacefully contagious.
(Slideshow of the two main halls in the first storey of the temple)
Hundred Dragons Hall (Maitreya Hall)
The mass/service is being held in the Hundred Dragons Hall. While the temple itself is already fascinating from a distance, the more you engage yourself with any corner, the ceiling, ornaments, and the like will take you to see it in its actual glorious form. As I tried to recall the other Chinese temples that I have visited, I realized that they are remarkable in their own ways mainly in terms of the aged facade and representation of culture. On the other hand, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is on its blissful phase having been launched in 2007 and is interlinked with other elements encompassing friendship and a lot of teamwork as you will trace its origin.
On the temple’s name. Just the same with my shallow orientation of Hinduism when we visited Sri Mariamman Temple, I validated my average understanding of Buddhism (e.g. incense, Tang dynasty) when I pondered on the temple’s name. It was liberating to learn about the sacred relic of Buddha starting from the Sri Lankan legends on how it was found out, to the belief that whoever possessed the Sacred Tooth Relic had a divine right to rule the land, and more. Is there only one tooth relic? I wondered. It turned out that there are at least four existing relics (in China, Taiwan, Japan and Singapore) claimed as the sacred tooth of Buddha.
Controversy. Before the temple’s soft launch in 2007, it was reported that dental specialists had said that they believed the tooth, said to have been found in Myanmar and given to the temple, belonged to a herbivorous animal. Also, that there was also no widely accepted provenance of a genuine tooth relic ever having emerged from Myanmar. Venerable Shi Fazhao, who conceptualized the temple, quoted in the media as saying: “To me, it has always been real and I have never questioned its authenticity. They can say all they want, I don’t care what they say. If you believe it’s real, then it’s real.”
Why is it called the Hundred Dragon Halls? As you will notice in its glaring solemnity, the elegant walls shrine a hundred of Buddhas.
Universal Wisdom Hall (Avalokitesvara Hall)
Behind the main hall is the Avalokitesvara Hall. Sitting on a lotus throne is an intricate image of Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (believed to perceive the world’s lamentations).
Just like the Hindu deity Ganesha who has many arms, this Buddhist saint’s six arms represent the following: with his first right hand supporting the head, pondering over the suffering of mankind, while the second right hand holding a pearl symbolises the power to fulfill any sentient wish, the third right hand holding a string of prayer beads symbolises the promise to end all sentient sufferings; on the left, the first hand is pressing the ground to signify granting the wishes of mankind with a firm heart, while the second hand holding a lotus flower symbolises the purification of human deeds. Lastly, the third hand is holding a Dharma wheel, which symbolises the spreading of Dharma.
Along the sides are the zodiac protectors, surrounded by smaller statues of Cintamanicakra Avalokitesvara. We noticed devotees who offered prayers on different corners wherein their concerned protector is located.
(Another charming piece of architecture, door leading to the lively Chinatown Complex.)
Just as we were almost late for our next activity for that day, we exited although our feet did not want to leave (you know that feeling eh?). Although we were already enriched with much fascination, only then we realized that there must be more to see in the other floors.
As I am checking the temple’s website, it turned out that there is indeed MUCH to appreciate. The mezzanine houses the ancestral memorial hall and museum, the second floor has the Lotus Heart Teahouse (sigh) and exhibition hall (calligraphy, paintings and other sculptures), there is the sacred Buddha relics chamber and collection of artifacts in the third floor, and of course the sacred Buddha tooth is in the fourth floor (I regret missing it! Please note that only the Sangha will have access to the inner chamber to conduct the various daily services. The public though may observe the daily services from the public viewing area. The chamber’s curtain is raised twice a day for all in the public area to view the inner chamber and the Sangha.), and on the roof is the prayer wheel. In addition, they provide free vegetarian food to locals and tourists who visit the temple on a daily basis. It clearly means that we must revisit.
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is in South Bridge Road, Chinatown (Singapore). Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Operating Hours : 7.00am to 7.00pm (Monday to Sunday). Admission is free.