Temple of the Tooth Relic (Kandy) | Sri Lanka's Most Venerated Shrine

Temple of the Tooth Relic Kandy
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic or Sri Dalada Maligawa (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී දළදා මාළිගාව; Tamil: தலதா மாளிகை) is a Buddhist place of worship situated in the heart of the City of Kandy, Sri Lanka. It is considered the most venerated Buddhist shrine in the country, as it houses the left eye tooth of the Buddha that was brought to the country in the 4th century A.D. (Abeywardana, 2004). The Mahanayake Theras (the chief monks) of the Asgiriya Vihara Chapter and Malwathu Vihara Chapter as well as the Diyawadana Nilame (the chief lay custodian) hold the custodianship of the Tooth Relic (Wijesuriya, 2000). The temple is also the key feature of the Kandy World Heritage Site, declared in 1988 (Wijesuriya, 2000).

World Heritage Site: Sacred City of Kandy

Location: Central Province, Sri Lanka 
Coordinates: N7 17 37 E80 38 25
Date of Inscription: 1988
Description: This sacred Buddhist site, popularly known as the city of Senkadagalapura, was the last capital of the Sinhala kings whose patronage enabled the Dinahala culture to flourish for more than 2,500 years until the occupation of Sri Lanka by the British in 1815. It is also the site of the Temple of the Tooth Relic (the sacred tooth of the Buddha), which is a famous pilgrimage site.
Criteria:  (iv) The monumental ensemble of Kandy, rebuilt under the reign of Keerti Sri Rajasimha, is an outstanding example of a type of construction in which the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth of Buddha are juxtaposed. Since the 4th century, it has been customary to do this. In the descriptive account left by the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsiangin in 629, the Temple of the Tooth of Anuradhapura was in close proximity to the palace. The same was true for the temples built wherever the relic, a true palladium of the Sinhalese monarchy, was carried each time the capital was changed
                (vi) The Temple of the Tooth, the palatial complex, and the sacred city of Kandy are directly and tangibly associated with the history of the spread of Buddhism, one of humanity’s great religions. Built to house the relic of the tooth of Buddha, which had come from Kalinga, India, to Sri Lanka during the reign of Sri Meghavanna (310-328), when it was transferred a final time, the Temple of Kandy bears witness to an ever flourishing cult.
Reference: 450; Sacred City of KandyUNESCO World Heritage Centre, United Nations.
History of the Tooth Relic
The arrival of the Tooth Relic in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka
Hemamali and Dantha
According to ancient texts such as Mahavamsa, Dathavamsa and Rajavaliya, the Tooth Relic which was obtained after the Parinirvana of the Buddha had been preserved in the Kingdom of Kalinga (present Orissa, India) and was in the possession of the kingdom's leader, King Guhasiva (Coningham & Lewer, 1999; Hocart, 1931; Jayasuriya, 2016). When the king of Sravasti came to fight to obtain the relic, King Guhasiva instructed his daughter Hemamali and his sister's son Prince Dantha, that if he was defeated by the enemy at the battle, take the relic to his friend Mahasena (275-301 A.D.), the king of Sri Lanka (Abeywardana, 2004; Jayasuriya, 2016). King Guhasiva was defeated at the battle and Hemamali and her husband, Dantha disguised themselves as ascetics and left Kalinga to hand over the relic to Mahasena (Jayasuriya, 2016).

The two royals entered Sri Lanka at Lankapatuna (a place located in Trincomalee District), headed to Anuradhapura and handed the relic to Mahasena's son Kitsirimeghavanna (301-328 A.D.) who was king at the time (Abeywardana, 2004; Hocart, 1931; Medhananda, 2003; Seneviratna, 1975). Welcomed by the king, the relic was initially deposited in Meghagiri Viharaya (present Isurumuniya) and later moved on to a special site named Damma-cakka Viharaya (Abeywardana, 2004; Hocart, 1931).

As a symbolic authority to rule the country
Velaikkara Slab Inscription
Since the 5th century A.D., Sri Lankan kings constructed a building (Dalada-ge: the Temple of the Tooth Relic) specially designed for the Tooth Relic along with the Bowl Relic in their respective kingdoms as they were considered the most important symbols of royalty (Abeywardana, 2004; Hocart, 1931; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007; Wijesuriya, 2000). It is widely accepted that the one who holds the Tooth Relic has the right to govern the country (Abeywardana, 2004; Seneviratna, 1975; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007). Therefore, buildings designed to place the Tooth Relic were very often placed in the vicinity of the Royal Palace by kings from the Anuradhapura Period to the Kandyan Period (Coningham & Lewer, 1999; Hocart, 1931; The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007; Wijesuriya, 2000).

