Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy –the final abode of the Sacred Tooth Relic

 Nilame bearing the Dalada
Pradeep Nilanga Dela, the Diyavadana Nilame bearing the Dalada

by Godwin Witane

The Sacred Tooth Relic, the invaluable gift of the king of Kalinga (Orissa in India to the then reigning monarch of Lanka, Kitsirimevan (362-409 A.D.) in the year 371 AD, has at last found its final abode in Kandy. After vicissitudes of various fortunes Buddha’s canine tooth was taken to several places in Lanka since it was brought here stealthily across the seas by prince Datta and princess Hemamala securely but reverently hidden in her locks.

The Sacred Tooth Relic will shine in Sri Lanka as long as the Sinhala nation thrives on this earth. Among the world’s relics, the Sacred Tooth of the Buddha has taken a prominent position. The left canine tooth of the Supreme Being was removed from the pyre at Kusirama in India.

In ancient days, there were religious rivalry to possess the Sacred Tooth Relic as it was the Royal Palladium of the kings. But in Kalinga ,the Brahamins raised protests against this "Idol worship" as they called it and waged war with king Guhasiva to capture it with the sole purpose of destroying it. In this war, the king was killed. Thereupon, prince Datta, a Brahamin, along with his wife princess Hemamala, arrived in Lanka across the seas carrying with them the Sacred Tooth Relic in 371 AD and handed it over to the king who ruled Anuradhapura.

The king enshrined it in a pure crystal bowl and placed it Abayagiri Vihara embellished with costly jewels for public worship. The Sacred Tooth was never enshrined in a dagoba unlike other relics but always remained movable revered object devoutly venerated by the Buddhists all over.

However, it had to be buried in the earth once at Kotmale to save it from the enemies. History records that with the Dravidian conquests, the country was unstable and the fate of the Sacred Tooth Relic rested on the Buddhist monks who guarded the Relic with warm affection. King Udaya IV (946-954 AD) had to flee the capital with the Tooth Relic for safety on the face of the Cholian invasion but they were unsuccessful in capturing the Tooth Relic. It was removed to Polonnaruwa.

But when Polonnaruwa was stormed by the Cholians, the Sacred Relic was removed to Ruhuna. It was brought back by Parakramabahu I (1153-1186 AD). It was safe in the hands of King Nissanka Malla (1186-II96 AD). When Cholians captured Polonnaruwa, Buddhist Monks removed the Relic to the hill country.

King Vijayabahu III ( 1232-1236 AD), who, ascended the throne, in Dambadeniya, brought it from Beligala in Kotmale to Dambadeniya. When king Parakramabahu I (1272-1293 AD) was reigning Yapahuwa, the Sacred Tooth Relic was seized by Mitta, a vicious general and taken to India by a Dravidian general Chakrawarti. However, king Parakramabahu IV ( 1303-1333 AD) who reigned at Kurunegala, managed to persuade the Dravidians and bring the Sacred Relic to Kurunegala.

During Lanka’s reign of nearly 150 monarchs, the Sacred Tooth Relic had to undergo many a travail taking refuge in numerous secret places to ensure its safety from invaders for it is said that whoever possessed the Tooth Relic had the divine power to govern the country.

The Sacred Relic was taken from Kurunegala to Gampola by Pandit Parakramabahu. From Gampola, the Sacred Relic was brought to Sri Jayawardenapura Kotte by Vijayabahu VII and guarded it in a special mandapaya for safety.

When the Portuguese captured Kotte, the Portuguese Bishop of Goa got down the Tooth Relic to be destroyed in order to facilitate the proseltytising of the people to Catholicism thus preventing the "Heathen" worship. But when the Buddhist monks got wind of this threat, they secretly duplicated a tooth out of ivory and replaced it in the Relic house and removed the Sacred Tooth Relic to safety. Thereby, the Sacred Relic was saved from the vandals.

When the Dutch captured Ceylon, they found that the Sacred Tooth Relic was a hindrance for the advancement of Christianity and in the process destroyed the Palace at Kundasale but failed to lay their hands on the Sacred Relic.

The apostate Rajasinghe I, when he embraced Hinduism the people removed the Tooth Relic to Delgamuwa. When Wimaladharmasuriya I (1592-1604 AD) ascended the throne, he brought the Tooth Relic to Kandy and placed it in a two storey edifice.

During the reign of king Senerath, 1611 the king’s place was burnt and the king fled to Hanguranketha with the Tooth Relic and hid it there for safety. King Wimaladharmasuriya II (1689-1707 AD) again brought it to Kandy and enshrined it, in a golden casket.

The present Dalada Maligawa is the work of king Narendrasinghe (1707 - 1739 AD), later refurbished by king Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747-178I AD). The Octagon and the Kandy Lake were the work of king Sri Wickrame Rajasinghe (1798-18I5).

It is a known fact that for about 15 centuries, the Sacred Tooth Relic had no fixed shelter unlike other relics enshrined in dagobas. However, the Tooth Relic has remained in Kandy for the last three centuries.

The Relic is covered in seven caskets and the Sacred Tooth Relic takes abode in the smallest of them. The Tooth Relic has now stood the test of time for over 25 centuries. When the British led by Major Davy invaded Kandy in 1803, the Dalada was taken to Kitulpe Viharaya at Hanguranketha. From there it was taken to Meda Maha Nuwara. Lastly it was taken to Mahiyangana Viharaya. The Sinhalese kings guarded the Tooth Relic from falling into the hands of the enemies.

Before the British invaded Kandy, the Tooth Relic was removed to Pusulpitiya Viharaya by Hulangamuwe Thera. When it was brought back to Kandy there was great rejoicing. King Sri Wickrame Rajsinghe himself paraded in a Royal Carriage in the Kandy Perahera.

After the fall of Kandy in 1815, Governor Brownrigg held a procession in great splendour. Thereafter, the Tooth Relic was guarded by British soldiers. In 1828, Governor Barnes held a perahera according to the ancient customs and rituals to hand over the Sacred Tooth Relic to the Kandyan Chiefs. In this perahera, the deposed Chief Adigar Ehelepola rode on horseback deputising the king. Once, D’oyly was appointed as the Commissioner of Kandy, he knew the importance of possessing the Tooth Relic in the interest of the British.

They had the authority to rule the country and were aware of the belief of the natives that possession of the Tooth Relic had the authority to rule the country. He achieved this object with the consent of the Priests of Asgiriya and Malwatta temples and the co-operation of the Kandyan Chiefs.

During the Uva Wellessa rebellion headed by the Chief Adigar Keppetipola, the Tooth Relic was fraudulently removed by Wariyapola Sumangala Thera to Kivulegedera in Uva, where the people flocked to worship it.

Once the leaders of the Uva rebellion were captured in 1818, Wariyapola Sumangala Thera hid the Danta Dhatu in a bundle of robes and was hiding, but the soldiers captured him and the Sacred Tooth Relic fell into the hands of the British once again and their rule was firmly established.