Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum



Singapore Infopedia

by Chua, Alvin

Background

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum (BTRTM) is a religious and cultural institution located in Chinatown, which houses a relic said to be a tooth from Buddha. The BTRTM was built for the veneration of the relic, to promote Buddhist culture and education and provide welfare services to the public.1

Origin of the relic
According to BTRTM, the tooth was discovered by Venerable (Ven.) Cakkapala, the abbot of the Bandula Monastery in Mrauk U in Myanmar, in 1980.2 In the process of restoring a collapsed stupa (Buddhist relic structure) and Buddha statue, Ven. Cakkapala and his assistants were said to have found the tooth within a stupa of solid gold on Bagan Hill.3 The discovery was not publicised and the tooth was enshrined at Bandula Monastery.4


Background of BTRTM’s founding
In January 2001, the Bandula Monastery was hoping to raise funds and appealed to Ven. Shi Fazhao from the Golden Pagoda Temple in Singapore for financial assistance. Ven. Shi agreed to help and in August, he visited the Bandula Monastery and formed a close relationship with the elderly Ven. Cakkapala.5

In 2002, Ven. Cakkapala arrived in Singapore, where he visited the Golden Pagoda Temple and the Metta Welfare Association founded by Ven. Shi.6 In August that year, two Buddha tooth relics including the Bandula relic were featured as part of a three-day, S$1-million exhibition held to mark the Golden Pagoda Temple’s 10th anniversary.7 The exhibition drew more than 300,000 visitors, and it was reported that one of the tooth relics would remain at the Golden Pagoda Temple.8 On 4 August, Ven. Cakkapala formally handed the Buddha tooth relic to Ven. Shi, adding that a monastery should be built to house the relic and receive Buddhist pilgrims. Ven. Cakkapala passed away in December that same year.9

Subsequently, Ven. Shi secluded himself in a year-long retreat and emerged with the inspiration to name the temple, “Buddha Tooth Relic Temple”. He also decided that the temple’s architectural style would be based on a mandala (Buddhist diagram representing the universe) as well as incorporate Buddhist art from China’s Tang dynasty. Chinatown was chosen as the temple’s location, with Ven. Shi saying that he hoped the BTRTM would add to the vibrancy and heritage of the area.10 The project was supported by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB), which pointed out that the BTRTM would add to Chinatown’s appeal to tourists interested in religious attractions.11

In May 2004, another exhibition featuring the tooth relic was held, drawing some 600,000 visitors.12 The media then reported details of the planned temple, including its estimated cost, structure and exhibits.13

Construction
On 14 January 2005, the BTRTM signed a 30-year land lease agreement with the STB for the 2,700-square-metre site on South Bridge Road. A three-week exhibition to raise funds was then staged, and the BTRTM began seeking donations and building sponsorship for the temple’s construction.14 Parts of the building including Buddha statues and images, roof tiles and bricks were put up for sponsorship at varying amounts. The BTRTM also collected donations of gold, which would be melted down to construct the stupa housing the tooth relic.15 Ven. Shi stated that building a stupa made of gold “is a demonstration of devotion, and devotees believe that by doing such a deed, they will receive the appropriate karmic returns".16 In less than three months, about 83 kg of gold and S$10 million had been donated.17


By November 2006, another 1,700 kg of jewellery donated by 15,000 devotees had been sealed in vaults of the BTRTM’s foundation.18 In May 2007, the BTRTM told the media that S$43 million had been raised from more than 60,000 donors.19 To meet the final cost of S$75 million, including the land lease, building construction, interior decoration and cost of the temple’s Buddhist images and artefacts, the BTRTM took out a S$22.8-million loan. Sections of the BTRTM were briefly opened to the public in May 2007 for the Vesak Day celebrations.20 A year later, the temple was fully completed and a consecration ceremony was held on 17 May 2008.21

Description and services
The basement of the BTRTM holds a theatre and a vegetarian dining hall. An entry gate and courtyard, flanked by two towers, form the temple’s entrance on the ground level The first floor has halls with various Buddha statues for ceremonies, prayer and offerings.22 The mezzanine level houses the Eminent Sangha Museum, a gallery of prominent local and foreign monks, as well as the Ksitigarbha Hall for ancestral tablets. The second and third floors host a teahouse, shop and the Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum, which displays Asian Buddhist artefacts including a chamber of Buddha relics.23


The fourth storey holds the centrepiece of the BTRTM: the Sacred Light Hall, which contains the Buddha tooth relic.24 The relic is housed within a stupa made from 420 kg of gold, 234 kg of which was melted down from gold items donated by devotees.25 Monks conduct daily services there, and they are the only ones allowed into the relic chamber. Visitors can view the relic chamber twice a day from the public viewing area.26

