Temple of the Tooth in Kandy – no visit to Sri Lanka especially Kandy, is complete without visiting this temple. The temple is actually a royal palace complex, a former palace of the Kandyan kingdom, and it houses the relic tooth of Buddha. The relic is very significant in the politics of ancient Sri Lankan kingdom that whoever holds the tooth governs the country. The Temple of the Tooth is also a UNESCO world heritage site.
The first time I came to Sri Lanka in 2009, I had visited this temple during the day. Here’s the entrance of the royal palace complex.
But during this second visit in August 2014, it was different for a change to visit the temple in the evening. As we walked from the temple grounds to the main shrine, we could hear sounds of drums and trumpets, beckoning devotees to come to the temple. Sri Lankans, many of them dressed in white and carried flowers of jasmine and frangipani, hurried past us.
Unlike typical royal palaces (ancient included), the Temple of the Tooth palace complex is not elaborately decorated. The walls are white and are carved with openings which are filled with candles for special celebrations. I can imagine that they look simply beautiful as they glow in the dark, lighting the front entrance. The temple roofs are red. All of these temple buildings are clustered around Kandy Lake.
However, in contrast, the interiors of the temple are richly decorated with wood-carvings, ivory and lacquer.
So what’s the story behind the relic tooth? According to legend, when Buddha died, his tooth was taken from him at the funeral pyre. It was then hidden in the hair of Princess Hemamali and smuggled to Sri Lanka. This was in 313 AD when the princess fled from Hindu armies who attacked her father’s kingdom in India.
The relic tooth then became an object of great reverence, brought out only for special celebrations and paraded on the backs of elephants. Amazingly, over centuries, the relic tooth had survived numerous attempts to capture and destroy it.
In the Temple of the Tooth, the relic is kept in a 2-story shrine fronted by two large elephant tusks. It is said that the tooth rests on a gold lotus flower, encased in jeweled caskets that sit on a throne.
The highlight of the year when the relic tooth is removed from its shrine and paraded to the public is during Esala Perahera, a 10-day parade of dancers, drummers and elaborately decorated elephants. However, due to the past civil war in Sri Lanka (the Temple had experienced bomb attacks before), the relic tooth is not brought out but only the jeweled caskets to symbolize the tooth.
Prior to our trip, we actually wanted to be in Sri Lanka sometime in early August to experience the Esaha Perahera which might be the largest Buddha celebration in the world. But tickets were expensive costing US$100 per person and hotel accommodation (including guesthouses, hostels) become very expensive. Later we learnt from our guesthouse host, George, that he could have arranged to have cheaper tickets for us, perhaps at US$65. Oh well…
Opening times: Temple 5.30am-8.00pm, Puja 5.30-6.45am, 9.30-11.00am & 6.30-8pm,
Entrance fees: LKR 1000