Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy | Sunday Observer

Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy

4 December, 2022

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic or the Sri Dalada Maligawa, is a major Buddhist temple in Kandy. It is located in the Royal Palace complex of the former kingdom of Kandy, which houses the Tooth Relic of the Buddha. Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second biggest city.

The History

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a world-renowned place of worship, where the left tooth of Gautama Buddha is enshrined. The temple which is venerated by thousands of local and foreign devotees and tourists daily was named as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1988. 

The temple which carries a lot of value for Buddhists all over the world also has immense cultural value. The architecture is of unique Kandyan architectural style with a combination of the unique style used to build Dalada Mandira, the shrines which housed the Sacred Tooth Relic previously in other kingdoms.

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is built in the City of Kandy near the ancient Royal Palace which is situated to the North of the temple and the forest reserve called Udawaththa Kelaya to the East, the famous Kandy Lake also known as Kiri Muhuda to the South and Natha and Paththini Devala on the West. The temple is adorned with intricate carvings using gold, silver, bronze and ivory.

The Sacred city of Kandy is the final location of the Sacred Tooth Relic of Gautama Buddha. The Sacred relic was brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha from the city of Kalinga in ancient India, during the reign of King Keerthi Sri Meghavarna (Kithsirimevan 301-328).

It became a symbol of Sri Lankan kings and was preciously guarded in a special shrine built within the precincts of the royal palace, wherever the capital was located. The ruins of such edifices remain in ancient capitals of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Kotte and Gampola. While in Kandy the last Kingdom, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic continues to be the greatest shrine to receive the utmost veneration of the Buddhist world.

The first Dalada Madura in Kandy, which housed the Sacred Tooth Relic was built by King Wimaladharmasuriya I during his reign from year 1592 – 1604. History reveals that this was destroyed by the Portuguese during their invasion. The second temple was built in the same location by King Rajasinghe the Second during his reign from 1635 – 1687, which was burnt by the Dutch.

The Dalada history says in year 1687 King Wimaladharmasuriya II built a three-storeyed Dalada Madura and performed Dalada rituals with great devotion but with time the building decayed and was destroyed. Later his son King Sri Veera Parakrama Narendrasinghe who reigned from 1707 – 1739 built the two-storeyed Dalada Madura which one can see today. The South Indian Kings who ruled the country from Senkadagala renovated and protected the shrine which was built by King Narendrasinghe.

Renovated and beautified

The temple was finely renovated and beautified by King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe to its present appearance. The Paththirippuwa or the Octagonal Pavilion was constructed by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe who reigned from year 1798 – 1815.

Protecting the Sacred Tooth Relic and conducting religious rituals without a break is being carried out to the present day under the strict surveillance of the three chief custodians of the Tooth Relic, the Most Venerable Mahanayake Theras of the Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters and the lay chief custodian, the Diyawadana Nilame.

The Sacred Tooth Relic, which is housed at the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in the City of Kandy, is being considered and worshipped as the living Buddha. For this very reason, there are daily, weekly and annual poojas and rituals.

The Dalada perahera famously known as the Kandy Esala perahera held in the month of Esala (July) annually is among them. It is considered as the epitome of country’s Buddhist celebrations and is blessed with divinity.

According to the Maha Parinibbana Sutta of Deegha Chapter, among few other sacred relics, the four sacred Tooth Relics remained intact following the Mahaparinirvana. The Buddha’s left canine tooth out of the four Tooth Relics which was blessed with Sri Saddhamma for 45 years was brought to Sri Lanka due to the continuous conflicts during the reign of King Mutaseewa in the kingdom of Kaalinga. Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha brought the Tooth Relic to Sri Lanka during the reign of King Kithsirimewan, seeking protection for the Sacred Tooth Relic. This event took place in 310 A.D.

Following the arrival of the Sacred Tooth Relic, it was first housed in the Isurumuniya Temple and was honoured and worshipped with a Dalada perahera by King Kithsirimewan. It was so splendid that it left the King Kithsirimewan and the countrymen in awe. They made it an annual event performed in the Anuradhapura kingdom with the anticipation of timely rain and a good harvest. The background for the current Dalada perahera was set under those circumstances. No matter how the king was crowned, if he did not obtain the guardianship of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which has the miraculous power of giving timely rain and a good harvest, in the eyes of the countrymen he was not regarded as the true leader with sovereignty.

During the kingdoms of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Yapahuwa, Kurunegala, Gampola, Kotte, Seethawaka and Kandy the annual Dalada perahera was performed as a showcase of the guardianship of the Sacred Tooth Relic along with all rituals and poojas. Even though King Wimaladharmasooriya I was crowned, he was not considered as the true king among the countrymen since he did not have the guardianship of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Hence, attempts were made by him to bring the Sacred Tooth Relic to the Kingdom of Senkadagala (now Kandy). Later on, under the protection of the Venerable Dewanagala Rathnalankara Thera, the Sacred Tooth Relic was secretly brought from the Sabaragamuwa Delagamuwa Maha Vihara to Kandy via the Uva province and was first placed in the Gedige Viharaya in Asgiriya, Kandy.

Grand temple

According to history, a grand temple was built for the Sacred Tooth Relic in the premises of the Royal Palace. As a result, the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy was established.

The Sri Dalada perahera, which continued to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic with numerous rituals and performances was held in the month of Esala (July) until the country was entirely colonised by the British in 1815 A.D. Thereafter, it was permitted by the British colonisers, who made the country a kingless state, to perform the Sri Dalada perahera and the traditions relevant to the Sacred Tooth Relic continuously, with the custody of a Diyawadana Nilame (Chief Custodian).

The tradition of the Dalada perahera, was based on Buddhist respect and kindness, combined with the rituals of the Devalas, prioritising the ultimate humanity. The Kandy Esala perahera Relics Casket which is considered as a living Buddha which parades the streets is worshipped by divinity, humanity and elephants. This is considered to be the oldest cultural event in the world and continues with its colourful, glamorous splendour making it an out of this world experience. All Sri Lankans must see this magnificent event at least once in their lifetime.

Lalasha Rupasinghe 

Grade 8-C

Lyceum International School