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Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka

The Temple of the Sacred Tooth is just a "tourist" name for the place: among the local dwellers it is more famous as Sri Dalada Maligawa. The temple is a part of palace complex - headquarter of Sinhalese kings. The center of the complex is the octagonal building - reliquary, where the tooth is actually kept. The exterior of the temple isn’t decorated with sculptures or images. At the entrance there is a "moonstone" on the ground. Moonstone is a detail peculiar to Sinhalese architectural style. All the images on it have their interpretation: elephant is for birth, bull for decay, lion for diseases and the horse is for death; the swans on the stone symbolize the distinction between evil and good, and the lotus in the middle is for the highest level of Nirvana - Buddha's state.

When entering the temple the first, outside impression vanishes: the variety of sculptures and gorgeous engravings and jewelries amazes.

There are different halls for "individual" and "group" prayers in the temple. In the each room, in front of Buddha's statue there is a tray for donations. There is also a separate hall, where all along the walls engravings are imaged, telling about Buddha's life, the origin of sacred tooth and the history how it appeared here. It is forbidden to pose for pictures in this hall.

The sacred tooth itself is placed in a golden ark that consists of 7 consecutive vessels that are always guarded by two monks. It is not allowed to see it. The only thing one can do is to wait for some 45 minutes in the line, then approaching to a little window, leave donation, take a bow and leave with a strong believe that you have just expressed your respect towards Buddha's Sacred tooth...

As to the origin of the tooth: in 540 B.C. after the end of Buddha's terrestrial life, he was cremated and a couple of teeth were found after that. They were conveyed over the world and were kept in secret locations. According to the legend those who would possess the tooth would have boundless power. Naturally everyone wanted to have the tooth, that's why it was permanently being transported from one place to another. In 371 it was brought to Sri Lanka by Indian princess Hemamali, who hid the tooth in her hair. It was when Sri Dalada Maligawa was built in order to keep the relic.

In 1998 a truck loaded with explosives ran into the wall of the temple. The attack was organized by the terroristic organization "Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam"1. 7 people were killed and 25 were wounded during the attack. After the accident the temple is being permanently convoyed, all the visitors are carefully checked before entering the territory of the temple.

According to the tradition the tooth is taken out from the temple once a year on Esala Perahera national holiday, which lasts 14 days. However even them no one is "eligible" to see the tooth. In fact there are very few people who have seen it. Among Europeans only the name of Ernst Haeckel is known: during his visit to Sri Lanka in 1881 he saw the tooth and claimed that the 5.5cm x 2.5cm ivory made tooth couldn't be of real human. After that the tooth was not available for "strangers".

In this entire religious "context" one thing that strikes you is "not quite religious behavior" of the monks. They sit on the floor and pray, at the same time watching the donations tray and counting the daily gain. Frequently scenes can be seen when they take photos of each other with their smartphones... Well, here is a contemporary approach to the faith. But it doesn't actually matter, because there is a lot to see and admire in the ancient temple of Buddha's Tooth.

1A Tamil separatist organization, formed in 1976. With 8-10 thousand members fights for an independent state in Sri Lanka for the Tamils. It is famous for frequent terroristic attacks on peaceful population.

By Sona Gasparian,

Photos by Narek Bakhtamyan


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