From the moment we read about the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy we were intrigued – even from the name it sounds a little weird right? In reality however, this place is a beautiful centre piece for the small city of Kandy and somewhere everyone should visit to learn about and soak up a little of the peaceful nature of Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
The Temple of the Tooth or Sri Dalada Maligawa is not only a World Heritage Site but an important temple as it holds the Sacred relic of the Tooth of Buddha who is believed to have visited Sri Lanka three times. The relic has held importance not only in religion but politically in the country’s history too.
We were all set to visit the temple as soon as we arrived in Kandy but our helpful Air BnB host recommended that we visit later in the evening where a ceremony takes place every night at 6pm.
We went slightly earlier at around 4pm so that we had time to look around the outside of the temple too. This in itself was fascinating as the grounds are home to lots of beautiful white and gold stupas, and lots of old but beautifully maintained temples with wall murals and carved Buddha statues decorating their interior.
There is also a fantastic little museum which tells the story of Buddha and the rise of Buddhism in every country around the world. It may take a while to go through the whole place but we found it interesting to read about the history of Buddhism history in those countries we had visited and our own country too.
The main event, however, was yet to come and as 6pm drew closer we could feel the atmosphere around the temple rise. There is a flurry of activity as individuals and whole families arrive all dressed in white to meditate, pray and get a glimpse of the holy tooth relic. Before you enter the temple itself be sure to look for the small glass building to the side in which people light offerings. As you stand aside and watch people light their candles in silent contemplation the light grows and they all flicker together – it’s a truly mesmerising sight and a nice time to reflect.
Enter into the temple through a small tunnel and be sure to look up and all around you at the intricate paintings – it’s hard to believe these are as old as they are! In the centre there is the main temple structure which has a number of levels which you can walk around and peer up to glimpse at the gold overhanging roofs. Come 6pm the atmosphere heightens as men in traditional outfits centre themselves around a small golden door and begin drumming. It’s so loud at first we jumped out of our skin at every beat but you soon get used to it and it certainly heightens the anticipation of seeing the relic itself!
Note; we thought the relic would come from this door but it is actually positioned upstairs in a long gallery so don’t wait too long until you head upstairs and follow the small line around. The glimpse you get of the relic is pretty fleeting as you are ushered round by a security guard but it is undeniably beautiful; a gold shrine completely adorned in flowers and offerings. This combined with the long table that stretches down the gallery covered in a mountain of flowers and people sat quietly all around in contemplation or quiet prayer makes for a wonderfully peaceful scene.
After seeing the relic you can walk around the rest of the temple structure; around a few smaller shrines and then up into the octagonal tower which sits on the right hand side. In here you can see many artefacts from the Buddhist religion and its history in Sri Lanka and also get a beautiful view out across the city. Don’t forget to breathe in deeply as there is also the most gorgeous scent of incense burning heavily – leaving a heady, lasting impression as you exit from the octagon and the temple itself.
We hadn’t known what to expect from the Temple of the Tooth and at 1000 SLR* to enter for foreigners we were typically a little pessimistic. However, this place did not disappoint and we were left feeling calm, tranquil and thankful we had taken the time to look around and experience this nightly ceremony. Even if, like us, you are not religious you can really sense the spirituality in the air here and can appreciate the importance and meaning it has within this community.
*The entrance fee is applicable only if you want to enter the temple itself and the museum – to simply walk around the grounds and look in the smaller shrines it is free of charge.
We hope you have an equally lasting experience!
C & J