The Fascinating Story Behind the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, Sri Lanka!

The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa- ශ්‍රී දළදා මාලිගාව) is the living legacy of the Sri Lankan Buddhists that holds immense historical and religious importance. So, this episode is dedicated to bringing out the actual significance and the true history of the Sacred Temple of Tooth Relic.

The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic owns a proud heritage of about 400 years. The temple houses what is acknowledged to be the left canine tooth of Gautama Buddha. The sacred tooth relic was brought to Sri Lanka by Prince Dantha and Princess Hemamala from the city of Kalinga in archaic India during the rule of King Keerthi Sri Meghavarna (301 -328) after the death of Gautama Buddha.

Let’s dive in to unearth the history and importance of this prestigious destination in Sri Lanka.

The History And Significance Of The The Temple Of Sacred Tooth Relic

The Temple of Sacred Tooth Relic stands out as an exceptional place of holiness and tranquility, reminiscing the archaic culture of Sri Lanka based on Buddhism. 

This is undoubtedly a temple of impressive historical significance that completes the proud lineage of the island. History demonstrates that this universally eulogized place is phenomenal regarding its persistence as the most placid and sacred spot where rich Buddhist heritage is protected. 

History of the Temple of the Tooth - CeylonPulse

In fact, this glorious place has become more significant with its protracted past, which is not bounded to Sri Lanka but is extended all over the world with its origins in Jambudweepaya, the birthplace of the Buddha.

Why Is It Called The Temple Of Sacred Tooth Relic?

The Temple Of Sacred Tooth Relic is one of the most revered Buddhist shrines in the world. This is because it provides home for the sacred canine tooth of the Lord Buddha, the mentor of worldwide Buddhists. The tooth is believed to be one of the remains that were obtained after the cremation of Lord Buddha’s death.

A Brief History Of The Death And Relic Acquisition Of The Lord Buddha

Forty-five years later, after the enlightenment, the lord Buddha concentrated on the welfare of all beings and preached to help people get over their spiritual grief. After his ministry to the world, he passed away at the age of 80 at Kusinara in India in the 6th century BC.

After the cremation of the remains of the Lord Buddha, the relics that survived as it were the frontal bone, the two collarbones, and four canine teeth, while the rest were in small fragments of relics. 

Of the four canine teeth of the Buddha, three of them are individually enshrined and placed in different places. According to folklore, it is believed that the right canine was taken by the king of the gods, Sacra, and placed at the Tawtisa Heaven.

Click on this link and refer to our detailed article if you need to be enlightened about the special event and festivals at the Temple of the Tooth Kandy.

Another was taken by a layman of Gandhara, now a part of modern Pakistan. Meanwhile, the other was taken by the Naga to be worshiped in a golden shrine room in the fair Naga world. 

At present, this is enshrined in the Somawathi Stupa at Polonnaruwa, Sri lanka. The fourth left canine was recovered from the flames after the cremation by Arahat Kema and was handed over to the King of Kalinga in eastern India. The tooth relic at Kalinga became an object of veneration for 800 years in the period of the Kalinga kings.

Why and How Was The Tooth Relic Brought To Sri Lanka?

The historical data reveals that a war broke out in North India, and the place where the Sacred Tooth was held was at risk of seizure and devastation. King Guhasiwa of Kalinga was in proud guardianship of the Sacred Tooth Relic, which he venerated and considered to defend his throne from the menace.

The danger came from a rival king from the same territory who started a war to own the Sacred Tooth Relic to be the sovereign of both kingdoms.

King Guhasiwa clinched that the Sacred Tooth Relic should never be owned by the rival, in which case he would never achieve power. Thus, he struggled to accomplish his purpose. But he was not confident of winning the war.

So, he hoped to remit the Sacred Tooth Relic to his confidant in Sri Lanka, King Mahasena. Consequently, he decided to send his daughter Princess Hemamala with the Sacred Relic secreted in her hair knot, escorted by her husband Prince Dantha, from Thambili Puththu in India to Sri Lanka.