Kitsirimeghavanna didn't construct a special building for the Tooth Relic but used the building known till then as Damma-cakka (Hocart, 1931; Seneviratna, 1975). The first Temple of the Tooth Relic was erected during the reign of King Dhatusena [(455-473 A.D.) Coningham & Lewer, 1999]. Chinese monk Fa-Hsien in the 5th century A.D. and Hiuen Tsang in the 7th century A.D. speak eloquently of the magnificence of the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Anuradhapura and the rituals connected with it (Jayasuriya, 2016).

From the very outset, the Tooth Relic was associated with the Abhayagiri Viharaya, one of the two great fraternities of monks at the time (Hocart, 1931). This association is evident in the 12th century Tamil Velaikkara Slab Inscription of Polonnaruwa where it is mentioned that on the instruction of King Vijayabahu I (1055-1100 A.D.), a commander named Nuvarakal Deva-Senevirattar built the Temple of Tooth Relic in Vijayarajapuram or Pulanari (Polonnaruwa City) to permanently deposit the Tooth and the Bowl relics of the Buddha which were at the Uttaramula of Abhayagiri Viharaya (Wickremasinghe, 1928). 

The Kingdom of Anuradhapura fell under the rule of the Chola Empire when the invaders took the last king of Anuradhapura, King Mahinda V (982-1017 A.D.) as a captive to India. Cholas ruled the country for 53 years until Vijayabahu I (1055-1110 A.D.) defeated them and re-established the Sinhalese lineage in 1070 A.D. During the reign of Vijayabahu I, the Tooth and Bowl relics were deposited in a special building called Atadage. King Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 A.D.) conducted ceremonies and rituals in honour of the Tooth Relic (Seneviratna, 1975). King Nissankamalla (1187-1196 A.D.) deposited the relic in the Hetadage, a temple built by him (Nicholas, 1963). The Pali chronicle Dathavamsa regarding the history of the tooth relic was written in the early 13th century.

From Polonnaruwa to Dambadeniya
The Polonnaruwa Kingdom was abandoned in the 13th century and the new kingdom was established in Dambadeniya where two temples of Tooth Relic were built, one at the premises of Vijayasundararamaya and the other on the Summit of the Rock Palace, by King Parakramabahu II [(1236-1270 A.D.) Hocart, 1931]. In 1284, after the death of Buwanekabahu I (1272-1284 A.D.), the South Indian Pandyans invaded Yapahuwa, the then capital of Dambadeniya and looted all the royal treasures including the Tooth Relic. However, the relic was recovered again by King Parakramabahu III (1287-1293 A.D.) through negotiations with Pandyans (Hocart, 1931). Dalada Sirita, a Sinhalese text based on the Pali chronicle Dathavamsa was composed in 1318, during the reign of King Parakramabahu IV [(1302-1326 A.D.) Seneviratna, 1975].

From Dambadeniya to Gampola and to Kotte
During the Gampola Period (1341-1412 A.D.), the Tooth Relic was kept at the Niyamgampaya Viharaya (Abeywardana, 2004). It was removed to Jayawardanapura Kotte when the capital moved there in 1412 (Abeywardana, 2004).

Delgamuwa Viharaya
After the death of King Bhuvanekabahu VII (1521–1551 A.D.) and the designation of Dharmapala as the successor, the political stability of the country became unstable. Therefore the Tooth Relic was moved from Kotte to Sitawaka by Hiripitiye Diyawadana Nilame, the noble person who was entrusted with the custody of the relic and presented it to King Mayadunna [(1521–1581 A.D.) Pieris, 1920]. The relic was then hidden in a Kurahan Gala (maize grinding stone) at Delgamuwa Viharaya for protection and it remained there for over 40 years.

In 1560 the Portuguese claimed to have captured the Tooth Relic and taken it to Goa in India (Hocart, 1931). King Bayinnaung (1550-1581 A.D.) of Pegu (present Myanmar) sent officials to Goa and offered the Portuguese a sum for the Tooth Relic but it was denied (Hocart, 1931). Dom Constantino de Braganza, a Portuguese viceroy who obtained the alleged Tooth Relic pounded the relic in a brazen mortar and threw the powder into a brazier of live coals, after which the whole was cast into the sea (Hocart, 1931; Pieris, 1920). However, the Tooth Relic captured by the Portuguese was an imitation carried by Veediya Bandara and the original remained within Sri Lanka (Hocart, 1931; Pieris, 1920).

From Kotte to Kandy and the building of the present Temple of the Tooth Relic
Konappu Bandara who recorded a successful victory over the Portuguese at Danthure, near Kandy in 1592 ascended the throne as King Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592–1604 A.D). He brought the Tooth Relic from the Delgamuwa Viharaya to safeguard it from the Portuguese and was placed in a two-storied temple built in the neighbourhood of the Royal Palace at Senkadagala [(present Kandy) Abeywardana, 2004; Pieris, 1920; Seneviratna & Polk, 1992].

In 1603, the Portuguese invaded Kandy, destroyed the Temple of the Tooth Relic and claimed that they destroyed the Tooth Relic too (Abeywardana, 2004). However, the guardian monks managed to flee with the relic to Medamahanuwara in Dumbara (Abeywardana, 2004). King Rajasinha II (1629-1687 A.D.) who recovered the Tooth Relic later re-erected the Temple of the Tooth Relic in the same place (Abeywardana, 2004). It is assumed that this place was somewhere between the present fans of Natha and Pattini. Later King Vimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707 A.D.) constructed a three-storied building to accommodate the relic and then after it was destroyed, King Sri Vira Parakrama Narendrasinha (1707-1739 A.D.) rebuilt another two-storied mansion (Abeywardana, 2004; Jayasuriya, 2016). The Dutch invaders destroyed it but King Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747-1779 A.D.) renovated the whole complex. The octagonal Pattirippuwa of the present Temple of the Tooth Relic was built by King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (1798-1815 A.D.), the last king of Kandy (Abeywardana, 2004; Coningham & Lewer, 1999; Jayasuriya, 2016). 

During the British Period
In 1815, the Kandyan Kingdom was annexed by the British through a treaty called the Kandyan Convention in which it is agreed to maintain and protect the Buddhist religion, its rites, ministers and places of worship (Hocart, 1931).

During the Great Rebellion of 1817-1818, the Tooth Relic was secretly removed by the rebel party. However, it was recovered by the British towards the end of the rebellion and the Temple of the Tooth Relic was provided with an armed guard (Hocart, 1931). In 1828, the Tooth Relic was exhibited to the people by order of the then British Governor Edward Barnes (1824-1831 A.D.) and due to objections that arose from the Christian side, the British relinquished the charge of the relic and withdrew from direct interference in the appointment of Buddhist monks and chiefs in 1846 (Coningham & Lewer, 1999; Hocart, 1931).

JVP and LTTE attacks
On 8 February 1989, several armed cadres affiliated with Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), a revolutionary Marxist organization in Sri Lanka attacked the Temple of the Tooth Relic to capture the relic. But their attempt failed. 

The temple was bombed on 25 January 1998 by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by several countries including Sri Lanka, India, the USA and the EU which fought to create an independent Tamil state in Northern and Eastern parts of the country, from 1983 to 2009 (Wijesuriya, 2000). According to initial figures, 17 people were killed and 20+ were wounded by the attack (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). Also, the bomb explosion caused severe damage to the temple building and its surrounding monuments including the MuseumRoyal Audience HallRoyal Palace, St. Paul's Church and the shrines of VishnuNatha and Pattini (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). The old Vahalkada, Sandakada Pahana, guard stones, and several other parts of the Temple of the Tooth Relic building had been significantly damaged but some paintings belonging to the reign of King Sri Vira Parakrama Narendrasinha (1707-1739 A.D.) were found in an inner plaster layer of the wall exposed due to the explosion (Jayasuriya, 2016). The Tooth Relic remained unharmed and the damages caused by the explosion were fixed by the Sri Lankan Government with the assistance of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation), ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites), ICCROM (International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) and ICOM [(International Council of Museums) Coningham & Lewer, 1999].

The Sacred City of Kandy
The Sacred City of Kandy comprises three zones, viz; the outer city, the inner city and the innermost complex containing the Royal Palace and the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). Modern development activities, however, have altered the outer city but the inner city still remains in a good state of preservation (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). 

Divided into blocks by cardinal roads, the outer city comprises the houses of nobles and commoners while the inner city consists of shrines dedicated to God Vishnu, Natha, and Pattini (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). The innermost complex, separated by two walls and a moat, comprises the king's palace and the Temple of the Tooth Relic (Coningham & Lewer, 1999).

The Temple of the Tooth Relic
Temple of the Tooth Relic
The Temple of the Tooth Relic stands at the centre of Sri Lanka's last pre-colonial capital (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). The accessway to the temple is fallen through a bridge over the moat which leads to a monumental entrance porch and then to rectangular two-storied buildings via a vaulted corridor beside the octagonal tower known as Pattirippuwa (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). Added during the reign of Sri Vikrama Rajasingha, the Pattirippuwa is said to have been designed by the chief philosopher Devendra as instructed by Dehigama Nilame. It was originally the observation pavilion of the king and was used for the Kachcheriya of Kandy during the colonial period. In 1815, it was named the royal library of the Temple of the Tooth Relic. 

