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Must Visit Locations

The Holy Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa) (WHS), Kandy, Sri Lanka

One of the holiest Buddhist shrines in the world

Must Visit

The Holy Temple of the Tooth (Sri Dalada Maligawa), Kandy is the most sacred shrine of Buddhism in the same vein that the Basilica of Saint Peter of Vatican, the greatest of all churches of Christendom, is to the Roman Catholic Church. The Holy Temple of the Tooth at Kandy is the prime monument, the supreme edifice not only of the Sinhalese Buddhist populace of Sri Lanka but also of the Buddhists all over the world. It is within this magnificent temple that sacred Danta Dhatu (Sinhala: Tooth Relic of Buddha) (left canine) the palladium of the Sinhalese Buddhist nation is enshrined. The three events of the greatest importance in the glorious history of Sri Lanka, since that of the arrival of Vanga (modern Bengal) Prince Vijaya [from North-eastern India] in 543 BC, are associated with Buddhism taking root, sprout and flourish in Sri Lanka: the introduction of Buddhism by Arahath Mahinda [from Magadha, i.e. modern Bihar, India] during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa (307-267 AD) at Mihintale; the planting of Jaya Sri Maha Bodhi tree brought in by Buddhist nun Sangamitta [from Magadha, i.e. modern Bihar, India] in also during the reign of King Devanampiya Tissa at Anuradhapura; the bringing in of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha by Kalinga (modern Orissa) Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha [from central-eastern India] during the reign of King Sirimeghavana (303-331 AD). While the ancient kingdoms of northern and north-eastern India had been instrumental in nurturing the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka, the marauding Dravidian forces from Southern India wreaked havoc and caused the decline and fall of the glorious capitals of ancient Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa, the supreme cultural attractions of Sri Lanka Holidays.

The setting

The Holy Temple of the Tooth is scenically located right in the heart of the town, next to (western entrance) the man-made lake named Kiri Muhuda meaning Milk Sea in Sinhala, lined by an unceasing wave-like decorative low white wall running the whole perimeter in & beyond our eye view. The Temple is the central attraction of the town that nestles tightly in the lush valley, in the backdrop of tall green woods of Udawattakele forest Sanctuary. The lake was built solely for the decorative purposes of the Royal City of Kandy in 1807 AD. Today Kandy is a UNESCO World heritage Site.


The original three storied resplendent temple was built in 1687 AD by King Wimaladharma Suriya the 2nd (1686-1704). It was destroyed by the Portuguese who held sway in the western & southern coastal belt of Sri Lanka & later rebuilt on the original foundations. The temple was restored & enlarged by a succession of Kandyan kings throughout a century, most significantly during the reign of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1746-1778). Arguably, the holiest temple in Buddhism-a profound religion of non-violence (even in self-defence) & compassion-was ironically embellished by the cruelest & most tyrannical king ever reigned in the history of the island: Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, the last king of Lanka (1797-1815), who was betrayed & thus in turn the island nation of Sri Lanka, to the British colonialists, by the Kandyan nobles.

Religious tolerance in medieval Sri Lanka

Robert Knox, one of the numerous English prisoners of King Rajasinha narrated "Not only was there complete freedom of worship, but Kandyan kings granted lands to Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims & Christians. The Christian religion, he (the king) does not in the least persecute, indeed he honours & esteems it". The king's numerous European guests - POW (prisoners of war), shipwrecked sailors, army deserters & assorted diplomats - were free to marry natives, free to live a normal life but cut off from the dense jungles of the ring of hills of Kandy. Few gateways were heavily guarded. Robert Knox escaped & wrote of his years (1660-1680) in Ceylon, "An Historical Relation of Ceylon" in England. The chroniclers of Mahawamse (the great chronicle of 2550 years of unbroken history of Lanka), Buddhist monks ends the narration of King Vimaladharmasuriya the 1st (1592-1603), who inflicted major defeats on the Portuguese beginning with the multiple humiliation on the General Conquistador Pedro Lopez de Zousa (Zousa lost Dona Caterina to the king too) with an impartial obituary. "He ridiculed the idea of all religious tenets, permitting everyone free religious exercise according to their own will & pleasure. In fact, he was in every sense of the word, a finished courtier".

