Soft launch of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, Singapore
The latest attraction to Singapore Chinatown is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum.
The temple is based on the Tang dynasty architectural style and built to house the tooth relic of the historical Buddha. The ground breaking ceremony was conducted on 13 March 2005. Costing S$62 million and 2 years later, a soft launch was held to coincide with the 2007 Vesak Day celebration.
On 15 May 2007, 108 dragon lanterns were displayed along a 2 km stretch from Singapore River to Hoe Chiang Road in Tanjong Pagar to welcome guest as they move from the Elgin Bridge to the Tooth Relic temple. The lantern display added much color and excitement to Chinatown as the public waited for the official soft launch date.
On 30 May 2007, the eve of Vesak Day, a stretch of road from Maxwell Road Food Centre to Upper Cross Street was closed for the special event. Hours before the parade, the Chinatown area was crowded with people eager to watch the parade and to catch a glimpse of the temple.
Locals, tourists young and old were on standby. Restaurants with windows facing the street were crowded with patrons. Others went up to higher floors of nearby buildings to get a birds eye view. Large screens were set up at various locations for others who could not get to the front.
The highlight of the launch was a one-and-a-half hour parade showcasing floats and performers from different countries. This was followed by a light up, fireworks display and an official opening of the temple to the public. The guest of honor was Singapore President SR Nathan. Buddhist Venerables from Singapore, China, Thailand, Myanmar etc were also invited. The parade started with the National Anthem being played followed by Buddhist hymns.
There were 7 floats reflecting Buddhist cultures of Thailand, Myanmar, India, Pakistan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, China and 3 floats to symbolize the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma and Sangha), followed by a hipo bus and a long train of rickshaws each of which had one elderly citizen as passenger.
Each float stopped in front of the grand stand where guests were treated to a performance.
After the parade was the fireworks display synchronized with the light up of the temple and lion dance performances. Dragon dancers positioned themselves on different levels of the temple to perform their dragon dance. With the lights slowly flooding the temple, fireworks flaring up in the sky and dragons drifting around the temple, it was almost a magical sight never witnessed in the history of Chinatown. The public responded with loud applause and camera flashes illuminated the night sky.
The VIP were invited into the temple and at 11pm the public was invited in as well.
Although the temple is still raising fund for its construction, they used the soft launch to raise fund for the President's Challenge. Public donations from the soft launch was donated to the President's Challenge and members of the public were encouraged to participate in a Wishing Card program. Each card cost $2 and proceeds are donated to President's Challenge as well. The temple hopes to raise S$100 000 for the President's Challenge.
Apart from its religious activities, the temple has a museum to showcase important Buddhist artifacts. The temple also reaches out to elderly people living in Chinatown. Traditional Buddhist temples have a central role in society not only as a religious site but as a social and cultural institution as well. The activities of the Tooth Relic temple demonstrates how Buddhist institutions are able to transcend social changes to continue to engage and to continue to serve the society not only in local but regional context and generating social and cultural capital in the process.