Day 5 (3 of 3).
It was about 2.5 hour drive from Dambulla to Kandy. After settling in at our guesthouse, we hopped on a tuk tuk for Sri Dalada Maligawa, or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The temple is the most important attraction in Kandy and probably the most sacred Buddhist site in the country. We wanted to visit during the evening puja, the prayer session when the altar door of the gold casket that carries the Buddha’s sacred tooth would be opened for blessing. The tuk tuk dropped us right at the entrance of the temple compound, at a busy section of Kandy Road where it bends upon reaching the waterfront of Kandy Lake. After security check and a pleasant stroll through the forecourt dotted with historical memorials, we stored our shoes at the shoe booth for foreigners. At the temple entrance, we purchased some lotus flowers as offering.
Apart from its religious importance as a relic of the Buddha, the tooth relic has long been considered as the symbol of political power since the ancient times. After a war was fought in India over the possession of the tooth relic 800 years after the Buddha’s death, the tooth relic was eventually brought to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali. It was first housed in the Abhayagiri Vihara in Anuradhapura, then to Polonnaruwa and other cities in the nation as the capital city shifted from place to place. In late 16th century, the tooth relic arrived in Kandy. In the 17th century, it was periodically fallen in the hands of the Portuguese invaders. With the aid from the Dutch, King Rajasimha II eventually drove the Portuguese away and recovered the tooth relic. King Vira Narendra Sinha (reigned 1707 – 1739) was responsible for building the current temple that houses the sacred tooth.
We approached the temple after walking through the forecourt. Before entering, we left our shoes at the shoe storing facility.
Paththirippuwa, the octagonal pavilion built in 1802 by Sri Vickrama Rajasingha, was intended for the king to showcase the tooth relic and address the public. Since the British era, Paththirippuwa has been used as a library of the temple.
We entered the temple complex through an arch passageway full of wall paintings.
Time was still early for the puja, so we decided to visit the Royal Palace complex next to the temple first. We ventured out into Maha Maluwa, the Great Terrace dotted with statues and pavilions, as well as Magul Maduwa, the Royal Audience Hall. Looking back to the temple from Maha Maluwa, we could see the golden canopy of the main shrine.
Magul Maduwa or the Royal Audience Hall was where the king met his ministers and facilitated public audience. Built in 1783 by King Sri Vikrama Rajasinha, Magul Maduwa is supported by two rows of elegantly carved wooden pillars.
Maybe the time was late, most buildings in the Royal Palace area were closed. Before heading back to the temple, we stopped by a prayer pavilion.
Behind the main shrine we arrived at a prayer hall with a golden statue of the Buddha. The room also houses a series of paintings depicting the legend of the Sacred Tooth.
In front of the Palle Malaya or the lower level of the main shrine lies the Hewisi Mandapaya or the drummer’s platform. Beats from the Hewisi drummers marked the moment of puja, the evening prayer.
Hewisi drummers dressed in traditional costumes perform their rituals twice daily.
Visitors can walk around the richly decorated Palle Malaya (lower floor of the main shrine).
Above the main shrine is the golden canopy built in 1987, while the upper floor of the main shrine, known as Weda Hitana Maligawa, is the venue where the main worship takes place in front of the shrine of the Sacred Tooth.
The upper floor of the main shrine is known as Weda Hitana Maligawa, a beautiful timber pavilion where tourist and local worshipers wait for the opening of Handun Kunama, the main shrine that houses the Sacred Tooth.
On the upper floor, we put down our lotus flower offering on the long table and sat down at a corner to wait for the actual ceremony.
During puja, visitors are allowed to get close to Handun Kunama where the Sacred Tooth is housed.
The Handun Kunama where the Sacred Tooth is housed is covered with golden decorations.
The metal work of Handun Kunama is exquisite.
During the actual ceremony, the window of Handun Kunama was opened, allowing us who queued for quite some time to get a quick peek at the golden casket of the Sacred Tooth. After a quick peek, we left the Weda Hitana Maligawa altogether as it was getting really crowded and a little chaotic.
On the lower level, tourists and worshipers lined up for entering different shrines and display areas.
We left the temple through the same passageway we came in.
It was completely dark when we returned to the forecourt of the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
Day 3 (2 of 4).
In ancient times, two Buddhist monasteries dominated the religious scenes in Anuradhapura, the Mahavihara and Abhayagiri. Both monasteries were home to thousands of monks and represents the two competing sects of Theravāda Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Their sectarian conflicts led to destruction of the Mahavihara, the main monastery of Theravada Buddhism built by the King Devanampiya Tissa. Upon destroying the Mahavihara, King Mahasena (reigned 273-301AD) constructed the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba to house the relic of the Buddha’s belt. Some also believed that the dagoba was built upon the place where Mahinda, the eldest son of Emperor Ashoka who first introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, lectured Buddhism. Reaching a height of 400 feet, the original Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the third tallest structure in the ancient world, behind the two Egyptian pyramids in Giza. After Anuradhapura was abandoned in the 11th century, the stupa fell into ruins and subsequently renovated to its current height at 233 feet in the 12th century. The stupa was gradually covered by shrubs until 1909, when conservation and clearing works began.
