An interesting distraction away from the hustle and bustle of Chinatown is the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Museum. The five-story building, with an outdoor garden on the roof is eye-catching with its Tang-dynasty inspired architecture painted in bold red and adorned with gold decorations on the ceiling and human-scale statues at the entrance.
The exterior of Buddha’s tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown:
As you walk in, there is an instant calmness that hits as people chant and pray in the background. Incense permeates through the ground floor as people burn joss sticks upon entering to pay their respects to the Buddha in the sky, as they say.
The rich and captivating interior of the temple where people pay their respects to Buddha and other gods:
Though Buddha has been dead for over 2000 years, his tooth relics remain here at this temple. Buddha’s tooth is housed in the fourth story in which you can only enter if you wear a t-shirt and long pants or a skirt. If you are dressed ‘inappropriately’, then there are shawls and sarongs that you can borrow to cover up before going into the chamber.
While you cannot take photos of the actual relics, I managed to sneak one of the overall room before I was reprimanded over the loud speaker.
It’s an amazing sight and almost like something out of a movie set. The room is immaculately decorated with old lanterns that line the ceiling in symmetrical rows, with candles and public offerings, such as flowers and other gifts placed on the tables. The tooth is apparently located in the back of the room, though not visibly obvious. There’s also a monk who can bless you if you purchase the necessary ritual gifts for him to consecrate.
On the third floor, the biggest collection of Buddhist relics in Singapore can be found here. The Relic Chamber holds some strange remnants. Sarira, or what is commonly known as relic, is the spiritual energy left behind after the death of a sage, upon the cremation of his body. The rare relics displayed in the Relic Chamber are from the Buddha for all to venerate and offer respects to.
In the Buddhist context, sarira refers to the crystallisation of solid remains of Buddha Sakyamuni or eminent sangha after their cremation. The emergence of relics signifies that the spiritual energy of Buddha or the spiritual practitioner during their lifetime is constant and serene, untainted by nature’s forces yet elevated due to persevering religious practices. This energy is converted to physical forms to what we know as relics, explains the history board before you enter.
In this fascinating chamber, over 15 small gold stupas (structures containing Buddhist relics) house the relics of Buddha’s hair brains, big intestine, blood flesh, tongue and eyes, to name a few. They are represented in the form of small coloured pearls (sarira) that range from purple to green to gold.
The history behind the “tooth” began in 1980 when Venerable Cakkapala, the chief abbot of a renowned monastery in Myanmar visited the Bagan Hill at Mrauk-U with five devotees to restore a collapsed stupa and a large Buddha statue. As they were clearing the debris, they discovered a Tooth of Buddha within a stupa and other Buddha Relics.
Then in 2001, members of the Myanmar monastery planned to build a Buddhist and exhibition hall, however, due to a lack of funds and seeing that Singapore – a multi-racial society, with political stability and having a good international relationship with Myanmar, Venerable Cakkapala decided to hand over the Buddha Tooth Relic in 2002, to a well-known Venerable in Singapore for safekeeping and for the new guardian to build a monastery for the relief so that Buddha’s from all over the world can gather in Singapore to pay their reverence to it – hence giving birth to this important location to date.
While Singapore is known primarily for its modern sights and sounds, visiting Buddha’s Tooth is a nice excursion. Not only seeing the various relics but also learning the history of Buddha, Buddhism and the cooperation between Myanmar and Singapore is a highly recommended activity.