The Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka

Simply, it is never a secret that this island of Sri Lanka is blessed with a delightful history that is second to none. Of course, it has had a journey of ups and downs. Still, appearing as a small speck on the world map, the strong journey it came thus far is indeed appreciable. A number of great rulers did their utmost best to bring up this country, prosperous and independent. The significant role the ancient kingdoms played with regard can never be ignored. When getting to know about them, the Kingdom of Kandy was a sententious kingdom. It is significant, not only owing to the fact that it is the last kingdom of Sri Lanka but also due to the amazing cultural and religious attractions it has gifted to the country. Among them, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic happens to be the most noteworthy.

Thus, it is popular among Sri Lankans, as well as among tourists worldwide. However, if this is the first time that you heard about this place, we are sure that you are super excited to know about this wonderful attraction furthermore. If so, you are here at the right place! Continue reading, and you will get to know everything that you need to know with regard.

What is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic?

Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a Buddhist religious attraction, located in the heart of Kandy. It is also famous as ‘Sri Dalada Maligawa‘ locally. To be specific, it is the palace where the sacred left upper canine tooth of the Lord Buddha is enshrined.

In the 4th Century AD, Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala brought the left tooth relic of Lord Buddha to Sri Lanka from Kalinga, India. King Kithisiri Meghavanna (301-328) was the ruler of the Kingdom of Kandy at that time. However, it was King Wimaladharmasuriya the first (1592-1604) who built the temple of tooth relic for the first time.

But, unfortunately, the Portuguese destroyed it during the conflicts. Yet, King Rajasinghe the second (1635-1687) reconstructed it in the same location. Then again, the Dutch burnt it for the second time. Still, nothing could lessen the respect the rulers had for this sacred building, which protected the relics of Lord Buddha. Duly, in 1687, King Wimaladharmasuriya the second built a three-storied building where all the rituals were performed. Still, it also decayed with time. Later, his son King Weera Parakrama Narendrasinghe built a two-storied temple, and the building structure that we see today is mainly what was designed back then. King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe who was the last king of the Kingdom as well as of the country, constructed the temple further in his time of ruling.

The Wonderful Architecture of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

The temple of the sacred tooth relic has several structures and buildings which exhibit the glory and splendor of classical Kandyan architecture. The main architectural components of this marvelous construction are as follows.

  1. Mahawahalkada (Main entrance) and Moat
  2. Temple of the Tooth Building Complex
  3. Handun Kunama
  4. Golden Canopy
  5. Paththirippuwa (Octagon)
  6. Royal Palace of Kandy (Mahawasala)

The artistic values they exhibit and the historical grandeur that they hold with them is indeed amazing. Still, knowing them just by name will surely confuse you. Yet, nothing to worry about. We are never letting you miss anything! So, why not? Let us go through the section below to have a good idea about the amazing structures and buildings associated with the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Mahawahalkada (Main entrance) and Moat

Mahawahalkada is the main entrance to the temple complex. Vahalkada has two walls on the sides of it. They are “Diyareli Bamma (Wall of water ripples)” and “Walakulu Bamma (Wall of clouds)” which have holes to place the oil lanterns during the night. Diyareli Bamma is the outer wall of the Kandy Lake and Walakulu Bamma is the inner wall. However, these two walls surround the moat which is a defensive measure for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Similarly, at the foot of the mahawahalkada, there is a moonstone (Sandakada Pahana) and two elephants carved in stone.

Temple of the Tooth Building Complex

The main building of the temple of the tooth relic has two storeys. The Tooth Relic is enshrined on the upper floor and it is called Udamalaya or Weda Hitina Maligawa. The lower floor is Palle Malaya. However, pilgrims can come to palle malaya passing the wahalkada, the moat, a makara thorana, two guardian stones, and the tunnel called ‘ambarawa’. In addition, the special thing about the tunnel is that it has walls filled with paintings of creepers, lotuses, and figures of eight men who wear noble male dresses. Similarly, the inner chamber in palle malaya has a large wooden door decorated with bronze and ivory. The front area is the “Hevisi Mandapaya (Drummers Courtyard)” where the rituals are carried out daily.

Handun Kunama

Handun Kunama is the chamber where you can find the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. Kings encased the tooth in seven gold caskets of varying sizes studded with precious gemstones. The topmost casket is dome-shaped and one meter in height. Moreover, the chamber door is filled with gold, silver, and ivory. However, the relic chamber (“Perahara Karanduwa”) used in the annual Esala perahara is kept inside a glass display on the right to the relic. In addition, a golden lotus flower with valuable stones is hanging from the ceiling over this relic chamber.