Towering above the horizon east of Ruwanwelisaya, the Jetavanaramaya Dagoba was the second great stupa that we visited in Anuradhapura. On Google Map, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared to be less than 1km east of Ruwanwelisaya. We were too lazy to walk under the scorching sun, so we hopped on a tuk tuk for Jetavanaramaya. Upon arriving at the famous stupa, we were surprised by the lack of visitors. Unlike Ruwanwelisaya where the white stupa was surrounded by worshipers, Jetavanaramaya Dagoba appeared quite empty with only a handful of locals and foreign tourists.
Once again we had to take off our shoes before entering the stupa platform.
It was hard to imagine the imposing prominence of the original 400 feet tall stupa.
A handful of local worshipers put down their offerings on the stone pedestals in front of the stupa.
Beautiful statues of Buddha made of pink stone stood out prominently against the stupa wall.
Dressed mainly in white, local worshipers circled the stupa in clockwise direction.
Another Buddha statue is made with translucent white stone.
Pieces of fine statues and relief carvings were placed in front of the brick stupa walls.
At one side of the stupa stands a small worship hall.
The Jetavanaramaya was constructed with special bricks made with 60% fine sand and 35% clay.
In early 20th century, Jetavanaramaya was covered with dense shrubs.
We left Jetavanaramaya after walking a full circle around the monument.
No tuk tuk could be found at the entrance of Jetavanaramaya. We decided to walk back to Ruwanwelisaya where we might be able to flag down a tuk tuk.
On our way, we walk by Silachetiya (Kujjatissa) Stupa, another 2000-year-old historical structure built in the era of King Saddhatissa (137 – 119 BC).
Near Ruwanwelisaya, we bumped into a group of tufted gray langur hanging around in the archaeological park.
From Ruwanwelisaya, we decided to walk back to The Sanctuary at Tissawewa via Basawakkulama Tank, where locals enjoyed picnic lunch by the water .
Day 3 (1 of 4).
At 400BC, the great thinker and religious teacher Gautama Buddha passed away. His body was cremated and the ash was divided into eight portions given to eight different kingdoms as sacred relics. During the reign of Ashoka the Great (268-232BC), relics of the Buddha was dug up and further subdivided into 84,000 portions. Stupas were erected across the Indian subcontinent and Central Asia to house the relics. As time went by, only a small number of relics remain in the original two-thousand-year-old stupas, while most have been transferred to different temples around the world along with the spreading of Buddhism. Today, Buddhist relics can be found in many Asian countries, and even as far as in Russia and the United States. As one of the earliest countries where Buddhism was introduced, Sri Lanka has some of the oldest stupas in the world. Anuradhapura, the ancient capital of Sri Lanka where Buddhism first arrived at Ashoka’s time, was home to the oldest and grandest stupas, also called dagobas, in the nation. While Buddhism in India has long declined, the religion continues to flourish in Sri Lanka until the present. Today, a number of ancient stupas in Anurādhapura remain as popular pilgrimage sites for worshipers, just as they were 2000 years ago.
Built by King Dutugamunu in 137BC, Ruvanvelisaya is the stupa believed to house the largest amount of the Buddha’s relics anywhere in the world. With a diameter of 300 feet and a height of about 350 feet, it was once one of the largest monuments in the ancient world. As the nation’s political and cultural centre shifted away from Anurādhapura, the stupa fell into ruins during the Medieval time. Restoration work of the great stupa began in early 20th century. Since then, the stupa has once again become a religious and historical icon for the ancient capital.
A short walk from our hotel brought us to the archaeological museum, a well established museum housed in the former district secretariat building. We stayed briefly at the museum to learn a bit more about the history of the city and its famous stupas. A museum staff was kind enough to show us around at a number of exhibition rooms. Then we walked over to the ticket office adjacent to the museum to purchase our one-day cultural heritage tickets.
After obtaining the cultural heritage tickets, we continued to head north to Ruvanvelisaya Stupa.
Ruvanvelisaya Stupa was the most crowded stupa we visited in Anuradhapura.
Before reaching the stupa, we arrived at glass building designated for candle and incense offerings.
It was interesting to see so many worshipers dresses in white and dogs resting on the floor inside the candle offering building.
Ruvanvelisaya’s famous elephant wall was originally built by King Dutugamunu’s brother Saddhatissa two thousand years ago. It was said that the original 344 elephants were coated with gold dust.
The actual stupa is washed in white paint, and wrapped at the base with a multi coloured band resembling the Buddhist flag of Sri Lanka.
Around the stupa stand offering tables and stone counters. Beautiful lotus flowers once again are the most popular offerings.
Some worshipers prefer to leave their offerings at the base of the stupa.
At each cardinal directions, a splendid shrine with Buddha’s figure known as vahalkada attract worshipers to leave offerings and chant prayers.
Once again lotus flowers are the most popular offerings.
Other than the white paint on the stupa and white clothing of worshipers, almost everything else is vivid in colours.
Other than lotus flowers, rice and sweet good are also used as offerings.
Somehow each worshipers would know where to place their flowers in order to create the fantastic flower patterns.
It was hard to imagine how abundant lotus flowers are in the nation to allow so many worshipers to leave their offerings.
At one end, we reached a small and crowded shrine.
Inside the shrine there is a mini stupa protected by transparent partitions.
Ruvanvelisaya was undergoing an extensive restoration.
Before leaving, we passed by an area full of incense smoke and devoted worshipers.
We left Ruvanvelisaya from the same path we came, where worshipers dressed in white continued to enter and pay their respect to the magnificent stupa.