Saturday, November 23, 2013

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

Temple of the Tooth
Sri Lanka may be part of the Indian subcontinent geographically, and the people certainly look Indian ethnically, but in terms of religion it is quite different: most people are (highly devout) Buddhists. Per Wikipedia, Sri Lanka has the longest continuous history of Buddhism of any nation (since the third century BC). Not surprisingly, Buddhist temples and pilgrimage sites are very important there.

One of the most important is the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, which houses Buddha's left canine tooth. Traditionally, it was believed that whoever holds the tooth relic has the divine power to rule the country, which has led to all kinds of tooth-getting shenanigans over the centuries. This sounds like some kind of fantasy series (I have been reading Game of Thrones lately), so visiting a place where it is historical reality was very exciting to me.
The temple is surrounded by a park: here's the approach to the main complex
It is surrounded by a moat
The Temple of the Tooth today is a UNESCO World Heritage site and full of pilgrims (the Sri Lankans believe everyone must visit the temple at least once in their lifetime). Monks pray, musicians perform traditional drumming ceremonies, children receive blessings and overall the atmosphere is fascinating.
Waiting for the ceremony to begin (it gets really crowded, to the point that movement is practically impossible)
Traditional music is performed twice a day in front of the Drumming Hall 
It has a festive atmosphere since most people are pilgrims/religious tourists, and thus on vacation
Once a year, the tooth's reliquary is removed from the temple and paraded through the streets on the top of a royal male elephant, who is escorted by other, less exalted elephants (the Sri Lankans believe elephants have castes, just as people do: I think there are ten). This festival attracts a million people annually, double the city's usual population. Maybe because of the elephants' role in the festival, images of elephants are everywhere in the temple.
Tusks of deceased holy elephants decorate the Drum Hall
The entrance to the temple
Elephants on parade mural
Elephant heads as roof supports
There's even a small museum dedicated to the most famous of the royal "tuskers", who carried the tooth for fifty years: he was declared a national treasure in 1986. Here he is with the President.
And here's his stuffed body. When he died a national day of mourning was declared.
The temple buildings are beautiful and full of elaborate detail. It's definitely a must-see destination.

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