The entrance to the precinct

With the exception of western entrance, all other entrances to the temple are closed with barricades & battery to the public in this high security zone. We enter into a small sandy yard in front of Queens Hotel housed in an old colonial building. A fountain in the lake sprays a tall veil of mist across the hills to your right. Locals leave their shoes at a shed herein & collect a token. Foreigners, if required, may go in to the Main Court Yard (Maha Maluwa) with shoes till the main entrance to the temple: the stone laid pathway could be hot on the feet. You can move on to the lawn.

Maha Maluwa (The Main Court Yard)

We enter into the Main Court Yard through a tall traditional gateway with three tier tiled roof, where the security scanner is installed. The stone cut wide pathway is clean & even with well mowed grass lawns to your left & right shaded with tall trees. We walk along the pathway passing the statue of our brave kid Madduma Bandara (9), son of Ahalepola Maha Disawa, the chief minister of the last king of Kandy, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe. Then there is a memorial Pillar of Weera Keppetipola Maha Disawa, the hero of Uva Rebellion of Ceylon against the British colonialists in 1815. Then again we are taken aback with the beauty of modern sculpture of aptly named Prince Danta & Princess Hemamala, who brought the Sacred Danta Dathu Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka from India in the 4th century A.D. Then there are statues of Venerable Wariyapola Sumangala Thera, a Buddhist monk, who defied the British, to test them to a principle, at the signing of convention-the document of capitulation of Sri Lanka - in 1815 & the first Prime Minister of Ceylon (1948), the founder of the modern nation, Mahamanya Don Stephen Senanayake. While walking along the garden path, we are treated with the clear & present view of the buildings of the temple complex: golden canopy of the chamber of the Sacred Tooth Relic, red roofs of octagon, other buildings & decorative low white stone fortifications.

Surroundings of the temple complex

Surrounding the temple complex is a moat. The moat, in turn is bounded by two white low walls adorned with elephant carvings. The outer wall with pointed tops is called Diyareli Bemma (Wave-Swept Wall): the inner, with rounded tops, is the Walakula Bemma (Cloud-Drift Wall); the recesses in each are for small Petri dish like earthen lamps lighted in the night. Facing the temple are much adored peepal tree (bo in Sinhala) shaded four Devales (shrines) of Hindu deities: Pattini, Devale dedicated to the goddess of chastity; 14th century Natha devale dedicated to God Natha, a future Buddha, Vishnu shrine dedicated to God Vishnu & God Kataragama (Skanda). The practice of tolerance of Buddhists towards other religions had been one of the significant aspects of the island throughout its 2550 years of unbroken recorded history.

Maha Vahalkada (Main Entrance to the Temple proper)

Having walked about 100 meters, we arrive at the main entrance. If you are still wearing shoes you may leave those at a cabin & collect a token. Entrance is free of charge. Once again through the security screening we make entry at traditional Maha Vahalkada meaning main entrance in Sinhala. The decorative stepping stone slab, called Sadakadapahana meaning moonstone in Sinhala, carved with floral designs herein is accompanied by two small elephant sculptures carved into the wall. Over the moat, by way of narrow stone-cut bridge, we are onto a decorated entrance tunnel called Ambarawa & then again onto few stone steps leading the shrine.

Hewisi Madapaya (Drummer's Hall)

The stone dragon arch open up once again into a tunnel like entrance called Ambarawa. The tunnel is designed in the shape of traditional bullock cart & the walls are decorated with traditional lotus floral designs & paintings of devotees entering to worship Sacred Tooth Relic. The tunnel leads us to the Hewisi Mandapaya meaning Drummers Hall in Sinhala. The long open Drummers hall with 16 stone pillars mounting a wooden high roof provides access to all the chambers & other buildings. On both sides of the Drummers hall are stairs leading up to the 1st floor.

Pahala Male Shrine Room (1st floor shrine room)

Right in front of the Drummers Hall is the Pahala Male shrine room built on a stone platform. The magnificent dragon arch doorway of intricate wood, lacquer & ivory carvings, with two sets of enormous tusks protecting it, is closed up on our face by a dazzling silver double door elaborately carved with traditional designs. The shrine is fenced by gold railings all round its rectangle shape. None of the other two doors of the two sides of this shrine is open to us either. The door of the main entrance of the shrine is opened solely for the official use of Buddhist monks & layman officers who make quick access to the Udu Mala meaning upper storey in Sinhala. Yes, we too have a way in.

