Check out the intricacies of these beautiful Buddhist temples, and uncover the history and development of Buddhism in Singapore as you learn the stories behind them!
TOP 1 Thian Hock Keng Temple
Thian Hock Keng Temple is one of the oldest Chinese temples in Singapore, completed in 1842 by the Hokkien Clan in Telok Ayer Street. Originally located along the coastline before land reclamation took place, it was near the landing point for the immigrants, and was popular among the early Chinese immigrants to Singapore who visit the temple to give thanks to Ma Zu (Goddess of the Sea) for their safe voyage. It was also a key landmark in Chinatown in those days, where the immigrants hang out at the temple and at the nearby shophouses that still flank Telok Ayer Street today.
The remarkable southern Chinese architectural style is in full display here, with elaborate carvings of dragons, phoenixes and deities on its columns and supporting structures, intricate sculptures and a distinctive roof with dragons and colourful broken porcelain on the roof ridges, a Fujian decorating technique. Beyond that, the entire structure of stone, wood and tiles is constructed without using a nail, making it an architectural wonder.
Address: 158 Telok Ayer Street, Singapore 068613
Opening hours: 7.30am – 5.30pm daily
TOP 2 Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery
The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery (also known as Bright Hill Temple) is the largest Buddhist temple in Singapore. It was built as a Chinese forest monastery by Venerable Zhuan Dao to promote Buddhism and provide lodging for monks in 1921. Over the years, it underwent rapid expansion and became a huge religious complex which houses several prayer halls, a retirement home, monks’ quarters, library, crematorium, columbarium, bell and drum towers and a large number of stupas, niches and sculptures. Other noteworthy features include the gargantuan Buddha statue located in the Hall of No Form. A bronze statue measuring 13.8 meters tall and weighing 55 tonnes, it is one of Asia’s largest Buddha statues. The grounds of the temple is also home to the sacred Bodhi Tree. The origins of the tree can be traced back to Bodh Gaya in India, the place where Buddha obtained enlightenment under a bodhi tree. The large statue of Avalokitesvara situated between the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas and the Dharma Hall is another feature to look out for.
Address: 88 Bright Hill Road, Singapore 574117
Opening hours: 9am – 4pm daily
TOP 3 Buddha Tooth Relic Temple
It’s impossible to miss this majestic structure as you walk down South Bridge Road or Sago Lane in Chinatown. It is located just a stone’s throw away from Chinatown Food Street and Maxwell Food Centre, which makes for a convenient stop if you are in the vicinity. The temple got its name from a relic it houses, which is said to be a tooth from Buddha.
The five-storey temple took on Tang Dynasty architecture and is designed based on the Buddhist Mandala, a symbol of Buddhist culture that represents the universe. It holds a theatre, a vegetarian dining hall, prayer halls with Buddha statues, museums, a teahouse, a shop and the Sacred Light Hall which holds the Buddha tooth relic in a stupa made from 420kg of gold. The rooftop of the temple has a prayer wheel, pagodas, pavilions and a garden where the Dendrobium Buddha Tooth, an orchid named after the temple, can be found. The Eminent Sangha Museum features several prominent local and foreign monks, while the Nagapuspa Buddhist Culture Museum displays Asian Buddhist artefacts including a chamber of Buddha relics.
Address: 288 South Bridge Rd, Singapore 058840
Opening hours: 7am – 7pm daily
TOP 4 Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery
Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery is a prominent structure amidst the modern buildings in Toa Payoh, owing to its architecture and vibrant colours. Built in the 1900s, it is one of Singapore’s oldest Buddhist temples and is a testament to the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in Singapore. The land on which the monastery was built was donated by Low Kim Pong, a successful businessman from China’s Fujian province upon having a dream of bright golden light emanating from the west on the sea and subsequently meeting a group of monks at the shore, one of which became the abbot of the monastery.
The architecture of the monastery is that of traditional Hokkien style with curved ends on the roof ridges. Colourful ceramic were cut into small pieces and meticulously pasted together to form beautiful patterns. This tupe of craftwork can also be seen in other Hokkien Chinese temples such as Thian Hock Keng and Hong San See. A notable feature about the architecture of Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery is that three distinct Hokkien architectural styles can be observed (from Fuzhou, Quanzhou, and Zhangzhou), which shows that the building of the monastery is a collective effort of different Chinese communities. Main sections of the monastery include the Mahavira Hall, Tian Wang Dian (hall of heavenly kings), Dharma Hall, Drum Tower, Bell Tower, and the monastic living quarters. Numerous elaborate carvings can be throughout the monastery.
Address: 184 Jalan Toa Payoh, Singapore 319944
Opening hours: 8am – 5pm daily
TOP 5 Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple
The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple was established in 1927 when a Thai monk, the Venerable Vutthisasara built a temporary structure to house a statue of Buddha that he had carried to Singapore. The temple is named after Buddha who was also known as Shakyamuni or Siddhartha Gautama. In 1930, the present temple was built with donations from businessmen Aw Boon Haw and Aw Boon Par, the duo behind the Tiger Balm ointment. A 300-tonne Buddha statue is housed within its grounds. Chains of lights were hung around the statue, hence the temple is also known as “Temple of a Thousand Lights”. The temple’s architecture has a mix of Chinese, Indian and Thai influences, giving it a one-of-a-kind design.
