Singapore has absorbed culture from every corner of the earth.
Chinese, Malaysian, Indonesian and North and South Indian people make up the bulk of the cultural fabric here. Some are new to Singapore, while others have made the city home for generations. Though many have left home for good, they’ve brought their culture, traditions and customs with them. This is part of what makes Singapore so rad. And I thought Canada was diverse.
Coming from North America where Christianity dominates the religious landscape, it has been enlightening experience visiting the array of different temples in Singapore. Specifically the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown and Sri Veeramakaliamman in Little India have been the most impressive. Architecturally speaking, they are stunning — inside and out.
They are a must-see if just visiting Singapore for a few days.
Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
I stumbled upon the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown on my second day in Singapore and didn’t realize its significance until researching it afterwards. Like its name suggests, the temple reportedly houses the tooth of Buddha, which was unearthed from an abandoned pagoda in Myanmar in 1980. However, several other temples in countries throughout Asia make the same claim, including Japan, Taiwan and Sri Lanka.
The most notorious of the Buddha teeth resides at a temple in Sri Lanka. Retrieved after Buddha’s cremation in India, the relic became a powerful object, with kings using the chomper to justify their rules of kingdoms. Wars were fought and people died in pursuit this toothy treasure. I feel like even the world’s best dentists would have trouble verifying this. Nonetheless, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a sight to behold and the legend is a fun story to contemplate.
Hundreds of golden Buddha statues and figures are positioned throughout the temple and people of all nationalities come and go to pray. The atmosphere is peaceful and serene. Incense is burned as a religious custom and its sweet smell fills the entire building.
Visit the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple’s website here.
I visited Sri Veeramakaliamman in Little India on a Sunday, a popular day of worship for the temple. Even in my approach of the temple, Little India was exploding with people. I felt like I was in New Delhi. Such an enormous crowd hasn’t surrounded me since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Even then, Little India’s numbers still dwarfed the flood of people on Granville Street at the height of the Olympic celebrations.
I spent nearly two hours walking around in complete awe of the religious customs that were unfolding around me at Sri Veeramakaliamman. In direct contrast to the calm ambiance of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, there hundreds of worshippers crowding the temple’s corridors. It was hot and sweaty. Camera in hand, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, I was nervous to enter, fearing I was underdressed and that my presence as an outsider would be scorned.
However, I was encouraged by a greeter near the entrance to come in. He informed me pictures were allowed. So I removed my shoes — as is custom at most temples in the city — rang the bells hanging near the entrance to announce my arrival to the gods and began to snap away.
Indian priests blessed patrons with fire, while those who came to worship brought stacks of bananas as gifts to the gods. And my, does Hinduism have a plethora of gods. People lined up to chant prayers at dozens of shrines, all occupied by different gods and deities.
Let me tell you about my favorite Hindu goddess, Kali, in my next Sleepless in Singapore post.
The temple was built in the late 1800s and has undergone several additions and renovations over the years. Sri Veeramakaliamman is currently undergoing a massive renovation as we speak, too. I donated $10 to the cause and as a token of my appreciation, I was allowed to write my name, along with my family members’ names on a small brick that will be placed under the foundation of the new development. My grandma on my father’s side, a devout Catholic, might be a little perturbed to know her name made it on this brick, but she doesn’t need to know and the act is an apparent token of good luck. Fingers crossed on that front.
All in all, visiting Sri Veeramakaliamman was by far the most intensely unique religious experience I’ve witnessed in my life.
Visit Sri Veeramakaliamman’s website here to discover more about this beautiful building’s equally beautiful history.
Connect with Dorian Geiger, editor of Sleepless in Singapore.