major pilgrimage place for all Sri Lankans !
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been to Kandy, even though it’s a bit far from the south coast where I live, it’s always with the same delight, wonder and happiness that I return.
A little touch of history
Kandy was the last royal capital of Sri Lanka (and is part of the Cultural Triangle that I already told you about) but the main reason why it is a regular place of pilgrimage for Sri Lankans is because it keeps in its Sri Dalada Maligawa temple (more simply called the Temple of the Tooth) the most beautiful treasure for every Sri Lankan: the tooth of Buddha. It is a relic stolen from India on the funeral pyre of Buddha in 483 BC and brought to Sri Lanka in the hair of a princess. Legend has it that this is how the island of Sri Lanka came into being: this little piece of land was taken from India because Buddha’s tooth was removed from his body.
This relic played a very important role in Sri Lanka during the centuries that followed because “to possess the tooth was to possess the power” and thus to be king of the country. It therefore aroused a lot of envy among foreign invaders who, knowing its “power” and what it represented for this Buddhist country, wanted to destroy it in order to rule the country and its people.
The city and its environment
Kandy is nestled at an altitude of 500 meters in a slightly mountainous vegetation that allows to enjoy a slightly cooler air. The train stations and the commercial part are installed below the lake built at the time by the last king of Kandy to constitute a water reserve for his population. The historical center and especially the temple are close to the lake on the upper side. The green spaces around the lake are beautiful and suitable for walks. It is also a meeting place for the population who do not hesitate to come there with their families to recharge their batteries. You will also come across many young couples whose union is not yet official because the parks and public gardens are for them “official” places where they can meet to stroll and discuss without their respective families being present.
Over time, the city has expanded to the heights, which you shouldn’t hesitate to walk around to enjoy an exceptional view of the city. My favorite time is at the end of the day to enjoy the sunset and see the heights gradually illuminated by the lights of the house. It is also on these heights that you can find the best places to stay away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Be sure to choose a hotel that offers you a view of this panorama, which you can also enjoy in the morning while enjoying your breakfast. The most comfortable way to get around is by car with a driver, but if you want to stay typical, use the tuk-tuk (remember to negotiate your price before you start, you can use them for one ride or book them for several hours).
Sri Dalada Maligawa – The Temple of the Tooth
Even though Sri Lanka is now a democracy, this relic is the strongest symbol of Buddhism on the island and regular pilgrimages to the Temple of the Tooth are common.
As a foreigner, when you visit the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, you can’t help but be amazed by its beauty, its grandeur, its exceptional state of conservation and maintenance. It is a place that can be visited both during the day and at night. In fact, as soon as it gets dark (at the latest 6pm in the evening – southern hemisphere obliges), the temple lights up with garlands and lights that underline its original architecture.
All the surroundings of the temple are sacred and you need to have an appropriate outfit to be able to walk in the alleys that surround it (knees and shoulders covered). In the surroundings, you will find both guides who are really cheap (many of them speak English but test their pronunciation beforehand to be sure to understand everything afterwards) and sarongs renters if you don’t have an appropriate outfit.
The temple and its prayer rooms are located on two levels, it is besides on the top that the tooth of Buddha is strongly guarded.
If you want to see his reliquary you will have to be present at the hours of prayer “Puja” (5:30 am, 9:30 am and 6:30 pm), the sounds of drums resound then to announce the exposure in its case to the faithful and pilgrims who come to commemorate Buddha. You will have only to queue among the locals and other tourists to pass in front of it and thus to meditate (a few seconds only).
Apart from these moments, the tooth of Buddha comes out of the temple once a year in August for the festival of Perahera (procession in Sinhalese). It is then installed on the back of the oldest elephant and is presented to the faithful on a route in the heart of the city (full article dedicated to this procession to discover here). You can also discover within the temple itself, next to the audience hall, the naturalized remains of the elephant Rajah who was for 50 years the elephant of the temple of the tooth during the processions.
The dancers of Kandy
The most famous and reputed are those of Kandy obviously because originally the dancers were there to entertain the king by proposing shows combining drums, dances, fire-eaters.
We say Kandy dancers not because the male dancer wins over the female dancer but because this art has been practiced only by men for centuries. To date, some choreographies have been created to allow women to officiate in this art but you will have understood that these representations are based on recent creations and are not authentic as the dances could be in the time of royalty.
In any case if you go to Kandy you will find a time to attend one of the shows which take place in general at the end of the day (5:00 pm) by privileging the Kandy Lake Club which even if the room will not offer you the best arrangement to make photographs (come 20 to 30 mn earlier if you want to be the best placed possible), it will allow you to attend a show of the most authentic ! The costumes are just beautiful and the dancers stage a wonderful choreography as much visual as physical.
Looking forward to seeing you there !