Date Traveled, January 2012
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore's Chinatown area is supposed to house an actual relic of the Buddha inside it. Whether this is true or not, the temple is a popular place for worshippers. Tourists are also welcome and while the lower section is typically where the services take place and devotees light incense or donate money, the upper sections house a museum holding a nice collection of historical Buddhist statues and artifacts from many places.
It was a week before Chinese New Year when I visited the temple and preparations for the new year festivities were already well underway in Chinatown. 2012 was the year of the Dragon and appropriately there was a large paper dragon greeting visitors into Chinatown. The stalls were packed and decorations already set up. The Buddha Tooth Relic temple just north of Maxwell road in Chinatown was also bedecked with lanterns, flowers and incense. There was a large stream of people entering to pray and services were under way with monks chanting in front of the main Buddha statue in the central hall. Still as long as you are respectfully dressed, everyone was welcome regardless, to come in to the temple and visit.
The Temple under the blazing sun
Artifacts in the museum on one of the upper levels
The garden on the terrace level
The Temple was a few stories high and designed in ancient Chinese architectural style. The lowest level was where all the crowds were, both tourists and those who had come to pray alike. There was an ongoing service as I mentioned in the central hall, but you could walk along the sides of the aisles across rows of small Buddha statues and other religious iconography to reach the back area. Here you can exit on the other side to Maxwell road or go up to see the museum. One of the levels was for administrative purposes and one was a library of some sort if I recall correctly. The museum takes up one of the upper levels entirely and has a large display of artifacts behind protected glass. It was interesting to walk around here as the crowds are also significantly less here. The statues and artifacts were not just ones with religious significance but had a mix of Buddhas and other statues from ancient times from all countries where there was significant Buddhist cultural influence.
The upper level was my favorite part. You are on an open terrace garden with plenty of shade and it is very peaceful up there. You can see the surrounding city and the bustle of Chinatown below from up there and it felt like a little secret garden. Not very secret as there are visitors along with you all the time, but certainly not that crowded. There is a small building in the center of the terrace and all the paths on the terrace lead to it from each corner. Inside it was a large Tibetan prayer wheel. Almost everyone who went in couldn't resist turning the wheel for a bit.
It was bright hot day when I went and the temple offered a brief and nice getaway from that, especially in its cool terrace garden. And maybe it gave some luck as well, as I exited the back I was fortunate enough to stumble across the Maxwell Hawker Center right across the street, and tried my first hawker food there, the famous Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice.