The Temple Of The Tooth in Kandy is the country’s cultural and religious heart.
Whoever hold the sacred tooth relic has the implicit right to rule the country. Or so it is said. Even today a victorious President or Prime Minister’s first call on winning an election, is to the Temple of the Tooth, though one or two have been known to squeeze in a private soothsayer first.
Some eight hundred years after Buddha’s death, the tooth relic arrived on the island, and throughout the era of the kings, the tooth relic was wisely placed next to the royal palace.
For the relic, this meant travel – and lots of it - from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Ratnapura Niyamgampaya Vihara, Hamsa, Gira, Selalihini, Kotte and numerous secret places in between before finally ending up at Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic beside Kandy’s Royal Palace. There it withstood two armed attacks in 1989 (JVP) and 1998 (LTTE).
Today it lies beneath a golden roof within a stunning temple built by Vira Narendra Sinha, the last Sinhalese King of Kandy, encased in seven golden caskets studded with precious jewels, taken out only for an annual festival, the Kandy Esala Perahera, where it is paraded around the city preceded by hundreds of priests, elephants, fire eaters, dancers, and musicians.
The Temple is part of a greater – once royal – complex, which includes:
This great terrace in front of the temple and adjacent to Kandy Lake has at one end a stone memorial beneath which is buried the skull of Keppetipola Disawe who led the failed rebellion against the British in 1818.
THE ROYAL AUDIENCE HALL
The Magul Maduwa, a wooden structure, was built by King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha in 1783 and it was here in 1815 that the Kandyan Convention was signed ending the Kingdom of Kandy.
THE KING’S PALACE
The Raja Wasala beside the Royal Audience Hall is now a Museum overseen by the Department Archaeology.
Once a spare resting and meeting place for the King, now renamed as the Rajah Tusker Hall to hold the stuffed remains of Rajah, the chief elephant in the Kandy Perahera, who died in 1988.
Once housed the quarters for the kings various wives and is now more prosaically the National Museum of Kandy. Amongst its 5,000 exhibits which range from the gorgeous to the prosaic, is a copy of the Kandyan Convention. Next to it, in Victorian-era buildings constructed by the British as administrative offices is the International Buddhist Museum.
THE QUEENS' CHAMBERS
The attractive Meda Wasala with its courtyard and veranda has been commandeered as offices of National Department of Archaeology; and wild horses are not likely to drive them out.
The Ran Ayuda Maduwa has been annexed as a place of judgement by the District Courts of Kandy
Built in 1806 by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinha as a bathing pavilion for queens, it has now sadly become a police post.
TEMPLE OF THE TOOTH MUSEUM
Occupying the upper floors of the Temple, the Museum is full of artifacts relating to Tooth relic and especially its final resting place in Kandy. Also on display are sets of the last king’s shirt, trousers, and handkerchief.
An octagonal pavilion just within the main enclose of the temple from where the Tooth used to be displayed. Most of it has since become a Library but in the national consciousness it plays its part in key events in much the same way as the balcony of Buckingham Palace might in the UK.
Accessed through an entrance gate over a moat is the main Temple itself, a two story shrine over which sits a golden canopy. In front of the main shrine is a Drummers' Chamber. Ivory handles open the doors into the main shrine which gives way to the Handun Kunama - the small chamber in which the actual relic is kept. But, like Russian Dolls, that is only the beginning, for within the chamber are seven gold caskets inlaid with gems – and it inside the last of these that lies the Tooth.