Take the stairs to the left to arrive at Udu Male (upper storey)

We take the staircase from ground floor to the first floor, i.e.Udu Mala. Halfway up we pass a replica of a stupa containing the Bowl Relic & the casket in which a replica of the Tooth Relic is paraded during Kandy Esala Perahera pageant (pageant) along with golden flags & ceremonial urns. Now we are at the upper hall where the Sacred Tooth Relic is exhibited.

Pirtih Mandapaya (Chanting Pavilion)

In front of the hall is Pirtih Mandapaya (Chanting Pavilion). Devotees pay their homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic herein. Having toured with Sri Lanka Holidays at numerous temples of Sri Lanka, replete with Buddha Statues, the absence of Buddha statues herein at the shrine, takes you by surprise. The Sacred Relic of Tooth itself been enshrined herein & as such there is no need of Buddha statues in the Inner Shrine. Is that what the original architects thought?

Vedahitina Maligawa (Shrine of Abode)

The Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha is kept in the innermost section called Vedahitina Maligawa (Shrine of Abode). The large elaborately carved door inlaid with silver & ivory protected by two splendid pairs of tusks on either side opens up to the Inner Shrine. The handsome modern gilded canopy over the relic chamber was mounted by late president-ever industrious workhorse-indomitable R. A. Premadasa of Sri Lanka. Caged behind gilded iron bars is the bullet proof glass enclosure housing the stupa shaped large (5 ft tall) outer casket made of silver. Inside it are seven similar caskets of decreasing sizes with each one, except the last (smallest) one, containing the next smaller casket in it. The innermost casket, the 8th, the smallest one contains the Holy Tooth Relic. There are three different keys to the eight caskets; one held by the temple's administrator, the others by the chief monks of the Malwatta & Asgiriya Buddhist monasteries in Kandy.

Pattirippuwa (The octagonal tower)

Descending from the Shrine of Adobe in Udu Male (upper storey) to Phala Male (lower storey) we visit Pattirippuwa. During the medieval era Octagon was a symbol of royal power in Kandy, the seat of royal government. It is still traditional for new heads of state to make their first address to nation from the historic octagon. Today, the historic Octagon houses a collection of well processed & well bound Sinhalese Buddhist palm-leaf manuscripts.

Kandyan tradition

Unlike at numerous Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the ancient kingdoms of Lanka, we don't find ancient or medieval Buddha images at the Temple of the Tooth. Absence of those in no way, escape our observation. It is possible that the kings of the medieval Kandyan kingdom (1592 -1815) assumed it wasn't required to erect the images while the tangible relic of Buddha, itself was enshrined for the veneration at the temple. It is also possible the temple of tooth was built to stand unique among all traditional Buddhists Temples. In this context, perhaps it would be pertinent to remark herein itself that unlike the 10,000+ small rain water reservoirs & hundreds of large rainwater reservoirs (ancient irrigation engineering marvels with some man-made rainwater reservoirs resembling inland seas (The Sea of Parakrama - 2100 ha) that were built solely for the purposes of irrigation with great emphasis on United Biology, Kandy lake was built solely for a decorative purpose of the town.

The Sacred Tooth Relic of Buddha

The Holy Tooth Relic was brought to Lanka from India during the reign of King Sirimeghavana (303-331 AD) of Lanka. When King Guhasiva of Kalinga (central-eastern India) faced defeat at the hands of a Hindu invader, the Tooth Relic was hidden in his daughter Hemamala's hair & she was spirited away to Lanka. Arrival of Holy Tooth Relic with the Orissan princess initiated a landmark historical event of Sri Lanka. A fine temple was built to enshrine the Tooth relic. The Perahera procession was inaugurated giving birth to the most colourful festival of the island, the tourist attraction of international standing, spectacular Kandy Esala Perahera pageant (parade + pageant + procession + celebration + veneration + rainwater conservation ritual) held in the month of July each year for a fortnight. Every hotel room is booked up in advance by the tour operators for the foreign tourists & local tourists. Sinhalese love to tour in their land. Though publicity for Sri Lanka in the World of Tourism is pathetically minimal, Sri Lanka Holidays take back seat to no tourist destination in the world.

