SINGAPORE - The unveiling of a four-storey-high devotional painted cloth, or thangka, took pride of place at the annual Vesak Day festivities at the Thekchen Choling Tibetan Buddhist temple on Wednesday (May 10) morning.
This followed a procession of relics and ritual Buddha bathing, as well as a community funfair in Beatty Lane, which was closed to traffic for the event.
Abbot Namdrol Rinpoche, the temple's spiritual director, called for religious harmony and prayed for peace as he addressed the crowd gathered for the unveiling.
"Let us all be supportive of each other, truly regardless of race, language and religion," the abbot told devotees. "This is my wish - that our country be harmonious, be successful and have good relations with our neighbouring countries."
For the first time, the temple has partnered the three coffee shops that line the street. Coupons for its Vesak Day funfair can be used not just for henna drawings at the carnival or snacks from its 17 stalls, but also to buy drinks at the coffee shops.
One participating stallholder is drink stall operator Goh Da Meng, 70. "They invited us to work with them and we agreed," he said in Mandarin, "as we were told that it was a very lively event and there would be a lot of people."
He added: "Devotees have bought drinks on top of redeeming their coupons here, and we've had more customers than usual today."
Bursaries of $200 to $400 were also presented to 45 low-income students of various ethnic and religious backgrounds by the temple's charitable arm, which also runs tuition classes.
Broadrick Secondary student Hazel Tan, 14, has received the bursary for three years running. "I studied for my PSLE at the temple, so that's how I found out about the programme," she said. The Secondary 3 student also attends services from time to time, and said she enjoyed the thangka ceremony, because of the colourful scattering of flowers at its climax.
Haridas, 16, who goes by only one name, heard of the bursary from his mother's friend and was encouraged to apply, even though he is not a Buddhist. He is in his first year at Catholic Junior College, and also received the bursary last year as a student at Montfort Secondary. He said that he found the ceremony eye-opening and looked forward to returning next year.
"During the festival, the prayer was very interesting," he said. "I had never seen it before."
Organisers estimated that the thangka ceremony, now in its 12th year, draws 5,000 to 8,000 worshippers at a go. The temple, which formally opened in 2001, has a stable congregation of about 100 people.
Businessman Paul Wong, 51, is a regular at the temple, as are his wife and parents.
"We've been here (at the thangka ceremony) every year, and when we pass by, we also stop to make offerings," he said.
"The temple is always growing, because the leadership is English-educated, so the rites have been opening up to English-speaking, younger devotees."
While there are relatively fewer followers of Tibetan Buddhism in Singapore, Mr Wong said that he is willing to explore different traditions in his faith, and also visits the Kuan Im Tng Temple in Joo Chiat.
"We are very open about all things," he added.
On the unveiling of the thangka, which is believed to bring devotees the fulfilment of their wishes, Mr Wong said: "I asked for blessings for good health, prosperity and family happiness."