Before we left Kandy we took a few hours to visit the celebrated Temple of the Tooth. This is where they keep one of Buddha’s teeth as a holy relic. The relic is regarded as a symbolic representation of the living Buddha and is the focus of a daily series of offerings, rituals, and ceremonies.
Every day of the year, this relic attracts white-clad pilgrims, bearing lotus blossoms and frangipani.
Buddha’s Left Canine Tooth
According to Sri Lankan legends, when the Buddha died in northern India in 543 BC, his body was cremated and his left upper canine tooth was retrieved from the funeral pyre by a disciple. The tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century, and became a royal possession. A belief grew that whoever possessed the relic had a divine right to rule the land.
The relic of the tooth is kept in a two-story inner shrine fronted by two large elephant tusks. The relic rests on a solid gold lotus flower, encased in jeweled caskets that sit on a throne.
The tooth relic was brought out for special occasions and paraded on the backs of elephants, which are sacred to the Buddha. This still happens once a year, during the Esala Perahera (in July and August). This is a 10-day torchlight parade of dancers and drummers, dignitaries, and ornately decorated elephants. There are as many as 100 elephants, dressed in elaborate finery.
It is one of the better-known festivals in Asia, and may be the largest Buddhist celebration in the world. In recent years, due to the threat of terrorism, the actual tooth relic has remained in its shrine.
Temple of the Tooth Daily Ceremonies
As foreigners, entrance to the Temple of the Tooth complex cost us Rs 1,000 each (around $7). This includes a small souvenir package containing a mini-cd. There is a daily Thewava (ceremony with drums) at 5:30am, 9:30am and 6:30pm.
You’ll also need to check in any bags before being allowed to enter.
There is quite a large area to visit, and it can get very busy with large groups of pilgrims queueing to enter the various holy shrines. There are some relaxing outdoor areas where you can see some of the elephants that are used in the ceremonies and processions.
You can also view the preserved remains of famous ceremonial elephants of the past.
At many of the shrines, visitors can make a small financial donation in return for a few small flowers or petals to offer to the statue of the Buddha. However, devotees are requested to refrain from smelling the flowers offered. I’m not sure why this is – perhaps so as not to diminish the bouquet? or to contaminate the offering?
If any Buddhists could enlighten me, I’d be grateful.
The Temple of the Tooth was our last outing in Kandy.
As we headed away from the Temple, around the flowered edges of the lake, we were making plans for our next destination – Haputale, high up in the mountains, and the ominously named precipice known as World’s End.
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