As the glorious ancient capitals Anurdhapura (437 BC-845 AD) & Polonnaruwa (846 AD-1302 AD) fell, the Tooth Relic finally ended up in Kandy. Since its arrival the Tooth Relic has been the most sacred object of Buddhism, the most precious symbol of pride of the Sinhalese & sovereignty of the island of Sri Lanka. Treasured with boundless veneration, carried around in great pomp in pageants, hidden in sanctuaries, protected by the ancient kings of Lanka from the marauding Dravidian invaders from South India & protected by the medieval kings of Lanka from the Portuguese (1505-1656) & Dutch (1656-1796) who held sway in the coastal towns, the tooth has traversed through innumerable travails & calamities of the island even as recent as 1998.

In 1283 it was carried back to India by an invading Dravidian army, but was soon brought back by King Parakrambahu the 3rd (1298-1302 AD).

In 1560, Portuguese, who did everything humanly possible to erase the island off its Buddhist heritage, seized what they claimed was the Holy Tooth Relic, took it away to Goa, pounded to dust, then burned, & then threw the ashes to the sea in front of a rat tag band of the Portuguese viceroy in Goa, a bishop & numerous other sadistic dignitaries including the Don Constantine de Braganza. The Portuguese claim was rebuffed by the faithful who knew of the existence of a replica & that the relic was indestructible by human hand. In 1566, Chamberlain of King Dharmpala of Kotte, revealed his possession of the Sacred Tooth Relic in an attempt to respond to a proposition put up by the King of Pegu.

Barbarism & Savagery

Year 1998. The ultimate barbarism & savagery was at the bloody hands of the modern barbaric terrorists who weren't able to break into the temple proper: suicide bombed at the entrance, with a truckload of explosives, damaging the Octagon. The scars have been repaired; crash barriers erected; the foreign tourists returned joining the unperturbed local devotees. To give the due credit to the devil, the exploitative British colonialists (1815-1948), we mustn't fail to remark that the colonialist British, honoring the convention-the document of capitulation of Lanka - in 1815, entrusted the Sacred Tooth Relic to the Buddhist Monks to retain the heritage of the island. The modern terrorists didn't entertain such notions: their barbarism has no bounds. The savagery hatched to destroy a world heritage site, barbarism hatched to wipe off the tradition & culture of Sinhalese & Buddhism in Sri Lanka, the ultimate motive of burying the palladium of the Sinhalese nation & Buddhist faith, by providence, didn't come to desired end of terrorists.

Tusker Raja Museum

Also accessed from the temple of the Tooth are Raja tusker Museum, The Aluth Maligawa and The Sri Dalada Museum. The much adored elephant which had the honour of carrying the Tooth Relic casket in the Kandy Esala Perahera pageant for half a century was offered to the temple by a Buddhist philanthropist when Raja was very young. The beast had been intelligently conscious of the honor: his pride & decorum had been very much obvious & right on the button & well up on show during the Kandy Esala Perahera pageant. To witness such class & decorum in a beast was an enlightening to the hilt. Adored Raja was 85 when he died in 1988 after a half century of devoted service to the temple. Remains of the Saddanta cast (meaning Titan class in Sinhala, among other features, that seven part of its body-four legs, trunk, penis & tail-touch the ground when it stand upright) tusker elephant is stuffed & erected. Some skillfull Sinhalese artists took great pains & made no stone unturned to make the legendary beast stands tall with its head high, albeit in a glass cubicle.

The Aluth Maligawa (The New Budu Medura)

The three storied new palace which can be reached from the rear of the Drummer's hall is home to a magnificent array of Buddha statues donated by foreign countries in the modern times. Herein we have an excellent opportunity to view, compare & contemplate a magnificent collection of ethnic imagery of Buddha in numerous Asian Buddhist countries: traditional Buddhist iconography of China, Japan, Korea, Thailand, Taiwan & India comes alive herein to your heart's content. Taking photographs of the well illuminated adobe with magnificent array of Buddha statutes wouldn't make you think twice; but capturing images with your beloved standing in front of the abode would make you think twice. Do you turn your back to holy objects in the close proximity?

The Sri Dalada Museum

The array of classical Buddhist paintings hung high on the walls of the museum narrates the travels & travails of the Sacred Relic of Tooth during last couple of millenniums since the final extinction of Buddha in 543 BC. It also displays the modern photos of damage caused by the 1998 terrorist bombing, bringing home the remarkable scale & skill of the restoration carried out since then. The Octagon was damaged while the main shrine stood unharmed.

