Sri Lanka: Temple of the Tooth on a Poya Day

By Cubie - November 12, 2016

We did not intentionally arrange for this, i.e. to visit the Temple of the Tooth on a Poya Day. In fact, it didn't even occur to us that Poya Day is a public holiday in Sri Lanka and as it is a day to commemorate key events in Buddhism, locals will go to the temple to pray. In Kandy, it would mean going to the Temple of the Tooth Relic. We only found out when we saw mass of worshipers trying to enter the temple grounds. We even asked the man at the ticket counter if we could hold on to the ticket and come back later when the crowd thinned out. He told us it would be pretty much the same any time of the day. -_-  So we soldiered on. One of the locals told us we need to be more aggressive or else we will not be able to get in to the temple.

Ok, back to Poya Day. Poya Day is essentially a full moon day and every full moon day (usually once a month) is a public holiday in Sri Lanka. The one we encountered was Binara Full Moon Poya which commemorates the establishment of the Buddhist Bikkhuni Order. On a Poya Day, the supermarket will not sell alcohol and meat produce.

This temple is the temple in Kandy, the most important religious temple in Sri Lanka and Esala Perahera, its most exuberant festival. So what's the story with this tooth?

Legend has it that when the Buddha was cremated in 643 BC in Kushinagar in North India, various parts of this remains were rescued from the fire. This includes one of his teeth. In the 4th century AD, the Tooth was smuggled into Sri Lanka, hidden in the hair of an Orissan princess. The Tooth travelled from Anuradhapura, then to Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya and Yapahuwa. Years later, in the early 16th century, the Portuguese captured what they claimed was the Tooth and brought it back to Goa where it was pounded to dust, then burnt and cast into the sea. It was then claimed that either this destroyed Tooth was a replica or the ashes of the destroyed Tooth magically returned to it's original form and flew back to Sri Lanka. There were also discussions of the appearance of the Tooth which was rumoured to be 3 inches long, hence very unlikely to be of any human tooth. Regardless of what it is, the Tooth is now said to be in this Temple of the Tooth (Dalada Maligawa) and became the focus of the festival Esala Perahera.

We braved the crowd, and the truly positive side to this was, we actually got a glimpse of the Tooth Relic chamber which is said to be usually closed. To be very clear, the Tooth is not visible but the gold casket that contains the relic is open visible from the entrance. More of that later.
Entrance fee: LKR 1,500 / ~AUD 14 / ~USD 11. Shoes deposit by donation and we also bought a small basket of flower, sold along the way to inside of the temple. Yes, shoes off pretty much starting from ticketing office.

We entered the temple grounds with the human flow.

The picture below would be the main shrine as this was where it leads to the Tooth Relic Chamber.

As you can see the line on the left was barred off with a rope. We just went with the line, and happened to be on the left side. The left side of the line actually get to walk pass the entrance of the Tooth Relic Chamber itself, whereas the more spacious right side of the room leads to what was shown below.

A long table was set up outside the Tooth Relic Chamber for worshipers to lay down the flowers they brought. As we approached the entrance of the chamber, I was told that no photos allowed to be taken on the chamber.

After that we left the main shrine and wander around the temple.

Ceiling detail

The ticket paid for the temple also includes entrance to the Museum of World Buddhism, which I find just so so. There will be another revision of entrance fee effective 1st of Jan 2017.

Side note: Why didn't I bring back that bag of broccoli... 

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