On the roof of the temple are pagodas, pavilions and a garden where the Dendrobium Buddha Tooth, an orchid named after the BTRTM, can be found.27 At the centre of the roof is a Buddhist prayer wheel.28

Controversy
The BTRTM was embroiled in a controversy before its soft launch in 2007, when the media ran stories questioning the authenticity of the tooth relic. Dental experts were quoted as saying that the tooth’s characteristics of a long crown and short root were incompatible with the dimensions of a human tooth, and that the tooth likely belonged to an animal, probably that of a cow or buffalo. The length of the tooth was also said to be too long to have come from a human.29

In response to the controversy, Ven. Shi said: “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".30 A number of letters to the press from devotees and donors expressed disappointment and called for the tooth to be authenticated.31 In statements released to the media and advertisements taken out, however, the BTRTM rejected the possibility of DNA testing and quoted Ven. Shi as saying: “Each of us has different views on what is ‘real’, as it depends on each individual’s understanding of Buddhism. While we fully respect the opinions of others, we should stand firm on our own faith towards the sacred relics".32



Author

Alvin Chua



References
1. Billy Mork, From Dawn to Dusk: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum (Singapore: Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2010), 12. (Call no. RSING 294.3435095957 FRO)
2. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30; “Sacred Buddha Relics in Singapore,” Straits Times, 8 July 2002, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
3. Tan Dawn Wei and Mavis Toh, “Is Buddha Tooth Here the Real McCoy?” Straits Times, 15 July 2007, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30.
5. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30.
6. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30.
7. Michelle Eng, “Sacred Beauty,” Straits Times, 3 August 2002, 11. (From NewspaperSG)
8. “Devotees Pack Buddhist Exhibition,” Straits Times, 4 August 2002, 4; “Sacred Buddha Relics in Singapore”; Tee Hun Ching, “Articles of Faith,” Straits Times, 20 May 2004, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30.
10. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 30.
11. “New $40M Temple for Buddha Tooth Relic,” Straits Times, 25 May 2004, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Tan Hui Yee, “Building of ‘Tooth Relic’ Temple Starts in March,” Straits Times, 22 January 2005, H6. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “New $40M Temple for Buddha Tooth Relic.”
14. Shi Fazhao 释 法照, Xinjiapo Fo ya si jian zhu ji shi新加坡佛牙寺: 建筑纪实 [Singapore Buddha Tooth Relic Temple: Architectural Documentary] (Singapore: Singapore Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, 2005), 18 (Call no. Chinese RSING 726.143095957 XJP); Tan, “Building of ‘Tooth Relic’ Temple Starts in March.”
15. Sharlene Tan, “Gifts Pour in for Temple: 83kg of Gold and $10M,” Straits Times, 27 February 2005, 8; Maureen Koh, “Heart of Gold,” New Paper, 18 May 2007, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
16. Boon Chan, “Parade, Chinatown Light-Up to Mark Vesak,” Straits Times, 19 May 2007, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
17. Tan, “Gifts Pour in for Temple.”
18. Adeline Chia, “A Fortune in Donations Buried in Chinatown temple,” Straits Times, 6 November 2006, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Chan, “Parade, Chinatown Light-Up to Mark Vesak.”
20. Magdalen Ng, “Celebrations Aplenty to Mark Vesak Day,” Straits Times, 19 May 2007, 97. (From NewspaperSG)
21. Fóyá sì zhòng fú kāiguāng佛牙寺众佛开光” [Buddhas in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple Consecrated], Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报, 18 May 2008, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Shi, Xinjiapo Fo ya si jian zhu ji shi, 29–55, 110–111.
23. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 144, 148, 154, 169, 173, 195.
24. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 199.
25. Koh, “Heart of Gold.”
26. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 199.
27. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 226; “Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum Opens in Singapore,” ENP Newswire, 22 May 2997. (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website)
28. Mork, From Dawn to Dusk, 230.
29. Tan and Toh, “Is Buddha Tooth Here the Real McCoy?”; Tan Dawn Wei, “Some Call for Proof, Others Say It’s Not Necessary,” Straits Times, 22 July 2007, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
30. Tan and Toh, “Is Buddha Tooth Here the Real McCoy?
31. Tan, “Some Call for Proof, Others Say It’s Not Necessary.”
32. “On Matter, Mind and Mission,” Straits Times, 18 July 2007, 35. (From NewspaperSG)



Further resource
时代龙华 = Nagapuspa (2005–2008). (Call no. Chinese RSING 294.305 N)



The information in this article is valid as of August 2023 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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