Sri Dalada Maligawa
Temple of the Sacred Tooth is the holiest Buddhist site in Sri Lanka. The temple is located within the old Palace complex. When we visited, we needed to go through a rigorous security checkpoint due to the bombing by the Tamil Tigers on January 25, 1998. Once again we were also treated to a guide who took us through the complex, explaining the rooms, history, customs and best place to stand to get a picture of the tooth casket as the door was opened briefly to allow devotees to see the casket.
The belief since ancient times that the protector of the tooth also holds the right to govern the country has made for some colorful history involving kings, wars, and a exciting tale of how the last king of India, Guhasiva, employed his daughter, Hemamala, to secretly transport the tooth to Sri Lanka in her hair. She was accompanied by her husband, Danta, both dressed as pilgrims on a long adventurous voyage filled with miraculous events attributed to the tooth, bringing them safely to Sri Lankan capital Anuradhapura. The tooth eventually made it to its present location in the mid 16th century after being transported between kings and protected by monks. If you are interested in reading the story in more detail, visit this link on Wikipedia.
When we arrived, our driver introduced us to our guide at the far end of the sidewalk leading to the palace complex. We passed several statues, one of them being a large statue of Hemamala and Danta as we walked to the building. After being searched, and leaving our shoes and shopping bags, we entered the complex. Our guide took us through the main hall where drummers were playing under overhanging tusks, then upstairs into the sanctuary where the tooth is kept.
When we got there we wanted only to experience being there with no talking. This was not to be! We stood in line with dozens of Sri Lankans waiting to walk past the door when the monk opened it revealing the outermost gem encrusted gold casket containing the tooth. We waited about a half hour, all the while watching people make offerings of fragrant flowers, including tuberose and frangipani along a long table directly opposite the door and gated area.
Women with babies were let into the gated area, about 8 foot square, enclosed by elegantly carved timber railings. It’s important for mothers to bring their babies to the temple of the tooth before they are a year and a half old to be presented to the Buddha.
After this we toured the library housing a very old Buddhist manuscript, and finally a large main worship hall which was recently constructed. The walls were lined with numbered paintings telling the story of the movement of the tooth leading up to its current home.
All in all this was a wonderfully blessed and memorable visit.