Buddha footprint in the Museum

The center of the attraction of the museum is the beautiful silk Buddha footprint. It was offered to the temple by King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1746-1778) of Sri Lanka. The true footprint of Buddha is located at the summit of Sri Pada Adam's Peak, Sri Lanka.

The Audience Hall

Rebuilt in the Kandyan style as a wooden pillared hall, the penultimate ultimate betrayal of the island, the document of capitulation sans war to the British, by the Kandyan Ministers of the King (betrayal of an island which remained a sovereign state for 2358 years) was signed here in 1815 AD. The hall is richly carved on pillars & walls.

The ultimate betrayal of the island of Sri Lanka was the so called Indo-Lanka accord signed by Chamberlain-like J. R. Jayawardena of Sri Lanka & Rajiv Gandhi of India (he paid with his life for the uncalled for so called accord- suicide bombed) that gave way to Indian military intervention (in the other side of the Palk Strait, it was called military assistance) in Sri Lanka in July 1987. Fortunately, for the benefit of both countries, Indian forces were completely withdrawn by Indian Prime Minister V. P. Singh in April 1990.

Rituals at the Temple of Tooth

The religious rituals and services have been carried continually even after Kandyan Convention in 1815, the ultimate betrayal of Sri Lanka by the Kandayn nobles. All services and rituals are conducted under the guidance of three custodians of Sacred Tooth Relic, the most Venerable Mahanayaka (Sinhala: chief priests) of the two chapters of Malwatta and Asgiriya, and the Chief lay officer of the Sri Lanka Holidays Sacred Temple of the Tooth.

The History of the Sacred Tooth Relic prior to arrival in Sri Lanka

The Final Extinction of the Buddha took place at Kusinara in India in 543 BC. Following the cremation of the body of Buddha, the left Tooth Relic of Buddha from the Sandalwood funeral pyre was secured by Arahath (supremely enlightened) Kema who presented it to King Brahmadatta of Kalinga. The king of Kalinga had a temple constructed for the veneration of the sacred Tooth Relic. It was the first ever Dalada maligawa (Sinhala: temple of the Tooth Relic) in the world. Since then the royal dynasty of Kalinga had been the guardian kings of the sacred Tooth Relic for 800 years till its arrival in Sri Lanka.

Relics of Buddha

To the Buddhists, the supreme pilgrimage sites of Sri Lanka Holidays are where the relics of Buddha are enshrined. Beside the Holy Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, there are other pilgrimage sites in Sri Lanka where Relics of Buddha are enshrines.
  • (Ancient) Ruwanweliseya Stupa - Sacred Tooth relics
  • Mahiyangana Raja Maha Viharaya - Sacred Hair relic and the Greeva (neckbone) relic
  • Seruwila Raja Maha Vihara - Sacred Lalata (forehead) relic
  • Thuparamaya, Anuradhapura - Sacred Dhakunu Aku Dhathuva relic
  • Somawatiya Chethiya (Dagoba) - Sacred right tooth relic of Buddha
  • Tissa Maha Dagoba, Tissamaharama - Sacred tooth relic & forehead bone relic
  • (Ancient) Mutiynagana Vihara - Sacred Kesha Datu, hair relic & Mutukuda datu (solidified sweat) of Buddha
  • Girigadu Seya at Thiriyaya - Sacred Kesha (Hair) Dathu relic. These first ever relic, a lock of hair, was offered (within seven days of his enlightenment in 6th century BC) by Buddha to devotees. The receivers, two northern Indian brothers called Thappasu & Balluka, merchants by profession brought the relics from India to Sri Lanka
  • Senanayakaramaya Stupa, Madampe - Kesha (Hair) relic donated by Bangladesh to Sri Lanka in the year 1959. The sacred relic, a lock of hair was received by Mudlier L. M. W. Senanayake esq., then Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Right Honourable Dahanayake, then Minister of Culture P. B. G. Kalugalle esq. & secretary to the ministry of culture Mr. Vincent Pandita
  • (Modern) The Seema Malaka & Ganagaramaya temples - Kesha (Hair) relic donated by Bangladesh to Sri Lanka on 27th July 2007. The Sacred relics were received by a representation sent to Bangladesh by the President of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse of Ruhuna. All of these sites are tourist attractions of Sri Lanka Holidays.

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The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

The Holy Temple of the Tooth

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