Contrary to what you might have heard, it’s not all tropical scenery and tea plantations in Kandy. Sure, they’re a big part of its appeal, but did you know that the city is also home to one of the most sacred shrines in Sri Lanka? The Temple of the Tooth, located inside the former royal residence of the Kandy kings, is said to house the tooth of the Buddha. What’s so special about that, you might ask? Well, not only does this ancient relic symbolise the foundations of Buddhism, but legend has it that whoever possesses the tooth has the right to rule the country. In other words, it’s a pretty big deal.
The tale of the tooth weaves through years of ancient history - but let’s cut a long story short. After being smuggled onto the island, the tooth was passed from king to king until it eventually ended up at its current residence, the Temple of the Tooth. Over the centuries, it became a symbol of power and there were various attempts to steal and destroy it, though luckily none were successful.
Today, the temple remains an important religious site for Sri Lanka’s Buddhist community. Daily rituals are performed by monks, including the symbolic bathing of the tooth in a herbal concoction, which is believed to have healing abilities.
The tooth is also the focal point for one of Sri Lanka’s most famous festivals - the Esala Perahera (or the Festival of the Tooth). Every August or July, a colourful procession is held to pay homage to the relic with decorated elephants, elegant costumes and traditional dancing. What’s not to love?
If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of the elusive tooth of the Buddha, you might be disappointed. It remains well hidden in not one, but seven gem-encrusted caskets. You’d be forgiven for thinking this is a bit drastic, but given the amount of attempts to destroy it in the past, this level of protection might well be sensible. However, you can visit the room where it’s kept during prayers and offerings. The ornate features that surround the shrine, including a dazzling golden canopy, are well worth a look.
Unfortunately, the royal palace is off limits to visitors too, but there are plenty of other temples, shrines and museums to explore. There’s some beautifully intricate architecture to marvel at, and the interior has a heady aroma of flowers and incense that brings a sense of calm and tranquility. You can also respectfully watch worshippers bringing floral offerings to honour the relic - a refreshing reminder of the temple’s importance in Sri Lankan culture.
If you want to learn the ins and outs of the temple’s history, you can choose a guided tour. Otherwise, simply go with the flow and explore at your own pace. You’ll find a series of storyboards inside providing some insightful information.
The Temple of the Tooth is located in Kandy, next to Kandy Lake.
The temple is open all year-round, form 5.30am to 8pm. Opening times might vary during special events like Esala Perahera. The best times to visit the temple is during the daily rituals and offerings. Morning offerings happen from 5.30am to 7am, from 9.30am to 11am, and from 6.30pm to 8pm. The bathing of the tooth ceremony takes place every Wednesday. If you want to join in the celebrations at the Kandy Esala Perahera, visit during July or August.
1500Rs per person.
As with most temples in Sri Lanka, you’ll need to cover your legs and shoulders and remove your shoes before entering the temple.
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