The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is hard to miss: It’s a four-story high, vivid red-and-green, Tang-styled Chinese Buddhist temple, and it sits smack dab in the heart of Singapore's Chinatown.
The temple is actually not that old; it was completed in 2007 at a cost of S$62 million. It prides itself on the extensively-researched accuracy and authenticity on its design and architecture.
Which is all very nice, but let's be honest: Singapore is chock full of Chinese buildings and Buddhist temples. A lot of them are unique too, so what makes this specific temple particularly remarkable?
One-of-a-kind construction in Singapore
Here's the bottom line: What makes the architecture of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (BTRTM) truly impressive on the outside is that it’s the only building in the entire country that is lacquered, rather than painted.
This was possible because of the wood they chose – “Yellow Balau” – a hard, dense and heavy tropical hardwood, originating from Kalimantan. The wood is durable, finely grained, knot-free, and naturally resistant to fungal decay and insect attack. Thy used 2000 sqm of timber on the exterior. It was carefully sanded and then strengthened with successive layers of linen and plaster (7 of linen and 5 of plaster), smoothed and sanded at every stage.
Time consuming, to say the least.
Finally, they finished with three coats of a special Chinese lacquer to protects the temple from Singapore’s harsh weather conditions. The walls and trim are carefully selected shades of red and green, respectively.
The straight, supporting rafter beams atop the building are also protected, by round, bronze ornament caps. The yellow gilt on the lotus-patterned ornaments creates a nice complement to all the red and green.
What’s inside Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
The temple was closed for a special event when we arrived so we weren't able to go inside. We were really disappointed, because as the best Buddhist cultural complex in the region, it's one of the top “must see” sights in Singapore, and with only one day in Singapore we couldn't return the next day.
The temple features many facets of Buddhist arts and culture, most notably relics of the Buddha. The most prized is reputed to be one of his teeth. IIt's housed in a massive, solid gold stupa, created from donations of gold jewelry from devotees.
There are other things to see besides the temple. Highlights include the Buddhist Culture Museum, Eminent Sangha Museum, Sacred Light Hall, and a Theatre for cultural performances. Also, be sure to go up to the roof. It houses a giant Buddhist prayer wheel and the Dendrobium Buddha Tooth, an orchid named for the BTRTM, both of which I really wanted to see.
Now that we know what we missed we'll be sure that, when we return to Singapore, we won't miss it again.