Burmese Buddhist Temple
The Burmese Buddhist Temple at 14 Tai Gin Road
|Full name||Maha Sasana Ramsi|
|Founder(s)||U Thar Hnin, U Kyaw Gaung|
|Abbot||Sayadaw U Pannavamsa|
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The Burmese Buddhist Temple (also known as Maha Sasana Ramsi; Burmese: သာသနာ့ရံသီ မြန်မာဘုရားကျောင်း; Chinese: 缅甸玉佛寺; pinyin: Miǎndiàn yùfósì) is located on Tai Gin Road in Novena, Singapore. Founded in 1875, the temple is the oldest Theravada institution and the only Burmese Buddhist temple of its kind in Singapore. The temple houses the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar, and has become a religious landmark for Burmese and Singaporean devotees to make merits and take part in merit sharing activities alike.
The Burmese Buddhist Temple (BBT) was founded by a Burmese, named U Thar Hnin, also known as Tang Sooay Chin, at 17 Kinta Road (off Serangoon Road) in 1875. In 1878, U Thar Hnin donated the temple to U Kyaw Gaung (also known as Khoo Teogou), a traditional Burmese physician. The temple houses the largest pure white marble statue of the Buddha outside of Myanmar. It is also the only Burmese Buddhist temple built outside of Myanmar in the traditional Burmese architectural style.
U Kyaw Gaung, also known as Khoo Teogou, was born in Mandalay, Myanmar in 1866. He arrived in Singapore at an early age and was later joined by his wife, Daw Khin Mae and their three children. Coming from a land of great Buddhist influence, it was U Kyaw Gaung's ambition to introduce Theravada Buddhism in Singapore.
In 1907, he was elected as Trustee of the temple. While administrating for the temple, he had dreamt of acquiring a sizable marble Buddha statue as seen in Myanmar. Undaunted by limited funds raised from his hard-earned earnings and public donations, U Kyaw Gaung pledged to carry out the mammoth task. After several trips to Myanmar, an immense marble weighing more than 10 tons from Sagyin Hill, 50 km north of Mandalay, was sighted. Sagyin Hill was famous for its superior quality marble in Myanmar. The stone was bought for Rs1,200 and delivered to Mandalay, a city reputed for its skilled craftsmanship. Eventually, a magnificent Buddha image measuring 3 metres (eleven feet) in height was immaculately sculptured out from the stone in 1918.
Despite the lack of modern transportation and heavy machinery at that time, and the numerous challenges he faced during the arduous 2,500 km land and sea journey, U Kyaw Gaung successfully transported the newly completed Buddha statue to Singapore in 1921 intact with assistance from the late Aw Boon Par of Tiger Balm fame. The marble statue was at first housed in a shed known as Buddha Wehara. In 1925, it was moved to Kinta Road where it was housed in a private chamber. This chamber became a shrine hall where devotees paid homage to the Buddha. In 1935, U Kyaw Gaung died at the age of 69 and the temple was partially converted into a private residence. U Kyaw Gaung's children looked after the temple during the Japanese Occupation and in the post-war period.
In 1981, the family of the late U Kyaw Gaung was served notice by the Urban Redevelopment Authority to vacate their house. Following the government's resettlement programme, the temple was relocated on Tai Gin Road in 1988 where it stands today. Under the guidance of the temple's Spiritual Advisor, Sayadaw U Pannya Vamsa, together with the combined efforts of the Resident Monks, members of the public and well-wishers, the temple was officially opened in 1991. The temple has intricate Burmese architectural style with teak wood carvings that were donated by the Tripitaka Nikaya Main Ministrative Body (Ti Ni) of Myanmar. The new temple houses a spacious shrine hall, a meditation hall, a multi-purpose hall, a library and living quarters for the monks.
A Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa), can be seen in the compound of the temple that was grown from a seed from its parent tree which is situated at Mangala Vihara Buddhist Temple at 30 Jalan Eunos, Singapore. A Buddha image is placed under the Bodhi tree to remind people that Sakyamuni Buddha attained Enlightenment while meditating under a Bo tree at Bodh Gaya, in the Ganges valley, circa 600 BC. It was nurtured by the late Madam Boey, a devotee of Mangala Vihara. Its parent tree was a sapling brought from Sri Lanka. The Bodhi tree in Sri Lanka was brought by Venerable Mahinda, the son of King Asoka from India, was a descendant of the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained Enlightenment.
Activities and management
The temple's resident Sangha consists of four Burmese monks headed by Sayadaw U Pannavamsa while the management of the temple's operations is run by a management committee that consists of devotees from the Burmese and Singaporean communities. The monks conduct regular Dhamma talks, chants and blessings for devotees all year round. Its annual calendar of events includes New Year Special Offering to the Sangha, Chinese New Year's Eve Chanting, Water Festival (Thin Gyan), Vesak Day, Vassa (Rain Retreat) Offering of Robes, Kathina Celebration and Novitiate Programme. Other weekly activities held at BBT are:
- Dhamma class (Sri Lanka syllabus)
- Sunday Dhamma School (Children)
- Abhidhamma class
- Dhammacakka chanting (Burmese group)
Although the temple was not originally situated here, there has always been a strong Burmese presence in the area. Many of the connecting streets off Balestier Road were named after cities and places in Myanmar such as:
- Mandalay—a royal capital from 1860.
- Irrawaddy—a main river running from north to south of Myanmar.
- Moulmein—an old commercial town and port in Myanmar.
- Martaban, Pegu, Bhamo, Prome—named after cities in Myanmar.
Since the relocation of the temple, the area has once again become a sizable Burmese community in the vicinity, either as residents in the area or simple gathering at the temple on festive days to celebrate occasions special to the community. The temple lies within walking distance of another historical site, the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall, a gazetted national monument.
- Ong, "Founding of Theravada Institutions", pp. 57—58.
- Ah Win Daw; Renuka M. (2010). "Burmese Buddhist temple : Sasanaramsi Burmese Buddhist Temple". Singapore Infopedia. National Library Board Singapore. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
- Information obtained from on-site plaque erected by the National Heritage Board of Singapore.
- Than, "A brief history of the Burmese Temple, Singapore", Burmese Buddhist Temple Newsletter Vol. 10, No. 1, July 1996.
- Than, "In Commemoration of the Grand Opening of Burmese Buddhist Temple", pp. 17—21.
- Burmese Buddhist Temple Newsletter (Vol. 21, No. 2, Jan 2007).
- "Temple Programmes". Burmese Buddhist Temple. Retrieved 2007-07-25.
- Ong, Y.D. (2005). Buddhism in Singapore - A Short Narrative History. Singapore: Skylark Publications. ISBN 981-05-2740-3.
- Than, Mya (2001). In Commemoration of the Grand Opening of Burmese Buddhist Temple. Singapore.
- Burmese Buddhist Temple Newsletter Vol. 21, No. 2, Jan 2007.
- Burmese Buddhist Temple Newsletter Vol. 10, No. 1, July 1996.