The past two weekends saw me visiting two very interestingly different locations here in Singapore – a Buddhist temple and an island getaway, which doubles up as a cyclist’s delight.
On a Saturday evening we decided to pay the long planned visit to the new Buddhist temple in town – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.
‘A pure land set in a modern cosmopolis, a sacred edifice standing amidst vintage shophouses’ – is how it is described officially! Opened to the public on May 31st, the Vesak day – a day of festivities for the Chinese, it is a Tang dynasty-style building situated in a bylane of Chinatown. It is supposed to be a Chinese cultural complex which holds the Sacred Buddha Tooth and relics, and has many rare Buddhist artefacts exhibited in its museum. It is a classical art piece in itself, they say, with the aim of becoming the best Buddhist cultural complex in the region.
Here’s a little history of how the temple was built – all this is courtesy the brochure we picked up on our visit there.
In 2002, Ven. Cakkapala decided to hand over the Buddha Tooth Relic, (which he had reverently enshrined for 22 years) to Ven. Shi Fazhao to be safeguarded. He exhorted the new guardian that, should the opportunity arise, he is to build a monastery for the relic, so that Buddhists from all over could gather at Singapore and pay reverence to it. This way it was hoped, people would connect with the Buddha and hence increase in blessings and wisdom. Having been so urged, Ven. Shi Fazhao resolved to be secluded in a one-year Dharma Lotus Blossom retreat and conceived during the retreat not only the name ‘Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple and Museum’, but also the architectural style based on the Buddhist mandala and integrated with the art culture of Buddhism in the Tang dynasty. Naturally the classical ethos of the building had to be matched with a site of long history. Loaded with significance for the early Chinese immigrants and also being the locus of the roots of Chinese culture here, Chinatown became the choice for the building of the temple.
History and geography apart, the temple is very tastefully done-up and fills one with a deep sense of serenity and peace on visiting it. The opulent statues and accompaniments and the grandeur of the settings are breath-taking. The exhibits and the idea of telling the story of Buddhism as if in Buddha’s words himself in the Buddhist culture museum is fascinating. The tooth relic chamber and the one thousand Buddhas pavilion leave one at a loss for words with all their significant richness in beauty and culture.
That done, a week later, it was an outing of a totally contrasting nature. We decided to visit the Pulau Ubin island, early this Saturday morning. Having heard stories of a mosquito menace at the place in the evenings, we somehow managed to convince a bunch of lazy colleagues to get up relatively early (read as: much before late afternoon) and reached the place after a small ferry (bumboat) ride. Shaped like a boomerang, Pulau Ubin or Granite Island is situated just off the North-Eastern corner of mainland Singapore. The 1020 hectare island was once a cluster of 5 smaller ones separated by tidal rivers, but the building of bunds for prawn farming has since united these into a single island.
Ubin is supposed to be a series of undulating granite hills. In the early days, granite mining was supposed to have supported a few thousand settlers. Much of the original vegetation was also cleared for the cultivation of rubber and crops like coffee, pineapple, coconut and jasmine. I also learnt from a colleague that years ago Ubin was one of the quarantine islands – sailors visiting S’pore had to stay at Ubin for 2-3 months before they could come on to the mainland! Today, abandoned granite quarries remain as picturesque relics of Ubin’s history, while forests and grasslands are seen to have regenerated to cover up the ravages of the past.
Ubin can provide a much needed escapade from the hustle and bustle of the city life of Singapore. It’s natural and rustic charm draws several visitors and the setting is idyllic for outdoor activities. One can rent bicycles or get one’s own and visit the villages scattered around the island. One can also bring tents and head out to the beach campsites or the laid-back ones can go in for some fishing at the waters of Ubin. For people preferring a comfortable stay there is also a MCC Ubin resort at the place, complete with furnished chalets and a swimming lagoon etc.
We spent a fun-filled tiring day cycling for nearly 4-5 hours and exploring the various nooks, corners and un-discovered specialities of the place. We then lounged around at the beach for a while before the rain gods decided to make their presence felt and it poured for an hour or so. The moods of the sea were fascinating to observe while the rains lashed. Finally the downpour abated as suddenly as it had begun, which is so typical of Singapore, and we bid good bye to Ubin and made our way back to where lay civilization and its woes!