Suitcase and World: Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic.

Poor guy, he got tired of me asking him to pose and smile for photos.

Today we're leaving Kandy and we've yet to visit the Temple of the Tooth (formally known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa Temple). It's not only the temple that hosts the Esala Perahera but more importantly, it's where the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Lord Buddha is (supposedly) housed.

According to legend, the tooth was taken from the Buddha as he lay on his funeral pyre. It was smuggled to Sri Lanka in 313 AD.  It immediately became an object of great reverence and was enshrined in a series of nested jeweled reliquaries.

When the capital was moved to Kandy, the tooth was taken to the new city and placed in temples built to honor it. The Sacred Temple of the Tooth was originally built under Kandyan kings between 1687 and 1707, but later severely damaged during the 18th-century colonial wars against the Portuguese and Dutch. After the wars, the original wooden structures were restored in stone.

Last night was late night for us and so this morning was a late rise.  One by one, we all got ready for the day and since we were moving on, we had to pack our bags.  As I finished getting ready, I could hear the sounds of Kandyan horns and drummers playing the same music that I had been hearing at the parades.  Somewhere, nearby, there was another procession.

Eventually, we were all ready to head on out.  In to the van went our luggage and us.  Chami had barely driven down the street when he had to come to a stop.  Ahead of us was the tail end of the procession.  It was the day perahera and we had missed it.  Oh well.

Unfortunately, we had to wait for the procession to pass along some distance before the traffic could move.  Once we joined up with the traffic on the main road, we moved at snail's pace.  Lucky we weren't in a rush to go anywhere.

Lucky also that we needed to eat breakfast.  Okay, I didn't need to eat breakfast but the guys did so instead of wasting time in traffic, we spent it stuffing our faces :-)   We headed inside a bakery and ordered a selection of savory pastries and cups of tea.  It was a relaxing breakfast.  By now, we were like a family of four traveling together so there was always a lot of talking and laughing.  Good fun!

Back into the van, it was still heavy traffic.  Turns out that today was a holiday.  In Sri Lanka, they celebrate the full moon with a festival called Poya which this year just happened to coincide with the timing of the Esala Perahera so it was an extra(!) festive time.  At this moment in time, that translated into extra (!) traffic :-(

But, nothing we can do so we patiently snake along.  I felt sorry for poor Chami though.  I know how frustrating it is to be behind the wheel and inch along.

Up and down the streets of Kandy we went.  As we neared the Temple of the Tooth, Chandana and Chami started scanning the streets for a parking space.  The downside of being in a van is having to find a space big enough to accommodate it.  Chandana spotted a space but as soon Chami turned towards it, we realized that there was a motorcycle parked in it.  If we were in the US, we would drive pass the space to look for something else.  But this is Sri Lanka and something like this is nothing to deter a car driver.  With the police woman (yes, female cop) helping out, Chandana moved the motorcycle so Chami could slide into the space.

While Chandana paid for our parking spot, we took our shoes off to leave them in the car.  By now, it had become a routine for us - Buddhist temple means bare feet.  I think I had also gotten used to walking on the hot pavement though gravel was still uncomfortable.  I just hoped that there would be pavement and grass.

On our way to the entrance, we passed by a few vendors selling the lily, hyacinth flowers, and jasmine.  I will miss seeing these lovely bouquets when I leave Sri Lanka.

We had pass through a turnstile and a security check before being allowed onto the grounds.  Turns out my capris were a wee bit too short as well so the female attendant tugged at them to pull them down below my knees.  Luckily, they have a draw string waist because she essentially pulled them off my waist as well so there were now hip huggers!

A wide path (paved!) led from the entrance to the temple.

At the end of the path, the Patthirippua, an octogon shaped building, greeted us into the temple complex.  The Patthirippua is where the King used to hold audience with the public.

We walked passed the entrance to the main temple.

We had to buy our own tickets as the counter only caters to Foreign Visitors.  No problem.  I sent bro to do the job :-)

Front and back covers of the ticket booklet.

Inside the covers - the DVD.

With tickets in hand, we followed Chandana to the entrance which was an elaborately decorated tunnel.   The ceiling mural was trimmed with a painting of Kandyan dancers and drummers and perahera elephants.

The tunnel opened unto a small entrance area where we had to show our tickets. From there, we passed through a second tunnel which was even more elaborately decorated.  It looked like someone had painted a beautiful oriental rug on the ceiling.

From here, we entered into a two storied atrium of sorts.  As I entered the atrium, I saw three Kandyan dancers praying in front of a gold colored door that was flanked by a pair of very large elephant tusks and ornately carved wooden columns.

I learned, after our visit, that this door leads to the shrine that once held the Tooth Relic.

Opposite to the shrine was a set of stairs.  There was already a crowd of people queuing to go up.  We joined the line.  I looked around me and I saw people carrying flowers in the hands.  I was guessing that we were heading up to the temple proper.

The stairs led to a large that was packed with people.   There was a long table that was piled with flowers and people were standing in front of it to prayer.

The devotees were facing a small room around which a line of people was passing and peering into.  I couldn't make out what the room was but from all the attention it was getting, there was no doubt housed something important.

The line were standing in was slowly making its way towards the small room.  All of a sudden, Chandana pulled us out of the line and motioned for us to follow him.  He headed over to the guard, said a few words in Sinhalese and then motioned for us to essentially cut to the head of the line.....we were inches away from the room.  I felt bad butting in but it seemed like no cared.

Standing at the opening to the room was a monk and he was taking offerings from the people in line.  Of course, we didn't have anything to give.  As I passed the room, I tried to peer inside to see what it was all about but I was too short.  Damn.  All that I could do was hope that my brother would get the shot and this is his best attempt.  Looks like a ornately carved gold dome.  I learned later on that this is the gold casket that supposedly holds the Tooth Relic.  I should have known.

