Called the Sri Dalada Maligawa or Tooth Temple, it is the holy of holies in the city of Kandy, Sri Lanka, as it contains a canine tooth of Buddha, which is highly revered and carried through the city once a year in a magnificent procession.
The Sri Dalada Maligawa is a Buddhist temple in the royal city of Kandy in central Sri Lanka. The "Temple of the Tooth" is located in the temple district of Kandy, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988, and is on our list of the top 10 sights of Sri Lanka.
Legend has it that it contains a canine tooth of Gautama Siddharta, the first Buddha, making it one of the highest shrines of Buddhism.
The nested buildings of the Temple of the Tooth look rather unimpressive from the outside. It was built between 1687 and 1782 and would also pass as a reasonably ostentatious residential building.
Somehow the Temple of the Tooth looks like a mixture of a villa and a monastery. Only the octagonal oriel with a pointed roof is somewhat unusual. Today it houses a library where historical manuscripts made of palm leaf are kept.
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The shrine with the Buddha's tooth
Inside, the magnificent decorations, precious frescoes and magnificent doors take your breath away.
The Temple of the Tooth has three floors. On the top floor is the Golden Shrine, where Buddha's tooth, the "Dalada", is kept. Pilgrims from all over the world gather here to venerate the precious relic and make offerings to it. The shrine can be entered three times a day, in the morning, in the forenoon and in the evening.
Inside the shrine with its silver-foiled door, the left canine tooth of the Buddha is kept under a stack of seven gilded bell-shaped dagobas. Throughout the temple, worshippers sit and stand, deeply absorbed in prayer or waiting with offering flowers in hand.
Procession in honour of Buddha
The worship of the Dalada culminates in the annual "Esala Perahera". In the course of this, the tooth is carried through the city in a magnificent procession with elaborately decorated elephants. The believers pray for sufficient rain and a good harvest. In between, colourfully dressed people dance and play music.
The parade was already held in the 4th century and takes place on the ten days before the first full moon in August. The relics of other shrines from the temple district also take part in the procession, which unites into one large procession at the end.
Once a week, the tooth is removed from its sacred shrine to be cleaned. Whether it is actually the real tooth is questionable, because several copies have already been made for security reasons.
In the Sri Dalada Museum, which is also located in the tooth temple, the turbulent history of the precious tooth is depicted alongside some gifts from pilgrims.
Turbulent history of the Dalada
According to legend, the spiritual power of Buddha is stored in the dalada and, similar to the Bodhi tree under which Buddha was enlightened, the tooth is also considered a rainmaker. One can imagine that many kings coveted this relic, because the respective owner of the tooth was highly respected, was under religious protection and his people never had to suffer from drought. Accordingly, it passed through the hands of many Indian rulers after it was supposedly recovered from the ashes of the enlightened one by a nun.
It was passed on from generation to generation or stolen by force until it was finally smuggled over the border to Sri Lanka by Prince Dantha and his wife Hemamala disguised as pilgrims. Here it was immediately protected by the Sinhalese king and kept in the respective capital.
Even the colonial powers Portugal and Great Britain did not succeed in breaking the cult of the tooth. So the processions continue today and have become a popular tourist attraction.
Precaution: Since the Tamil suicide attack on the Temple of the Tooth in 1998 during Sri Lanka's civil war, which killed 8 people, the temple precinct can only be entered through a security gate.