After a challenging journey, Princess Hemamala and Prince Dantha came to Sri Lanka, and King Mahasena’s son, Kithsiri Mevan, the ruler of Lanka at the time (301 -328), acquired the relics with high esteem.

He placed it at the edifice called the Dhammachakka Geya, built by King Devanampiyatissa in Anuradhapura. This was the first place where the Sacred Tooth Relic was enshrined in Sri Lanka.

The Royal Botanical gardens of Peradeniya is another iconic site located in Kandy. Click on this link to find out why you should visit this place!

The Journey Of The Sacred Tooth Relic To The Kingdom Of Kandy

The sacred tooth relic was carried in procession from the tooth relic shrine to the Abhayagiri Viharaya for ritual worship. In fact, the sacred tooth relic was the palladium of the Ceylon kings, which was well-protected in all of the kingdoms due to foreign invaders arriving at Anuradhapura in 1780 AD, King Vijayabahu I moved the capital to Polonnaruwa. 

There, he constructed the edifice called the Watadageya to house the sacred tooth relic. Due to the Kaling Maaga invasion in Polonnaruwa in 1215 AD, the tooth relic was taken away by the monks to a safer place in Kotmale in the central hills.

Then, in 1232 AD, the sacred tooth relic was re-enshrined in the Kingdom of Dambadeniya with the patronage of King Vijayabahu III. Again, King Buvanekabahu I, who ruled between 1272-1284, shifted the capital and enshrined the sacred tooth relic in the Kingdom of Yapahuwa. 

But, when the Pandyans invaded the kingdom of Yapahuwa, they seized the sacred tooth relic and handed it over to the Pandyan king. However, King Parakramabahu, who became king in 1286, managed to have a peaceful discussion with the Pandyan King, and he agreed to hand over the relic back to Sri lanka. 

Accordingly, the kings took the sacred tooth relic with them since it was the symbol of their kingship. As the kingdoms changed from Kurunegala, Kotte, and Gampola, the sacred tooth relic finally ended up in the Kingdom of Kandy (the last kingdom of Sri Lanka) during the ruling period of King Wimaladarmasuriya I, who was also the first king of the Kingdom of Kandy.

The Establishment Of The Temple Of Sacred Tooth Relic In Kandy Until Now…

King Wimaladarmasuriya I of the Kingdom of Kandy built a three-storied shrine next to his palace and placed the sacred tooth relic there for veneration. Then, King Rajasinghe II, who ruled between 1635 and 1687, reconstructed the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic into a two-storied shrine when the Portuguese destroyed it.

King Wimaladramasuruya II, who headed the kingdom of Kandy between 1687 and 1707, built a new three-story relic house for the sacred tooth relic. 

This king is also attributed to the creation of an elegant golden casket to house the sacred tooth relic. King Sri Weera Parakarama Narendrasinghe, who ruled between 1707 and 1739, renovated the elaborate palace and decorated it with magnificent murals illustrating Jataka Stories. 

According to the historical manuscripts, it is believed that the same king built the present palace. And the South Indian Kings who ruled the country from Kandy refurbished and protected the shrine, which King Narendrasinghe constructed. The temple was perfectly renovated and embellished by King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe to its current appearance. 

The Octagonal Pavilion (Paththirippuwa) was built by King Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe, who reigned from 1798 to 1815. During this king’s reign, the British troops defeated the Kandyan Kingdom and, in 1815, became the first European power to rule the entire country.

However, when the British exercised their custodianship of the Tooth relic even while signing the Kandyan convention, they showed keenness and agreed to the religious tradition of the Buddhists. Especially the ones associated with the sacred tooth relic.

Concluding The Enlightening Significance And History Of The Temple Of Sacred Tooth Relic…

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the holiest and grandest place of veneration of Sri Lankan Buddhists. As explained throughout our post, it must be clear to you that the place holds tremendous significance as the canine tooth of Lord Buddha is enshrined in it.

The place has a proud legacy that runs back hundreds of years. The sacred tooth relic has been the ultimate symbol of the kingship of the ancient kings who ruled the country, which they safeguarded and preserved from their lives.

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