The Sri Dalada Maligawa or the Temple of the Tooth is one of Sri Lanka’s greatest attractions – the temple dates back to 1595 and contains the sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha.
Legend has it that the Buddha’s canine tooth was retrieved from his funeral pyre after cremation and given to the King of Kalinga. It was subsequently brought to Sri Lanka in 313 AD, hidden in Princess Hemamala’s hair. It is said to have survived numerous attempts made to destroy it, and has ever since been brought out on special occasions and carried on the backs of elephants for the Perahara.
The relic is considered the ultimate symbol of Sri Lankan royalty, and was thus highly sought after by those seeking political power. The kings kept it close at their capital (wherever that was at the time), moving with the Sri Lankan capital till it finally arrived in Kandy during King Vimaladharmasuriya I’s reign. It’s only brought out of its chamber once a year for the Esala Perahara. The temple itself was severely damaged in Dutch/Portugese wars in the 18th century but was restored in stone after these wars. It was restored once again after a 1998 attack by the LTTE.
The premises are massive. One end of it is on the Kandy lake while the other is nestled within a cocoon of rich forest. The premises include the Royal Palace and the Magul Maduwa (where the Kandyan kings held their royal court). The octagonal Pattirippuwa at the front (built by the last king of Kandy, Sri Vikrama Rajasinha) houses a library containing ola leaf manuscripts. The Kandy National Museum and the International Buddhist Museum (at the old courts complex) are located behind the temple.
There’s a map on the entrance pathway to help you navigate. But generally most people simply go straight and upstairs to the shrine room. Watch out for the Madduma Bandara monument on the way in, the statue of ‘that lion-hearted child hero’ who has been immortalized in folk memory for showing fearlessness in the face of death at the hand of his captors in 1814.
The stairs into the building pass over a moat. Before you go in there’s a screening process on the west end of the ground – you have to keep your slippers and belongings at the security counter and walk through a check-up tent before finally entering the temple. Note that there are different prices and procedures for tourists and locals.
There is a lot of beautiful work done in stone, ivory and wood inside the premises and in the courtyards, some restored and some as old as the temple itself. There’s also a lot of gold paneling. The temple also has a golden canopy which you can see from miles away.
Hundreds of people visit here daily to give their offerings, and plenty of tourists too, so it can get quite crowded, especially upstairs. The upstairs space is where you see people in worship against wooden paneled floors and walls, facing the golden doors behind which the relic is preserved. The tooth relic is brought out and a ritual is undertaken by monks at around 6.30 PM.
What’s most beautiful about the Dalada Maligawa is the outside space, aesthetically speaking. On the east end of the premises you get the Sri Natha Devalaya, the stupa and clean sandy pathways and greenery. Especially in the evening, these spaces are pleasing to wander through.
The Sri Dalada Maligawa is an interesting place to walk through, and its outdoor courtyards and green spaces are lovely and very well maintained. It’s definitely a must-visit if you’re in Kandy, especially if history and detailed artwork interest you.