The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is located along South Bridge Road making it one of the four religious buildings along the same stretch of road, defining once again how multicultural Singapore can be. When it was completed in year 2007, it costs more than SGD $62 million mostly by private donations from many sponsors.
The BTRT is one of the most popular attraction within Chinatown largely possibly due to the rich architecture of Tang dynasty style and possibly due to it’s bright (and Gold!) laden designed interior.
Now a relic is defined as “a part of a deceased holy person’s body or belongings kept as an object of reverence.” The “specific Buddha tooth relic” that drives the name of this temple was discovered by Venerable Cakkapala from a collapsed stupa in Myanmar back in the 1980s. Before his death, Venerable Cakkapala passed the tooth to a Venerable Shi Fazhao in Singapore and appealed to him to find a suitable place to house the relic. It would take Venerable Fazhao a year in seclusion to retreat and reflect and about 5 years later to fulfil this promise but it was worth every minute of it.
The “brilliance” of the Architecture
Venerable Shi Fazhao decided that the architecture style of the temple would be based on mandala (Buddhist diagram representing the universe) as well as incorporate Buddhist art from China’s Tang dynasty. Tang dynasty is a period of quiet peace, great prosperity and height of Chinese literary works and arts.
Venerable Shi Fazhao also looked into every single item within the temple, every sourced material including tiles, walls and lamp and almost every inch of the temple. The height of the ceiling, the details of the deity and sculptures, the “Gold” on the walls, the symmetrical lights, placement of statutes, the quiet aura, inspires an overwhelming feeling of reverence and admiration.
04th Floor – Tooth Relic Chamber
The tooth relic is found at the 04th floor (out of 6 stories) of the temple and this entire hall is divided into two: The accessible area is for public to view the tooth relic and the prohibited area is called the relic chamber.
The relic chamber is lined with gold floor tiles (see featured image). Both the halls are well decorated with gold sculptures, stands, tablets, statues, and various miniatures. On both the right and left side of the hall are two lounges with cushions for meditation. One must also follow the direction of the traffic flow clockwise to view the tooth on display, encased behind in the glass relic chamber.
At least 320kg of Gold was used to build this temple, most of them donated. Even the tiles can be donated by sponsors and each sponsor can write their name behind the tile as part of their contributions.
Within this chamber, if you have a moment to just sit and meditate in this hall by the windows, please do, even for a short while. It is also very relaxing to watch people meditate or just to fill your ears with the chanting sound at the background. Do note that there should be no photography on this floor.
What’s on the other floors?
The 2nd and 3rd level consists of a museum/gallery which traces the history of the Buddha and origins of Buddhism. A small area within the gallery is dedicated to the other relics of the Buddha – called the Sacred Buddha Relics Chamber.
The top floor of the BTRT is a roof garden. In the middle of it is a small pagoda which houses the Buddha prayer wheel. This prayer wheel must be one of the tallest in Singapore and it is about 2 stories high. According to the Tibetan Buddhist tradition based on the lineage texts regarding prayer wheels, spinning such a wheel will have much the same meritorious effect as orally reciting the prayers. Don’t forget to go three rounds while you are here. Outside, the rooftop garden offers a tranquil respite surrounded with greenery, “safe” from the hustle and bustle of the street downstairs.
Other Architectural details – Dougong
As like some of the traditional Chinese temples built in olden days, this temple is constructed without nails. A major contribution and one of the most important elements in Chinese wooden architecture uses the load-bearing timber frame, a network of interlocking wooden supports forming the skeleton of the building.
The use of layered pieces of ceilings held together by interlocking bracket sets, a unique structured element style called (斗拱 dǒugǒng, meaning cap and block). Since ancient times when the Chinese first began to use wood for building, joinery has been a major focus and craftsmen cut the wooden pieces to fit so perfectly that no glue or fasteners nor nails were necessary.
Dougong was widely used in the Spring and Autumn Period (770–476 BC) and developed into a complex set of interlocking parts by its peak in the Tang and Song periods.
What about food?
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is definitely your stop if you are in Singapore even for 1 night. Situated in Chinatown itself, it is very convenient and within easy access to public transport (Mrt station: Chinatown), shopping and eateries too. There is also a vegetarian canteen at the basement of the BTRT so do not forget to pop by over to take a look if you visit clashes with meal times. Otherwise, just across the BTRT is Chinatown Food Centre which offers a variety of local, good and cheap eats as well.
Don’t Forget to take that photo!
The temple is built on Tang Dynasty architectural style and is a very famous photography background for postcards and traveling books. Before you leave, please don’t forget to take that photo for this architecture is unique enough to prove that you have been to Singapore.
Opening hours: Opens Monday-Sunday (7am-7pm) including Public Holiday
Audience: Good for Families with children as well.
Note: Do note that appropriate dressing should be observed at all times and there are “sarongs” and “scarfs” for extra covering, should you find a need for it.
Estimated duration: ~ 3 hours (if you want to spend more time at the museum)
Address: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Entry Fees: Complimentary