Temple of the Tooth - A view from our expert author

This spectacular temple in Kandy is the sacred site of the tooth relic of Buddha.

The bombing of the Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) in February 1998 was the end of innocence for visitors to the temple. Now it is something of an ordeal as well as a solemn pilgrimage. It begins with the disgorging of passengers by the various tour buses in the narrow space opposite the Queen’s Hotel at the entrance gates to the compound. Any atmosphere of reverence is dispelled by the insistent chimes of the bicycle carts of vendors selling ice cream.

Notices say: ‘All visitors entering the Sri Dalada Maligawa sacred area are kindly requested to refrain from wearing headdresses, mini-skirts, short trousers, sleeveless jackets, so to maintain the sanctity of the holy place.’ All visitors are searched, males and females in separate cubicles, before entering the park in front of the temple. There is an admission fee charged (Rs1,000), with extra payable for a camera or a video camera. Before entering the temple itself all visitors are obliged to remove their shoes, which can be deposited for safekeeping, and retrieved on payment of a tip. The main shrine is one floor up and its doors are opened during puja (offering) times (06.30, 10.00 and 18.00 daily) when the casket containing the sacred tooth is visible.

The tooth is an object of veneration to Buddhists, and of curiosity to visitors. You don’t actually see it. Tradition states that it was taken from the ashes after the cremation of Gauthama Buddha at Kusinara in India in 543bc, eventually being smuggled to Sri Lanka in the 4th century, hidden in the hair of a princess from Orissa.

It was lodged in many places, as a symbol of nationhood, until coming to rest in Kandy in 1592 when the king at the time, Wimala Dharma Suriya I (1591–1604), built a two-storey shrine where the present temple stands. The two-storey temple that replaced it is now the Inner Temple. The golden canopy constructed over the relic chamber was added at the end of the 20th century.

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