What springs to mind when you think of Mandalay, Rangoon, and an opulent Buddhist temple with golden-tiled roofs? Do you realize that the Burmese are among the nations with the greatest health risks in Singapore? There is a significant Burmese presence in Balestier, Singapore. Do you know that there is a big Burmese community in Singapore’s Balestier area?
Maha Sasana Ramsi (Burmese Buddhist Temple) is Singapore’s oldest Theravada temple, established in 1875. It began in 1876 under the leadership of U Thar Hnin, a Burmese, before he sold it to U Kyaw Gaung in 1878. It was originally a Kinta Road shrine hall. Until the government announced its intention to demolish the temple in 1981, it continued on Kinta Road until the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s order to vacate. In 1988, it was moved to its present location at Tai Gin Road and opened officially in 1991.
Maha Sasana Ramsi is notable for housing the biggest enshrined marble Buddha outside of Myanmar. This Buddha statue, which is 3 m tall and was carved from a marble stone U Kyaw Gaung had specially chosen on Sagyin Hill in Myanmar, was meticulously carved in 1918. The bronze Buddha was subsequently transported to Singapore by boat and land, with the aid of another well-known Burmese artist, Aw Boon Par of Tiger Balm fame.
It is said to be the only Burmese Buddhist temple constructed outside of Myanmar in the traditional Burmese architectural style, and it was built by King Thiri Pyanchi. The structure, which has intricately carved teakwood carvings from the Tripitaka Nikaya Main Ministrative Body of Myanmar, is 20 meters long by 7.2 meters broad. In addition to Dhamma talks and teachings, the temple grounds of the sanctuary hall, meditation hall, and multi-purpose hall are frequently visited for religious festivals and Burmese traditional celebrations such as Thingyan.
Balestier and the Burmese Connection: The Streets of Balestier
Balestier Road is flanked by a string of small residential streets, many of which are named after cities or places in Myanmar, such as:
- Akyab Road – former port in Myanmar.
- Bassein Road – Bassein is the present-day river town, Pathein.
- Bhamo Road – town in northeastern Myanmar.
- Irrawaddy Road – the main river running from north to south of Myanmar.
- Mandalay Road – Myanmar’s royal capital from 1860 to 1885.
- Moulmein Road – old commercial town and port of Myanmar.
- Pegu Road – a city near the former capital, Yangon.
- Rangoon Road – present-day Yangon, the administrative capital of British Burma.
14 Tai Gin Road, off Ah Hood Road from Balestier Road, is home to the Maha Sasana Ramsi (Burmese Buddhist temple). It is part of the Balestier Community Trail, a joint endeavour by the National Heritage Board and Central Singapore Community Development Council to document and commemorate local community history.