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Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is located in Singapore's Chinatown district, and is a Mahayana Buddhist temple. Built in 2007, in Tang (唐) Dynasty architectural style, the temple gets its name from what Buddhists regard as the left canine tooth of the Shakyamuni Buddha, which is enshrined in the temple, housed in a giant stupa weighing a whopping 3,5 tonnes and decorated with 320 kilograms of gold. The entrance has three Hong Men (fig.), i.e. large, heavy doors that are lacquered red and fitted with gilt bronze studs, engraved plates and lion door knockers. On either side of the entrance is a large granite statue of a door guardian. On the left is Heng Jiang (fig.), the ‘Groaning General’ or ‘Snorting General’, who is always depicted with his mouth closed, whilst on the right is Ha Jiang (fig.), the ‘Yawning General’, ‘Breathing General’ or ‘Laughing General’, who is always depicted with his mouth open. The main hall, known as Bai Long Dian (百龍殿), i.e. the ‘Hundred Dragons Hall’, features a large gilded statue of the Maitreya Buddha, seated on a throne with his feet resting on a lotus flower, and flanked by two bodhisattvas. With the right hand he performs mudra known as abhaya (fig., symbolizing ‘calm’, ‘reassurance’ and ‘no fear’, whilst with the left hand he performs a varada (fig.) mudra, representing the ‘granting of wishes’. In his left palm is a golden kundika, a ritual ewer that contains the Amrita, i.e. the Elixir of Immortality. Behind these statues is a wall decorated with a golden silk cloth with elaborate handmade embroidery, known as ci xiu (刺绣), depicting the Nine Dragons, i.e. the nine sons of the first Chinese dragons. With nine being a unique number, with the Chinese character for ‘nine’ (九) resembling that of ‘power’, ‘force’ and ‘strength’, i.e. li (力), whilst its pronunciation (jiu) is a homophone for the word ‘long-lasting’ (久), and with the auspicious dragon itself being a symbol of power and strength, the Nine Dragons combined represent the pinnacle of everlasting power and strength. Each of the dragons is depicted with 5 claws, being the highest possible number and in Ancient China reserved for noblemen. Around the 13th century AD it was decreed that the emblem of the Emperor was a completely gold-coloured, five-clawed dragon, whereas that for imperial nobility and certain high ranking officials was a four-clawed dragon in various symbolic colours, whilst the emblem for lower ranks and the general public was a three-clawed dragon. Also on the silk cloth are depictions of five bats. In China, the bat is a symbol for good luck, as the pronunciation of fu (蝠), the Chinese word for ‘bat’, is homophonous with foo (福), which means ‘good luck’. It therefore often appears in Chinese iconography as an auspicious sign, and when five bats are displayed together (fig.) they stand for fortune, longevity, good health, love and death of natural causes (fig.). Additionally, there are some gold fish, and whilst the mount of Kuan Yin (fig.), the goddess of mercy and a form of he the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara (fig.), is a huge Koi Carp, that is able to subdue demons and malicious beings, fish are in Chinese called yú (鱼), a word with the same sound as yú (逾) meaning ‘to exceed’ and yú (余), meaning ‘surplus’. Due to this, fish frequently appear in Chinese iconography and their symbols are typical Chinese good luck charms, especially goldfish, as those are called jīnyú (金鱼) which sounds the same as jīnyú (金逾) or jīnyú (金余) and can be translated as ‘surplus of money’ or ‘gold in excess’. On the walls of the hall are niches with Buddha statues in various positions and around those are countless smaller niches, each with a small open casket that contains an image of the Buddha. Behind the main Hundred Dragon Hall is a lesser hall, known as Yuan Tong Dian (圓通殿), i.e. ‘Universal Wisdom Hall’, which is dedicated to the six-armed Chintamanichakra (चिन्तामणिचक्र), a manifestation of Avalokitesvara, sitting atop an elaborate lotus throne. Adorning the walls of the hall are countless small images of Chintamanichakra seated on a lotus and attached to the walls like chandeliers. On shelves surrounding the main altar are statues of various Buddhas and bodhisattvas, as well as Ming Wang (明王), i.e. ‘Wisdom Kings’, such as Acalanatha (fig.), known in Chinese as Budong (fig.), who is deemed the protector or guardian deity of those born in the Year of the Rooster. There are also smaller statues of guardians that are associated with the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac, each with their specific animal depicted on top of their headdress. At the exit of this hall towards the street, is a mandala (fig.), i.e. a complex and mystic diagram symbolizing the Universe and used as an object of meditation in Vajrayana Buddhism, made with colourful stones and gems. It is laid out in front of a gilded statue of Jambhala (fig.), a Tibetan wealth god, who is holding a gold ingot in one hand and a wealth mongoose that spews out precious jewels in the other hand. WATCH VIDEO (1) and (2).