Formerly known as Ceylon, Sri Lanka is a small but diverse country with plenty of charm. With its pristine beaches, rich biodiversity, large cinnamon and tea exportation, and stunning natural wonders, Sri Lanka has been a favourite among tourists. However, did you know that the island country is also home to a temple that is famed for housing the relic of the tooth of the Buddha?
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, or Sri Dalada Maligawa, is a Buddhist temple in Kandy, approximately 70 kms from Colombo. Since the beginning of time, the relic has been crucial to local politics since it is believed that whoever controls the relic controls the nation's government. The artefact was once in possession of Sinhalese kings. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, an extremely sacred site for Buddhists, is located in the Sacred City of Kandy, which was declared a world heritage by Unesco in 1988.
The relic is preserved in a golden stupa inside the two-storey shrine in the royal palae complex. Encased in seven golden caskets engraved with precious gems, the relic is the most sacred to the Buddhists. The evening ‘hewisi’ puja, or the musical offering to Buddha, adds to the spiritual and prayerful atmosphere. During the 10-day Esala Perahera celebration, sometime in July or August, a replica of the relic-bearing casket is placed on a decorated elephant and taken around in a grand procession.
According to mythology, the tooth relic was kept in Kalinga (Odisha in India) following the Mahaparinirvana (death) of Gautama Buddha and was sent to the island on the orders of Princess Hemamali and her husband, Prince Dantha. On the way to the island, Hemmamali concealed the artefact in her hair. During the rule of Sirimeghavanna of Anuradhapura (301-328), they arrived on the island of Lankapattana and delivered the tooth.
The monarch had it placed in Meghagiri Vihara, now Isurumuniya, in Anuradhapura (205 kms north of the capital city Colombo). From that moment, the monarch was in charge of protecting the artefact. As a result, possessing the relic came to represent having the authority to control the island.
King Wimaladharmasuriya constructed the first Dalada Mandira (temples that hold the Sacred Tooth Relic) at Kandy, which held the Sacred Tooth Relic between 1592 and 1604. However, the temple was obliterated by the Portuguese during their conquests.
Then, during his rule from 1635 until 1687, King Rajasinghe the 2nd, built the second temple on the same site, which the Dutch later burned down. King Wimaladharmasuriya the 2nd, erected a three-storey Dalada Madura in 1687, which eventually fell apart.
Later, during his 1707-1739 reign, his son King Sri Veera Parakrama Narendrasinghe built the two-storey Dalada Madura that still stands today. Finally, King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1734-1782) meticulously refurbished and embellished the temple to give it its current beauty.
Sri Dalada Maligawa is highly revered by Buddhists worldwide. The building combines elements of the Dalada Mandira with the distinctive Kandyan architectural style. Intricate gold, silver, bronze, and ivory carvings embellish the temple.
Location: Sri Dalada Veediya, Kandy, Sri Lanka
By Bus: Many intercity buses take people to the closest bus stop near the temple
By Tuk Tuks: You can reach the temple by Tuk Tuks that operate within the city
By Train: You can board a train from Colombo's railway station and disembark at the railway station in Kandy city
By Car: Tourists can book or rent a car to reach the temple
Pro Tip: Wear clothes that cover you completely. Do not wear any attire that reveals your shoulders or legs. If possible, wear something white since it's the colour of learning and knowledge in Buddhism.