Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka
If candy is supposed to be bad for your teeth, clearly nobody told Buddha. One of his teeth has been surrounded by Kandy for hundreds of years!
The Sri Lankan city of Kandy is the most important religious site in the whole country. Centuries ago, it played a critical role in the spread of Buddhism from India across Asia.
Today, it is still a beacon for pilgrims who make their way to the famous Temple of the Tooth to find comfort in their deity.
It’s a hot afternoon when I join the crowds making their way into the temple. I take off my shoes outside and the heat of the stone ground radiates through my thin socks.
Quickly, I scurry towards the entrance and jostle my way into the line that’s filing across a small bridge towards the main building. On the other side of the bridge, two men at a little stall are selling offerings – flowers, mainly.
These aren’t for the tourists. Although there are a few of us foreigners here, the majority of the crowd are locals and they’re here to worship. Most are, by this stage, carrying some flowers or other kind of gift.
Inside, I’m not quite sure where to look. The building’s interior is decorated beautifully – a fluid mix of limestone, marble, wood, terracotta and even ivory.
On the beams and the ceilings are sculptures of dancers and acrobats and animals. But every time I try to look at the decorative motifs, I am distracted by the people. They are much more interesting.
The pilgrims to Kandy’s Temple of the Tooth today span generations.
Older women slowly climb the stairs to the main shrine, taking one step at a time, either assisted by family or rejecting help with a stoic flourish…
Middle-aged men sit cross-legged by the walls and watch the scene in front of them – how long have they sat there for?
Young couples carrying beautiful delicate flowers walk with purpose towards their blessing, although their apparent devotion to each other suggests they need no divine help yet…
And children are carried wide-eyed or cling to the hands of the parents as they stare around at the throng.
I wonder about the children. For many, this could well be their first visit to the temple.
They are in their finest clothes – certainly not what they would be used to wearing. They have probably been told many stories about this place and the importance of coming here and asking for a long and happy life.
Maybe it’s a bit scary to think that behaving the wrong way here might affect your future. Or maybe it’s exciting to finally see everything for yourself, after hearing your family talk so much about it.
What do they think of the story of the tooth? In fact, what does anyone think about it?
The story is that the actual tooth of the Buddha was brought to Sri Lanka in the early part of the 4th century. It came from a place called Kalinga in India and, after having been moved around several times up to this point, was finally settled in Kandy.
The funny thing about religious relics, though, is that there is no way of knowing for sure if they are real. Some of the Christian saints must have had 15 fingers if you believe all the people who claim to have one.
And that’s assuming that the people and deities these relics supposedly come from even existed in the first place!
So maybe this is the tooth of Buddha and maybe it’s not. The temple has kept it locked away in a shrine, far away from sight, for so long that you just need to have faith. And that’s what all these people around me are demonstrating.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Temple of the Tooth when you visit Kandy, you might be interested in one of these tours:
For a friendly hotel that's great value for money, try Cloud Inn.
A lovely property in the hills around the city is The Richmond House Kandy.
For something a bit special, Sky Pavilion offers some of the best views in town!