BB.com Goes To Singapore 4: Chinatown & Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
Purchasing my first fast lens was the only memory I had of Chinatown when I first visited Singapore. Nothing more but the tight spaces and narrow passages between shops, stalls, and food carts were my vivid memories of the district. This time, I set shopping aside, instead, took a closer look into the neighborhood when BB.com Goes To Singapore: Chinatown & Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Red lanterns dangle over a street in Chinatown.
Chinese traveler Wang Dayuan sailed the South China Sea and dropped anchor on the island of Singapore. In his chronicles dating back to 1330, the seafaring adventurer found a Chinese settlement called Dan Ma Xi. This was one of the earliest recorded documents in Singaporean history, and Singapore’s Chinatown was considered one of the oldest Chinatowns in the world.
These empty tables gets quite filled later at night.
Colorful buildings in Pagoda Street from Chinatown MRT.
Today, Chinatown is an enclave not only for Singapore’s dominant Chinese community but to all ethnic groups as well. The district’s growth came with shops, stores, hawkers, Chinese restaurants and even a night market, which contributed a major increase in tourist influx. Everyday, Chinatown hustles and bustles with shoppers, food adventurers, and tourist from morning ’til evening.
Street market in Chinatown Singapore.
She’s the one doing the shopping, not me.
Though the busy neighborhood of Chinatown has evolved from a settlement to a hub of tourist and commerce, rows of colorful shop-houses in a combination of Baroque and Victorian architecture were restored and preserved. Dig deeper into Chinatown’s wondrous past in Chinatown Heritage Centre through exhibits, memoirs, and photographs, and find out how the district flourished into its current state. The countless establishments lined side by side are only a facade to the Chinatown’s identity – the real beauty of the neighborhood is rooted to the rich culture, colorful history, and its community.
An old man playing the Chinese two-stringed instrument called ‘Erhu’.
A few blocks away from Chinatown, and after a couple of twist and turns on tight corners is the massive Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. The six-level structure, including the Mezzanine and Roof Garden, was designed in Tang Dynasty architectural style and houses the sacred Buddha Tooth Relic, as the temple’s name suggests. Exploring the multi-tiered edifice will enlighten temple visitors with more knowledge about Buddhism, the religion, the arts, and the way of life.
With the family in front of Buddha Tooth Relic Temple.
Manjusri, an embodiment of transcendent wisdom (please correct if wrong).
Vairocana, a celestial Buddha seen as the embodiment of the Buddhist concept of emptiness.
Aside from being a sanctuary for Buddhist monks, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is also a museum showcasing Buddhist antiquity, figures, and art. Located on the Mezzanine level is the Eminent Sangha Museum featuring wax replicas of famous monks from around the world who made major contributions and monumental achievements in Dharma teachings. The Mansjuri-Aranya Hall, on the 2nd floor, exhibits religious arts and the Mahaprajnaparamita Sutra, which translates to encyclopedic writing collection about the Perfection of Wisdom. Also in this level is a library and gift shop.
Budai, the “Laughing Buddha”, is probably the most popular among other embodiments.
The Samantabhadra Hall on the third floor houses the Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum serving 4 main purposes – document, collect, preserve, and research Asian Buddhist artifacts. This would raise awareness and encourage a deeper understanding of Buddhism through the antiquities exhibited in this section of the temple. Also on the same floor is the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relics Chamber. Keep in mind that photography is strictly prohibited in this sacred area.
Acala, one of the fierce angry-faced guardian Deities in Vajrayana Buddhism.
The repository of the sacred tooth inside a 3.6 meter high golden stupa (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics) is the highlight of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber on the 4th floor. Visitors aren’t allowed to enter the inner chamber where the Sangha (monastic community of Buddhist monks or nuns) conducts various daily services, however, the chamber’s curtains will be raised twice a day during the Sangha’s blessing ceremonies for public viewing. On the topmost level is a roof garden with a Pagoda housing a Vairocana Buddha Prayer Wheel as roof deck’s centerpiece.
Bhūmisparśa Mudrā, or the earth-touching position of Buddha.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple may not be the biggest Buddhism Temple in Singapore but it is a big attraction in Chinatown. The Buddhist’s way of life is a mystery to many and by opening the temple’s gates to the public, it gave way for deeper understanding of the reticent religion which, in my case, I merely read in books, and seen on National Geographic Channel, or Kung Fu/Asian movies.
Wearing appropriate attire shows respect to the temple.
Chinatown’s Buddha Tooth Relic Temple stood on South Bridge Road not just as a place of worship or a tourist attraction but also an institution which plays a significant role in Chinatown’s local community. Like traditional Buddhist temples, they reach out to the elderly Buddhist or non-Buddhist residents of the district and also engage in social and cultural activities. It is a perfect demonstration of how any organization or any individual, no matter what their differences are, could do their part in building a better community, and if we look at the bigger picture, it would result to greater nation. And, that’s how I would remember Chinatown from now on.
Here are some fast facts that may help you on your trip:
1. Chinatown can be easily accessed via MRT. If you’re looking for other transportation alternatives, click on GoThere.SG
2. Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is located at 288 South Bridge Road, Singapore 058840. For directions going directly to the temple, click on GoThere.SG
3. Temple and Museum is open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM daily.
4. Entrance is FREE, but there are two strict rules that are need to be observed:
A. Wear appropriate attire to show respect; no bare backs, off-shoulders, shorts, mini-skirts, etc
B. Strictly no non-vegetarian food and pets inside the Temple.
5. Photography using flash is not allowed, and there are specific areas where all kinds of photography is STRICTLY PROHIBITED.
6. Read more about the BB.com Goes To Singapore Series.
7. More Singapore destinations in Biyaheng Singapore.
8. Like Biyaherong Barat on Facebook.
9. Follow @BiyaherongBarat on Twitter
10. Happy travels everyone.