It is better to travel well than to arriveLord Gautam Buddha
The teachings of Lord Buddha often provide directions and guidelines which can help one lead a life of self improvement, happiness or enlightenment. His words are religiously followed by countless devotees, monks and followers even in the Age of Social Media, nearly 3 Millennia post the Age of Lord Buddha. He is revered even today, his teachings were far ahead of his times.
If we delve a bit into the annals of history, we would find that Lord Gautam Buddha was born as Prince Siddharth in about 563 BCE in Lumbini in Nepal. As an adult, he renounced the comforts of his Palace and went out as a monk in search for truth and enlightenment, which he attained post deep meditation beneath the Mahabodhi Tree [Sacred Fig or Peepal Tree; Scientific Name: Ficus religiosa] in Bodh Gaya in India. The Mahabodhi Tree still exists in Bodh Gaya. Post enlightenment, he conducted his first sermon to five disciples in the Deer Park in Sarnath, near Varanasi in India. Nearly two centuries later, Emperor Ashoka of India embraced Buddhism and helped spread Buddhism to Sri Lanka and many other countries by sending emissaries, including his son Mahendra and daughter Sanghamitra. It is also believed that Lord Buddha himself visited Sri Lanka centuries before Emperor Ashoka.
Fast forwarding from the circa 200 BCE to the year 2017 CE, I got an opportunity to get a glimpse of the rich culture of Sri Lanka during my visit as a Member of the Indian Youth Delegation. The experience on the whole was enlightening indeed, specially the part which I am going to describe now. I had the rare privilege to experience another of those moments when a chapter in life comes to a full circle. Lord Buddha’s teaching on traveling (which I try to follow to the book), the beautiful country of Sri Lanka, it’s crown jewel Kandy and India, all seem to be interconnected and the roots seem to not only penetrate deep, but also spread magnificently in all directions, even to this day.
The UNESCO World Heritage site of Shri Dalada Maligawa, or more popularly known as The Temple of the Tooth or Tooth Relic Temple is a magnanimous temple which is of immense religious and historical significance.
The claim to fame of this temple can be ascertained from its name. The temple houses a tooth of Lord Buddha. Buddhists and tourists in general from all over the world visit this temple to see and pay respect to this sacred relic belonging to Lord Buddha Himself.
I should give a brief historical background of the relics of Lord Buddha in general. When Lord Buddha attained nirvana and left for the heavenly abode in circa 480 BCE, his material possessions like utensils or some body parts like hair, nail or teeth were collected and distributed in many places in India, and some abroad as well. Most (may not be all) of the modern day Stupas house within themselves one of the relics belonging to Lord Buddha.
The feeling of divinity of this place is simply insurmountable. The entire temple, the conjoined palace, the history behind it, the pristine ambiance of the place can make one feel the divine presence over there, as if the voice of Lord Buddha Himself is carried by the winds over there.
The tooth relic was recovered by Khema, a disciple of Lord Buddha, from the latter’s funeral pyre. It was given to King Brahmadatte of Kalinga (modern day Odisha State, India) and remained there till 4th Century CE. It was brought to Sri Lanka during that time to protect the sacred relic from getting destroyed due to constant attacks and threats looming over Kalinga.
King Sirimeghavanna received the tooth relic and built a shrine around it in his capital city Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka. However as ruling dynasties and capitals changed over the course of time in Sri Lanka, the resting place of tooth relic also changed. The relic was taken by the Portuguese colonialists during their invasion of Sri Lanka in 17th Century CE, but was recovered later on by King Rajasinha II of the House of Kandy.
The tooth relic of Lord Buddha finally found its resting place in the Tooth Relic Temple of Kandy, built during early 18th Century CE by King Vira Parakrama Narendra Sinha of the House of Kandy, who was the last Sinhalese King of Sri Lanka.
The Tooth Relic Temple is located in Kandy, which is a major city located in Central Province of Sri Lanka.
Kandy is about 120 km from Colombo. Candy is easily accessible through roads and railways from many major cities of Sri Lanka.
A trip to the Tooth Relic Temple was enlightening indeed for me. It felt like experiencing magical surrealism very much practically again. The juxtaposition of being in close proximity to the divinity, the tranquil ambiance of the place and the soothing natural surroundings is altogether an out-worldly experience.