Address: 366 Race Course Rd, Singapore 218638
Opening hours: 8am – 4.30pm daily
TOP 6 Hong San See
Hong San See (translated ‘Temple on Phoenix Hill’) is a temple built by Hokkien immigrants from Nan’an. Designed in the traditional Hokkien architectural style, the roofs have curved ridges with upturned ‘swallow-tail’ end sweeps and richly adorned with carvings and sculptures such as dragons. The techniques of piecing together small pieces of colourful ceramics to form beautiful mosaic figures can also be seen here as in other Hokkien temples such as Thian Hock Keng. The elaborate carvings on the pillars and beams of the temple are particularly eye-catching. The dragons that coil around the pillars and the golden beams with flower motives definitely warrant some shots.
An interesting observation is that the embellishments on the left and right sides of the temple halls are curiously different. Take a closer look and you will notice the subtle differences such as the lanterns on one side have chrysanthemum motifs, while those on the other side have lotus motifs. It could be due to two groups of artisans working on the temple at the same time and trying their best to shine due to the stiff competition in the construction industry.
Address: 31 Mohamed Sultan Road, Singapore 238975
Opening hours: 8am – 6pm daily
TOP 7 Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple
Though Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple is a small temple, it is nonetheless a cultural relic with architecture that is rarely found nowadays. Its name “Goh Chor” was derived from “Rochore”, the name of the area during that time, while “Tua Pek Kong” is a deity whom the Chinese worship. Located along Balestier Road, it was built in 1847 by Hokkien immigrants who work at a sugar cane estate owned by Joseph Balestier, the first American Consul to Singapore.
Beyond the elaborate roofs filled with colourful motives and sculptures such as dragons, phoenixes, birds, fish and flowers, a special feature of this temple is its “rounded” roof where the tip of the roof of the adjoining room is round instead of pointed, and vibrant rainbow colours are used. Another distinct feature is its red-painted plaster which resemble terracota wall tiles, a nod to traditional Hokkien architecture where red terracotta tiles or bricks are used for external wall decorations.
You can also examine one of Singapore’s last surviving Chinese opera stages located right beside the temple. Built by Tan Boon Liat, a Hokkien businessman and philanthropist in 1906, it is still used to hold performances during festivals such as the Hungry Ghost Festival.
Address: 249 Balestier Road, Singapore 329708
Opening hours: 6.30am – 5.30pm daily
TOP 8 Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple
Maha Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple is another temple located at Balestier. Originally established in 1878 by a Burmese at Kinta Road, it served as a place of worship for Singapore’s Burmese Buddhist community, and still continues to do so after relocating to its current location at the quiet Tai Gin Road.
The construction for the current temple was completed in 1991, with architecture that has both traditional Burmese elements and modern features. Intricate carvings made from Burmese teak adorn the distinctive tiered roof, and the white walls are decked with gold embellishments. A 3.3 metre tall Buddha statue carved from a 10-tonne marble block found near Mandalay in 1918 is the centrepiece in its main hall, and is said to be the largest marble Buddha statue outside Myanmar. The temple holds regular talks and events about Buddhism and celebrates both Buddhist and Burmese festivals.
Address: 14 Tai Gin Road, Singapore 327873
Opening hours: 6.30am – 9pm
TOP 9 Singapore Buddhist Lodge
The Singapore Buddhist Lodge is one of the oldest charities in Singapore. It was established in 1934 with the aim of promoting the study of Buddhist scriptures and Buddhism. Since then, it has been through a series of moves and expansion before settling down at the mammoth structure along Kim Yam road today. The exterior of the building took on traditional Minnan (a place in Southern Fujian) swallow design with intricate carvings such as carvings with bird and flower motives adorning the building and its walls. The massive building with 4 basements and 7 storeys houses a range of infrastructures including the main hall, several prayer halls, a library, a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic, conference rooms and a vegetarian dining hall. The renovation of the main hall and the addition of new fixtures were recently completed in late 2019. The newly renovated main hall was opened in Jan 2020 in conjunction with its 85th anniversary, giving rise to one of the most majestic main halls in Chinese temples in Singapore with a huge golden Buddha statue and many golden statues of other deities in Buddhism which line the hall.
Address: 17-19 Kim Yam Road, Singapore 239329
Opening hours: 9am – 6pm (closed on Mondays)
TOP 10 Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery
Foo Hai Chan Monastery is a Mahayana Buddhist temple founded in 1935 by Venerable Hong Zong to propagate Buddhism in Singapore. In contrast to the other temples on the list, Foo Hai Ch’an Monastery takes on muted shades with its roofs and walls mostly in grey, black and white which lends a tranquil atmosphere to the complex. The architecture is that of a Tang Dynasty temple. A pair of Heng Ha Dharma Protectors guard the main gate of Foo Hai Chan. The main hall houses a 9.9-metre tall thousand-hand Guanyin statue and a 3.3-metre tall Buddha statue. A five storey pagoda which houses sacred relics is also located in the temple grounds.
The temple holds regular classes such as calligraphy and the studying of Buddhist scriptures. Traditional Chinese Medicine services are also offered.
Address: 87 Geylang East Ave 2, Singapore 389753
Mon – Sat: 9am – 5pm
Sun & public holidays: 9am – 4pm
Credits: theculturetrip, allabout.city, holidify, Tours & Travel, roots.sg, Burmese Buddhist Temple, global-geography.org/Gerhard Huber, blog.xuite.net, Singapore Buddhist Lodge, foursquare/Cheen T.
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