Several subsidiary shrines, offices, a Stupa and a drumming hall laid around a courtyard where the 18th-century two-storied pavilion containing the sacred Tooth Relic stands (Coningham & Lewer, 1999). The complex is dominated by a three-storied extension to the east of the shrine built in 1956 and a modern golden roof suspended over the pavilion (Coningham & Lewer, 1999).

The two-storied pavilion houses the Tooth Relic preserved in a golden casket. The upper floor of it is constructed of wooden beams and planks resting primarily on stone pillars and consists of two rooms enclosed by walls made of wattle and daub covered with lime plaster (Wijesuriya, 2000). Of the two rooms, the inner chamber houses the majestic casket of the Tooth Relic (Wijesuriya, 2000). The stone pillars which support the upper floor and the entire superstructure are enclosed by walls painted in traditional motifs (Wijesuriya, 2000).

Associated monuments
The three shrines of God Vishnu, Natha and Pattini, Palle Vahala, Magul Maduwa, Ulpenge, Mahamaluwa, moat, Diyatilaka pavilion and the Nuwara Wewa are the main associated parts of the Temple of the Tooth Relic Premises.

Four government-sponsored festivals are held at the Temple of the Tooth Relic annually (Ranathunga et al., 2018). The first of these is the Alut Sahal Mangalya (the new rice ceremony) which is held in January (Ranathunga et al., 2018). Representing fertility, a special portion of rice is offered to the Tooth Relic during this festival. The second festival is the Alut Awurudda (the New Year Festival) which symbolizes the transition from the old to the New Year and is held in April (Ranathunga et al., 2018). The third is considered the main festival of the temple, the Esala Perahera (the Tooth Relic procession). This procession consists of the Dalada Perahera followed by the processions of the four Devalas; VishnuNatha, Pattini and Kataragama (Jayasuriya, 2016). It is held in August every year. The fourth festival is known as Karthi and is held on the full moon day of November. This festival is said to have started in 1739 (Ranathunga et al., 2018).

A protected site
The Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy town in the Gangawata Koralaya, Grama Niladhari Division in Four Gravets Divisional Secretariat Division is an archaeological protected monument, declared by a government gazette notification published on 23 February 2007.

Temple of the Tooth Relic Kandy
See also

1) Abeywardana, H.A.P., 2004. Heritage of Kandurata: Major natural, cultural and historic sites. Colombo: The Central Bank of Sri Lanka.  pp.9-21.
2) Coningham, R. and Lewer, N., 1999. Paradise Lost: the bombing of the Temple of the Tooth—a UNESCO World Heritage site in Sri Lanka. Antiquity, 73(282), pp.857-866.
3) Hocart, A.M. ed., 1931. Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon IV: The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Messrs. Luzac & Co. pp.1-4.
4) Jayasuriya, E., 2016. A guide to the Cultural Triangle of Sri Lanka. Central Cultural Fund. ISBN: 978-955-613-312-7. pp.112-116.
5) Medhananda, Ven. Ellawala, 2003. Pacheena passa - Uttara passa: Negenahira palata ha uturu palate Sinhala bauddha urumaya (In Sinhala). Dayawansa Jayakody & Company. Colombo. ISBN: 978-955-686-112-9. pp.319-322.
6) Nicholas, C. W., 1963. Historical topography of ancient and medieval Ceylon. Journal of the Ceylon Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, New Series (Vol VI). Special Number: Colombo. Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch). p.178.
7) Pieris, P.E., 1920. Ceylon and the Portuguese, 1505-1658. American Mission Ceylon Press. Telippalai. pp.76, 86, 142.
8) Ranathunga, G.M., Karunarathne, P.V.M. and De Silva, S.S.V., 2018. Headdress: Faith and practice in everyday life in Buddhism (The case of the temple of the tooth Buddhist religious activities and the cultural headdress of Sri Lanka). Journal of Advanced Research in Social Sciences and Humanities, 3(5), pp.172-178.
9) Seneviratna, A., 1975. Musical rituals of Dalada Maligawa: pertaining to the temple of the sacred tooth. Sangeet Natak. pp.21-42.
10) Seneviratna, A. and Polk, B., 1992. Buddhist monastic architecture in Sri Lanka: the woodland shrines. Abhinav Publications. p.133.
11) The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. No: 1486. 23 February 2007. p.125.
12) The National Atlas of Sri Lanka, 2007. (2nd ed.) Survey Department of Sri Lanka. ISBN: 955-9059-04-1. pp.104-105. 
13) Wickremasinghe, D. M. D. Z., 1928. Epigraphia Zeylanica: Being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon (Vol, II). Published for the government of Ceylon by Humphrey Milford. pp.242-255.
14) Wijesuriya, G., 2000. Conserving the Temple of the Tooth Relic, Sri Lanka. Public Archaeology, 1(2), pp.99-108.

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This page was last updated on 3 December 2023
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