Recently, Thierry and I had the opportunity to meet up in Sri Lanka. “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean” is about halfway between Europe and Australia, and I didn’t want to travel too far at the time. Because it had been a long while since I’d visited a new country, I jumped at this unique chance. Sri Lanka is rightfully described as a gem, with its eight UNESCO World Heritage sites. It is incredibly diverse, with a rich and lively culture. One of the most prominent sites in Sri Lanka is “Dalada Maligawa”, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. If you are up for a day of discovering new things and experiencing Buddhist life, here are 7 reasons to visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of 8 in Sri Lanka, alongside Sigiriya, Anuradhapura, Galle, Polonnaruwa, the Cave Temple in Dambulla, the Sinharaja Forest and the Central Highlands.
It is a place of great historic, cultural and spiritual significance, a place to visit but also experience. And the gorgeous Sri Lankan wildlife is never far away!
One of the Most Sacred Buddhist Sites in the World
The Temple of the Tooth is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world, and the most visited in Sri Lanka. Sitting within the royal palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, the temple holds the tooth relic of Buddha, which was smuggled from India in the IVth Century CE. The Tooth Relic has played an important role in local politics since ancient times because it is believed that whoever holds the relic holds the governance of the country.
Enshrined in 7 Golden Caskets
The Tooth Relic is enshrined in no less than 7 golden caskets. The shrine opens briefly at certain times of the day, so you may catch a glimpse of it.
Women visit the Relic during pregnancy or with young children.
A Live Experience
My experience of Buddhist sites has mostly been limited to deserted open-air museums in India. When we visited the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy Sri Lanka, we very much felt it was a live experience, with crowds of worshippers making flower offerings, happily moving from one area to another or reflecting quietly. This made the visit really enjoyable. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is not just a museum, but a place of pilgrimage for Sri Lankans. Hence, it makes for a very enjoyable and enriching experience.
Our presence as tourists was very well accepted, we could take photos freely, so long as we did it respectfully.
The Design Details
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is full of beautiful visual details, in frescoes, moonstones and wooden frames.
The Royal Hall is located near the temple. Its structure is completed without a single nail and offers some beautiful wood carvings.
The Kandy Esala Perahera
If you plan to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic around July or August, don’t miss the Perahera, a parade where the golden casket walks the street on elephant back. A very unique celebration, the festival hosts fire dances and various cultural events, with elephants dressed in unique garments.
Participate in Rituals
There are flower sellers at the entrance, and you can make offerings at the various altars throughout the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
Visiting the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a unique experience, which can satisfy many curiosities about architecture, religion, history, culture and spirituality. Whilst you are free to wander at your leisure, there are some simple rules to respect:
You should dress appropriately: cover your shoulders and don’t wear anything too revealing. If you are wearing shorts on the day, you can borrow a sarong onsite.
You shouldn’t wear shoes or headwear in the temple. There is a shoe room, where you can safely leave your belongings at the entrance.
Buddhists wear white when visiting a temple, so I recommend light colours, however, it’s not compulsory.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is a place of worship and not just a museum. While the presence of tourists is completely accepted and photos are fine you need to be respectful.
Don’t have your photo taken with your back to the temple, or any figuration of the Buddha, as it is a sign of disrespect to the divinity.
A Must-See in Sri Lanka
A visit to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic will leave you with unforgettable memories of Sri Lankan life, Buddhist worship and ancient history. The highlights of my visit were the colours, sounds and smiles I came across. Coming so close to the shrine is a true privilege and it’s been a highlight of my time in Sri Lanka. Of course, there are other things for Kandy sightseeing, such as the nearby Peradeniya Botanical Gardens, visiting a spice garden or a tea factory. Kandy is also a good place to look for local crafts, especially the art of batik.
These are my 7 reasons to visit the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
Have you made this unique and fascinating pilgrimage, what was your experience? Share your highlights!