A Thousand Buddhas at Telok Blangah Hill

The Telok Blangah ridge area was made up of at least seven small hills. In 1845, Singapore’s superintending engineer Captain Charles Edward Faber (1807-1868) was tasked to clear the thick vegetation and construct a road and signal station on top of Telok Blangah Hill. For his achievements, Telok Blangah Hill was renamed Mount Faber after him.

Telok Blangah Hill was also known as Washington Hill and Thousand Buddha Hill. The latter name was derived from the three Buddhist landmarks on the hill between the late fifties and eighties. The landmarks were the Thousand Buddha Temple, its hall and the World Buddhist Society headquarters housed at the former Alkaff Mansion.

Dedicated to pure Buddhism, the Thousand Buddha Temple and its hall were built in late fifties and mid-sixties respectively. The temple had a large following of devotees, who contributed to the building of the hall with tiles specially made by the four monks residing in the temple. The hall was mainly used for prayers and medical consultations. Both the Thousand Buddha Temple and hall lasted more than two decades until their demolition in the mid-eighties.

In the early seventies, several roads were constructed by the Public Work Department due to the development of a new Telok Blanglah housing estate. Telok Blangah Heights and Telok Blangah Drive were built, while Henderson Road was extended between Depot Road and Telok Blangah Road, cutting through the Mount Faber ridge. The road extension disrupted Pender Road, which was originally the road leading to the Thousand Buddha Temple.

With Henderson road dividing the vicinity into two sides, one side of the ridge retained its name as Mount Faber, while the other side was called Telok Blangah Hill again. Today, the two hills are connected by the spectacular 36m-tall Henderson Waves bridge, built in 2008.

Containing hundreds of Buddha statues, murals and images, the Thousand Buddha Temple was popular among the locals, and was promoted as a tourist attraction by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board (STPB). Crowds of devotees would make their way to the temple during the first and fifteen day of the lunar month, as well as important Buddhist dates such as Vesak Day. The World Buddhist Society, in the early seventies, proposed the idea of building Singapore’s first Buddhist hill resort at Telok Blangah, but the plan did not materialise.

One of the unique features of the temple was the Rishi Wheel of Fortune, an automated divination machine that, with a coin inserted, spun and gave an number. The devotees could then match the numbers to their respective divination papers. Another was the statue of a seven-headed Makara (Dragon) that coiled around a seated Buddha. The relic was gifted by Thailand’s Wat Suthat Temple. There was also an old sacred Bodhi tree at the hall’s grounds, said to be imported from India.

In the early eighties, the Ministry of National Development decided to redevelop Telok Blangah Hill into a recreational and leisure destination. The plan included the creation of a new park and the refurbishment of the Alkaff Mansion. Being religious entities, the Thousand Buddha Temple and World Buddhist Society had to be demolished or relocated, much to the dismay of their devotees and the general public, who appealed to the authority without success.

Today, the terrace garden of the Telok Blangah Hill Park occupies the former site of the Thousand Buddha Temple. The unobstructed panoramic views of the Telok Blangah and Keppel Harbour areas remain as enchanting as before, but few can remember the existence of this glorious temple on a hilltop.

Published: 10 November 2019

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