The tooth relic is a representation of the living Buddha. It is a part of elaborate rituals and ceremonies. It is stored in small golden casket, shaped as Stupa. It is also brought outside the sanctum sanctorum of the Temple for the common people to see and pay respect to it, though that’s quite rare.
Feels magical to be present in the place where History, Archaeology, Religion and Divinity intermingle with one another and take us to just another wondrous dimension.
One must pay a visit to the Tooth Relic Temple to discover this feeling himself / herself.
The sacred Tooth Relic is not the only marvel which is housed within the Temple.
The stupa shown above is housed within the Temple. It is said that this stupa houses a bowl used by Lord Buddha for having food. The entire place felt as if Lord Buddha was himself present around us, though invisible, yet his divine spectre and aura was unmistakable.
The Temple is one part of the World Heritage Complex – The Royal Palace of the Kandian Kings and Museums being the other parts.
The Paththirippuwa or The Octagon was built as The Royal Pavillion. From here, the King could exhibit the sacred Tooth Relic to the common people. The 8 points of The Octagon symbolized rays radiating in all the directions in the world, with the King being at the centre. The King also used the pavillion to address his subjects or view the celebrations during festivals.
Very few would know though that this World Heritage complex houses relics dating from the Age of Lord Buddha to the Age of Colonialism and finally, relates to the Freedom of Sri Lanka from Colonial powers.
The age of the relics may be widely disparaged, but if one looks closely, this Great Temple is a rare place where one more facet of life completes a full circle, isn’t it?
Within the walls of this Complex lies the Magul Maduwa or the Audience Hall. The Kings held their Courts within this Hall. But do not underestimate its Historical significance.
The Magul Maduwa is the Hall where the British signed the Kandyan Convention with the Kandy Kings of Sri Lanka in 1815 CE, which made Sri Lanka a British Colony and abolished monarchy from Sri Lanka. About 133 years later, Sri Lanka overthrew the Colonial powers and achieved Independence in 1948 CE. The Independence Hall Memorial constructed in its Capital city Colombo to commemorate the Freedom of Sri Lanka is designed as a replica of the Magul Maduwa. The National Flag of Independent Sri Lanka was hoisted on The Octagon in 1948 CE. Isn’t it amazing to know that one place oversaw almost the entire history of this country through one way or the other – right from it’s direct association with Lord Buddha to it’s connection with the Freedom of Sri Lanka? The more I think of it, the more amazing it feels to have paid a visit to this great place and privileged to spend time in its magnificence.
The architecture of this hall is as astounding as the rich history associated with it.
The entire hall is supported by wooden pillars and the pillars themselves contain intricate carvings of deities and designs.
But what astounds me is the fact that the wooden pillars do not have any joints which are fastened by fasteners like glue, cement or nails. These joints have been precisely carved out of wood and fixed together with mathematical accurately. The precision and accuracy of the architects of ancient Sri Lanka tells volumes about their dexterity and skills which make them well ahead of their times.
This particular type of wooden joints without fasteners was found elsewhere in Medieval Europe and Japan as well. In Japan, such joints are called Kanawa Tsugi.
Not very far away from Sri Lanka are present the Millennium old Grand Living Chola Temples in India, where similar Kanawa Tsugi joints can be seen supporting the entire Temple building. Those joints however are carved on solid granite.
Until Next Time
The Tooth Relic Temple or Shri Dalada Maligawa is perhaps the Crown Jewel of Sri Lankan culture and history. It not only serves as a religious place, but also holds treasures of immense historical and archaeological significance, across eons of history. The architectural marvels are truly wondrous indeed.
In my opinion, it’s a rare privilege and an enlightening experience being in this Temple and remembering the message of Lord Buddha and following his teachings on living life in a balanced way, in harmony with other people, communities and nature. His teachings are valid even to this day.
The veracity of the quote mentioned in the beginning of this article can be realized word by word upon visiting this sacred place. Traveling better is way greater and immensely more fulfilling than merely visiting multiple places. Perhaps, that’s the Need of the Uncliche. Perhaps that’s the reason of the related Quest.
The Indian Youth Delegation is perhaps once in a lifetime opportunity, and I am thankful for the same for getting an opportunity to see the rich historical and cultural heritage of Sri Lanka and getting acquainted with the ties that bind India and Sri Lanka together – the ties that transcend from the Age of Lord Buddha to the Age of Social Media.
© Abirbhav Mukherjee. All the pictures / videos posted in this article are my own unless otherwise mentioned.