Golden Canopy

They used the golden canopy of Dalada Maligawa to cover the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha. Ranasinghe Premadasa built it in 1987 who was the prime minister of Sri Lanka at that time.

Paththirippuwa (Octagon)

The front section of the temple is Paththirippuwa. King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe (1798-1815) built it during his reign. However, the intention of the king for creating this was to exhibit the Sacred Tooth Relic to the people, to watch important occasions like perahara and other festivals, and to address people on important occasions.

Royal Palace of Kandy (Mahawasala)

Mahawasala is the royal residence of the monarchy of Kandyan Kingdom. The last king to reside here was Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe. It is a large complex having the following amazing features.

  • King’s Palace (Raja Wasala)
  • Royal Audience Hall (Magul Maduwa)
  • Great Terrace (Mahamaluwa)
  • Queen’s Palace (Meda Wasala)
  • King’s Harem Quarters (Palle Vahale)
  • Queen’s Bathing Pavilion (Ulpange) and
  • The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Other than these you can see many other structures and buildings associated with the Temple around the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Some of them are,

  • Temple of the Tooth Museum (New Palace)
  • National Museum of Kandy
  • International Buddhist Museum (Old Courts Building)
  • Kandy Lake
  • Jayatileke Mandapaya
  • Udawatte Kele Sanctuary.

Related Poojas and Rituals

Buddhists consider the Tooth Relic as the living Lord Buddha. Hence, the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha is revered by several poojas and rituals. Some of them are conducted daily, while some are conducted weekly, and annually by Sri Lankans since ancient times. Some of the poojas and rituals of such are as follows.

  • Daily Service
  • Weekly Service
  • Annual four festivals

Of course, you might be surely wondering about what really happens during these rituals. Why not? Let us get to know about them as well. Just keep reading the following briefs.

Daily Service (Theva)

The kings’ reign during ancient times patronized the daily services. Today, Mahanayaka theros of Malwathu and the Asgiri chapters are carrying them out. However, they conduct Theva as annual shifts of tenures between these chapters.

If you get a chance to visit the temple, you are able to see daily services held thrice a day as Early Morning Service, Mid-Day Service, and Evening Service.

  1. The Early Morning Service

They commence early morning service at 5.15 a.m. with the beating of Hevisi drums and the pooja begins at 6.00 a.m. For this pooja, they cook thirty-two bushels of rice and prepare thirty-two various kinds of vegetables, curries, and sweetmeats. As well as they offer jasmine flowers with great devotion.

2. The Mid Day Service

Mid-day service starts at 9.30 a.m. and offers meals at 10.30 a.m. By 11.00 a.m. they conclude all the rituals and close the doors.

3. The Evening Service

Evening service starts at 6.15 a.m. with the beating of drums. The first alms giving starts at 7.00 p.m. and second at 7.30 p.m. They offer three bowls of honey, ginger juice and ghee. At this time, devotees can offer flowers and worship the Tooth Relic.

Weekly Service

Weekly services are a special type of service where they perform two rituals once a week. They are Nanumura Mangallaya (Bathing or Anointing Ceremony) and Hatara Poya. Let us see what they are.

  • Nanumura Mangallaya

Nanumura Mangallaya is a traditional ceremony held every Wednesday. Monks and two women called Alatti amma help to perform this task. They place a mixture made out of Nelli, lime, and embul leaf called ‘Nanu’ in a vessel containing Sandalwood. Then they carry it out in a pingo (kada) with the sacred sound of drummers, conch blowers, etc.

The chief monk anoints the Sacred Tooth Relic by bathing the reflection of the casket which contains the Tooth Relic falls on a mirror placed in front of it. However, after the ceremony, they distribute the used herbal unguents and oil among the devotees present.

  • Hatara Poya

The 1st, 8th, 15th, and 23rd days of the lunar months are considered as the Hatara poyas. On these days, the chief drummers conduct poya hevisi.

The Amazing Annual Four Festivals

Apart from these daily and weekly services, there are four main annual festivals carried out for the Sacred Tooth Relic since the reigning periods of ancient kings up to the present. These festivals are as follows.

