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Built in 2007 by order of the Venerable Shi Fa Zhao, the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum (the literal translation would be "Temple and Museum of the relic of the tooth of Buddha") is a 5-story cultural and religious centre located in the heart of Chinatown.
The colossal building was constructed following the design of traditional Chinese Buddhist temples so that it resembled these ancient temples as far as possible despite being a recent construction.
What prompted the construction was the presentation of the relic of the tooth of Buddha to the city of Singapore. When a suitable place for public veneration of the relic was needed and no existing building complied with the requirements, the decision was taken to build one.
The construction, which cost some 75 million Singapore dollars, is based on elements of both the Buddhist Mandala, the representation of the Buddhist universe, and the Tang dynasty, which, artistically speaking, one could say was the golden age of Chinese Buddhism. The majesty and the luxury of the interior cannot fail to surprise the visitor.
Before entering visitors are greeted by two imposing figures, the guardians of the gates of the temple.
The temple is housed on the ground floor of the building. Just inside the main entrance there is a small shop where you can buy rice, sugar, fruit, sweets... and when you enter a little further you will understand why – these are offerings that devotees leave at the feet of the figures.
The predominant colours are red and gold and the temple is sumptuously decorated with statues and paintings of Buddha, lamps with garlands of flowers and gold mosaics.
In addition to marvelling at the decoration, visitors can also visit any of the museums that are either dedicated to Buddhist doctrine or tell the story of the temple's principal treasure - the holy tooth of Buddha - or acquire souvenirs at the shop on the first floor.
The venerated relic is housed on the top floor. Or rather this is what the faithful believe is a relic of Buddha, as there are those who call into question its origin and authenticity. According to one version, it is one of the four teeth of Buddha that his apprentices took with them following his funeral and cremation. The story goes that this relic was found in 1980 in a stupa that collapsed in Myanmar.
The other three teeth are reputedly preserved in different countries: the first in the city of Kandy, in Sri Lanka, the second in the capital of China, and the third would appear to have been discovered recently in Mongolia.
According to dentists, however, the tooth is not of human origin and possibly belonged to a cow or buffalo. In any case, Singapore Buddhists believe that their relic is genuine and have been venerating it for many years.
The relic is kept in a giant stupa (a Buddhist construction designed to house relics) constructed using 320 kg of gold almost entirely donated by devotees. This room cannot be accessed by the general public, though there is a viewing area.
The casket housing the relic is only displayed twice daily when the monks remove the fabric covering the stupa during the blessing ceremony.
The temple also features a theatre and hosts exhibitions relating to both the culture and religion of Singapore and Buddhist art and culture.
As a curiosity visitors may notice Dendrobium Buddha Tooth orchids (so-named in honour of the temple and its relic and the most respected flower of Singapore) growing out of the ceiling.
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