Temple of the Tooth

I’ve uploaded some photos of mine of the Temple of the Tooth and the National Archives in Kandy to my Picasa website.

The Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa, transliterated from Sinhala) is the most holy Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. The Temple is said to contain a tooth of the Buddha himself. Kandy is only its most recent resting site.

The Temple of the Tooth

The Temple of the Tooth

The tooth relic is seen as a symbol of the right to govern Sri Lanka. So the temple that housed the tooth relic changed as the capital city of the Sri Lankan kings changed. So there was a temple of the tooth built in Anuradhapura and built in Polonnaruwa, as well as other sites. Even today, the tooth relic is related to governance. While the capital city of Sri Lanka is now Colombo (technically Sri Lanka’s Parliament Building is in a suburb of Colombo called Kotte, about 16 kilometers (10 miles) east of Colombo), the President of Sri Lanka has a secondary, but official, residence in Kandy. I heard a rumor that a week or two ago, the President made a visit to Kandy to sleep with the tooth relic, presumably seeking divine guidance.

Buddhists come daily to worship at the Temple. At certain times during the day the chamber that contains the relic is opened so that worshippers can see the casket that the relic is contained in. The tooth relic is very heavily guarded. When the relic’s casket is on display, one views it only behind bullet proof glass. The Temple has been the target of at least two bomb attacks. In the 1980’s, the Temple was bombed by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, the JVP, then a Marxist, Sinhalese nationalist insurgent group which, ironically, is now a political party in Sri Lanka’s ruling coalition. In 1998, the Temple was the target of a truck bomb attack, presumably by the LTTE. Eight people were killed and the octagonal structure seen in the photo was heavily damaged, but the relic’s sanctuary is in one of the interior buildings and was not itself damaged. The structural damage has since been repaired. Included with photos of the exterior of the Temple complex are some decorative details that I admired.

The tooth relic generally only leaves the Temple during the Esala Perahera in late July or early August each year. A perahera is a Buddhist religious ceremony that has aspects of a parade. The Esala Perahera in Kandy is reputed to be the year’s biggest celebration in Sri Lanka. Over a period of several evenings, the tooth relic is mounted on the back of an elephant and paraded around Kandy accompanied by drummers and dancers and performers of various other sorts. Mardi Gras seems somewhat comparable, only here the stars are the elephants.

This is a long winded way to introduce the photos of the elephants. The Temple keeps elephants for use in the perahera and by tradition, the elephants must be “tuskers,” that is, male elephants with tusks, the bigger the better.

Temple tusker

Temple tusker

Not that you can tell from this end, but this is one of the three tuskers we saw and who could resist such a shot? The rest of the elephant photos show the other two tuskers getting their daily bath. During the perahera, each tusker will be “caparisoned,” that is, draped with an elaborately decorated cloth covering, including electric lights. One honored elephant is chosen to carry the tooth relic. For many years, the chosen tusker was one named “Raj.” Raj carried the relic faithfully for so many years that he became much beloved and revered. His illness and death were a cause of national mourning. As a fitting honor, Raj was stuffed, and you can now see him in his own building on the Temple grounds.

The final set of pictures were taken in the National Museum, Kandy. The museum has many interesting displays and is not to be confused with the museum attached to the Temple of the Tooth.

Replica cave painting

Replica cave painting

The latter museum is devoted to the history of the tooth relic and contains many amazing gifts to the Tooth from worshippers around the world. The National Museum, Kandy is a bit dusty and tired, needing more resources to conserve and display what is a very interesting set of artifacts connected to the history of the times of the Kandyan kings in Sri Lanka. The museum was dark and I did not want to use flash because even though flash was not prohibited, it should have been. But I was very much taken with the style of painting I first saw at Sigiriya. The paintings in the National Museum, Kandy are replicas, but still captured the light, color, and bristols I had admired in Sigiriya. So you will find several photos of the replicas on my Picasa website.




  1. February 18, 2009 at 8:15 pm

    […] of the lake that touches the downtown, the rest of the lake shore consists of the grounds of the Temple of the Tooth (most of the north shore of the rectangular part), of some of the religious devales (mostly on the […]

  2. February 20, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    […] are two “must see” sights for visitors to Kandy. They are the Temple of the Tooth and the Peradeniya Botanical Garden. Orchids at the Peradeniya Botanical […]

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