As you can imagine, we didn't have a chance to linger in front of the shrine room - two seconds to glance at something gold and then move on.....!

The temple was crowded but I really got a kick out of the fact that there were people standing as well as seated in front of a flat panel TV that was running video of last night's procession.  I can understand the TV but you would think they would place it in a less *holy* place.

We spent just a few minutes inside the temple and then headed back out and down the stairs.  It was a pretty atrium - lots of carved wood surfaces and bright colors.   According to Chandana, the building used to be a private residence until the temple acquired it to house the Tooth Relic.

We followed Chandana, around the chamber,  towards the white building. 

The Buddhist flag hung from the ceiling....all around the perimeter of the shrine.

Up a short flight of steps we went and into a circular shaped room.  We were inside the Patthirippua, the building that's shaped like an octogon on the exterior.

In the center of the room was small gold stupa sitting atop a cushion that was made to look like pink lotus petals.  All around stupa were Buddhist religious artifacts.

Back out to the atrium and we made our way to an adjacent building with beautiful guard stones flanking the base of the stairs.

Inside was another shrine looked a bit like a church.  Apparently, this room was built in the style of shrines in Thailand.   I don't know why.

Small statues of Buddha and elephant tusks lined the walls.

 The ceiling was painted pure white and carved wooden columns were topped off with gold elephant heads.  It was a simple but elegant look.  I still wondered why the Sri Lankans didn't want to build their holiest of temples in their native architecture and design.

At one end of the temple was a small group of people being led in prayer by a Buddhist monk.  They were all appropriately dressed in white which is the color that Buddhist pilgrims wear.  I think this must have been a religious tour group of some sort.  I don't think I was suppose to take photos of them as a matter of respect but by the time this dawned on me, I had already snapped the shutter.  Oh well.

On the other end of the room was raised platform that was cordoned off to the public.  There neat piles of fabric.  My guess and I was right, was that those were the robes that the temple elephants wore in last night's parade.  They were being folded up and packed to be returned to storage until next year.

Of course, I wanted to know where the outfit for the Malagawa Tusker was and one of the men took us around to a side corridor and pointed it out to us.  Even though I could only see a small section of the cloth, what I could see was beautiful - the applique, the embroidery, the sequins..  It's no wonder the tusker looked so magnificent.

Back outside in the atrium area, we crossed paths with men carrying the cage that holds the gold casket that in turn holds the replica of the Tooth Relic.  It's this cage that you see the Maligawa tusker carrying on its back.

Outside we went, heading towards an adjoining building.  It was a small space inside.  Photos lined the walls.  At the far end, behind glass, was a giant elephant.  Turned out we were in a museum of sorts.  Actually, it was more like a shrine.  The elephant was Rajah who held the title of Maligawa Tusker for 50 years!!  When he died in 1988, the government declared a national day of mourning for their beloved tusker.  Rajah was taxidermied (sp?).  Yes, they stuffed him!

This museum was built in his honor and it's him at the far end.  The photos were all of him, taken at various times during his life and some with famous Sri Lankans.

Just outside Rajah's place....that's what I'm calling his museum, was a very friendly elephant.   It was most likely a participant in last night's parade but today, the only thing on its mind was feeding.  It was shaking its ears and wagging its take.  I'd like to think it was a happy elephant!

At this point, we were done with our visit of the Sacred Temple of the Tooth Relic (what a mouthful of words) and so we made our way out.

Back out on the pathway that led out of the temple complex, we noticed elephants grazing nearby.  Chandana told us that the buildings were of the 4 lesser, Hindu temples, that also participate in the Esala Perahera.  Those elephants belonged to the temples.  I just love a country where elephants are so beloved that it's okay to even have them standing outside a religious site.....and have trucks to bring in their food.  When I die, I want to reincarnate as one of these gentle giants :-)

And if you need to take your elephant anywhere, just walk it along the street.  No permit or leash required or elephant poop bag needed.  Elephant poops, everyone just walks around problem :-)

Back at the van, we put our shoes on.  We had one more stop to make before going on our roadtrip - Chandana and Chami wanted to do a bit of shopping.  So we parked the car in the shopping mall parking garage.  Lo and behold, who do we bump into but Nigel and Louise!!  It's a small world.

Of course, I insisted on taking a photo of everyone and contact information.  They were planning on  heading to Ella the day after tomorrow which is when we'll be there as well.  Louise would SMS Chandana when they would arrive into Ella and if it coincided with our arrival time, we would have dinner together. They're a super nice couple and I couldn't imagine being in a teeny, weeny place like Ella and not hooking up with them.

We soon said our goodbye's and bon voyages.  We headed out onto the main street and then turned down a small alley lined with shops.  While Chami and Chandana shopped for clothes for their families, my brother and I headed into the spice shop next door.  I ended up buying some sticks of vanilla at less than a quarter of the price that I would pay at home!

Shopping done, it was time to hit the road.  We walked back to the parking garage, got in the van and settled in for the ride.  We were just around the corner from the corridor at the Queen's Hotel, where we had sat for two nights.  We decided we had to take photos of it so we did as we whizzed by on our way out of town.  As you can expect, they were already in the process of removing the chairs and dismantling the platform.

Our route out of town took us back to the vantage point we had been at three nights ago for one last view of the temple before we left Kandy for good.

After two years of dreaming and months of planning, I finally made it to Kandy.  It was an absolutely amazing experience with some truly memorable sights.  I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to have such experiences and nothing makes me more happy than being able to share them with my brother.  I think we will remember these past few days for the rest of our lives.

Good bye Kandy!  You sure know how to put on a festival!