  1. New Harvest Festival (Aluth Sahal Mangallaya) in January (Duruthu)
  2. New Year Festival (Awurudu Mangallaya) in April (Bak)
  3. Esala Perahara Festival (Esala Mangallaya) in July (Esala) or August (Nikini) and
  4. Karthika Festival (Feast of Light) in November.

Of course, all these festivals are unique in nature and they hold with them a series of impressive values. For a better overview, let us get to know what these amazing festivals are in detail.

1. Aluth Sahal Mangallaya

This ceremony is held in the month of January every year. Devotees offer the first share of their harvest to the Sacred Tooth Relic. The king himself did this in ancient times. However, Diyawadana Nilame performs it in the present. Rice and paddy allocated for the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic are in Kundasale in a separate location. Diyawadana Nilame measures and distributes rice to 91 viharas and devalas and distributes the rest according to 2nd and 3rd lists. Finally, from those rice, they offer 80 Serus of milk rice to Lord Buddha at this ceremony on Duruthu full moon poya day.

2. Awurudu Mangallaya

This festival is in the month of April every year. A traditional officer called Mohottala (Auspicious Time Keeper) forecasts the auspicious times for the temple and other Devalas to perform the rituals on New Year Day. Unlike other days, on this day they conduct Buddha pooja according to an auspicious time selected by Mohottala.

3. Esala Mangallaya

Esala Perahara in Kandy is one of the grandest, beautiful, and oldest Buddhist festivals in Sri Lanka. It also has a great socio-cultural value. It attracts not only Buddhists but also non-Buddhists and is hugely popular among tourists as well. However, the main objective of Esala Perahara is to honor the Sacred Tooth Relic and the four ‘guardian’ gods, named, Natha, Vishnu, Katharagama, and goddess Paththini.

The Delight of the Esala Perahara

In Kandy Esala Perahara the Casket parades the streets of Kandy escorting Diyawadana Nilame. Diyawadana Nilame is the person who is the lay custodian of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Other than the Casket, whip crackers, featuring dancers, jugglers, torch-bearers, acrobats, trumpeters, fire-breathers, drum beaters, and lavishly decorated elephants helps to enhance the beauty of the perahara. Indeed, the most attractive feature of the perahara is the royal tusker carrying the Tooth Relic majestically.

Beginning of the Esala Perahara marks with the ceremony called planting ‘kap’ (“Kap Situweema”). After that, the Esala Perahara lasts for ten days. You can enjoy five Kumbal Peraharas on the first five days while Randholi Peraharas parade on other five days on the streets of Kandy. However, “Maha Randholi Perahara” or the Final Randoli Perahara which takes place on the 10th day is the most spectacular and grandest of all the peraharas. Finally, on the next day the water cutting ceremony “Diya Kapeema” holds at the place called Diyakapanathota at Mahaveli River, Gatambe and the festival ends.

4. Karthika Festival

The main purpose of this festival is lighting oil lamps. The chief organizer of this event is Diyawadana Nilame. The kariyakaravana korala in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic distributes oil for this festival for temples and devalas.

The Importance of the Temple of Tooth Relic

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic shelters one of the most important sacred ornaments for Buddhists in Sri Lanka, the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha. Further, the significance it had from the ancient days, covered a number of aspects. In terms of politics, there was a belief that the person who possessed the Tooth Relic has the power to rule the country. In terms of social life, there was a belief that the Tooth Relic blesses the country. Going beyond, in the religious aspect, Buddhists considered it the ‘living Lord Buddha’.

Even though the above-mentioned political belief is not that strong in the present world, the rest of the social and the religious aspects with regard to the tooth relic remain the same. Thus, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic has become one of the most visited sites in the country which exhibits the grandeur and majesty of the precious culture of Sri Lanka. Also, UNESCO declared the sacred city of Kandy as a world heritage site in 1988. Indeed, the Temple of Tooth Relic was one of the main reasons for the city of Kandy, to gain this recognition. 

The Bottom Line

By chance, if you are planning to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, it is best to visit here during the perahara season which is one of the most attractive festival seasons in Sri Lanka. Indeed, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is not only a precious place for Buddhists, but also for all the devotees throughout the world. It not only amazes you with its religious exclusivity but also with its stupendous artistic values. Hence, if you arrive in Sri Lanka, never forget to visit the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, to witness its ancient grandeur and the cultural charm, which is simply outstanding.

Happy and safe traveling!