Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

One place you’d never want to miss out on your next trip to Kandy

Aluth Maligawa: New Buddha Shrine Room.

Kandy, one of the most favoured cities for tourists visiting Sri Lanka, is also one of the most calming and soothing hill-stations of the country. From road-side markets, famous cultural dance shows and the Peradeniya Botanical Garden to the tea factories and spice gardens, this city has a lot to offer. Even if appreciating various types of fruits and watching monkeys sprawling across the streets and (sometimes) in hotels is not your cup of tea, the pleasant weather and green environment – resembling that of Northern Areas of Pakistan – will definitely attract you to this city. Amid all this, one of the places that you may never want to miss out on, even if you spend half a day in the city, is the majestic Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic which was completed in 1595 AD.

This is one of the most sacred Buddhism related temples, It is centuries old and one of the UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. It is also a symbol of classical Kandyan architecture. A collection of buildings and architecture within the palace complex including the Royal Palace of Kandy, National Museum of Kandy, International Buddhist Museum, Temple of the Tooth Museum, and the Octagonal Pavilion namely Paththirippuwa can all form memorable parts of your trip if you intend to visit the Temple of Tooth Relic. The buildings are present in between Udawattakele forest reserve on one side and the artificial Kandy Lake on the other.

The grandeur of the architecture finished with stone, ivory, gold and wood leaves you in awe, especially when considering that it is centuries old. The insides of this amazing historical and religious sacred place of Buddhism have even more to offer. The temple is renowned, especially among the Buddhists, due to the fact that it has a tooth of Buddha himself which they regard with extreme respect. The significance of the tooth relic can be gauged from the fact that over the centuries it has been the responsibility of the king of the country to safeguard the tooth relic.

It, thus, became the symbol of Sri Lankan royalty and ultimate power.

The tooth relic is venerated by the Buddhists and thus they hold the place in great esteem. Hadun Kanama is the name of the chamber where the actual tooth relic is kept, encased in seven golden caskets which form a stupa. Cultural and religious rituals are performed thrice daily. Symbolic bathing of the relic is also performed weekly. The herbal water used in this ritual is considered holy and is later distributed among those present at the temple.

There is a map of the temple at the entrance to help you go through all the buildings and structures on display. In Aluth Maligawa or The New Buddha Shrine room, replicas of Buddha statues from different countries are kept including those from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, India and Thailand. Interestingly, all the statues are different from one another since the facial image of the statue is generally developed while incorporating the facial features of the local people of the particular country where the statue is from.

The temple also contains a number of significant paintings and murals narrating events over the centuries in the Sri Dalada Museum which showcases the travel and history of the tooth relic. There are also a number of Buddha statues and symbolic stupa structures where people come with their offerings and gifts including flowers and money as a token of respect while wishing and praying for themselves and their loved ones. The two floors of the main shrine are known as PalleMalle and UduMalle for lower and upper floors, respectively. At the top of the gate of PalleMalle there is a dragon arch in golden which, according to our guide, exhibits the body of dragon made with heads of 10 different animals in one.

Traditionally, there are long queues with a waiting period ranging from several hours to days on the day the tooth relic is displayed for the general public and devotees who want to pay their respect. Since this happens after every four years, some people throng the place and wait for days just to catch a glimpse. Sometimes, this leads to stampede.

The Kandy Esala Perahela, or The Festival of the Tooth, is an annual, historical Buddhist procession to pay respect to the tooth relic of Buddha. The 10-days long event occurs in July-August and features traditional Kandyan, whip and fire dances while elephants are decorated with lights and lavish garments. The Raja Tusker Museum, within the temple of Tooth Relic, is a small museum dedicated entirely to the Sri Lankan tusker elephant, Raja, who was part of Esala Perahela for 50 years and is the usual choice to carry the sacred caskets. Raja, one of the most celebrated and gentle elephants, died in 1988. Raja appears on the Sri Lankan one thousand rupee note, is featured on postage stamps and has also been declared a national treasure for his services to religion and culture of Sri Lanka.

Unlike most sacred places of other religions, the entrance to the Temple is open to all tourists regardless of their nationality and religion. The tourists are allowed to capture photographs but expected to be respectful of the heritage. While taking photographs, it is recommended that one not directly turn one’s back to the religious figures and structures. Shoes are not allowed inside the temple. No headscarves, caps or head covers are allowed. Shoulders and legs are required to be covered. While the believers themselves are generally clad in white; tourists may wear any colour.

The entrance fee of LKR 1,500 for foreigners is subsidised by half for tourists from SAARC countries. If you are not offering prayers and are there just for tourism, you may spend two to three hours. As you finish your spiritual tour within the Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic, you come across a string of small shops and carts around the temple selling their lotus and frangipani floral offerings for the believers; along with souvenirs and cultural showpieces to remind you of your visit in years to come.

The writer is a physician, health care leader and a traveller. He tweets @Ali_Shahid82

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic