Kandy is famous for many things including the lake, the dancing and the botanical gardens. The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is one of its biggest attractions that draws a lot of pilgrims to the temple everyday (it seemed). The tooth that is apparently in the temple allegedly was the tooth of Buddha and dates back a couple of thousand of years. The history of the tooth and the temple is a long and storied one. You can see a lot more information of the temple on Wikipedia
Video of our Visit
The video below shows briefly what we saw and did in the temple. The only thing missing are scenes from the museum attached to the temple. Cameras were not allowed to be used in the Museum.
Getting to the temple is easy: its right next to Kandy Lake. To get there we just took a stroll down the hill from our hotel. Walked around the beautiful lake and arrived at the ticket office.
The temple building itself is not that impressive. After entering the gate there is a long pathway that leads to the temple building. Even though the temple building wasn't impressive, the grounds were next to the Kandy Lake and the grounds themselves were beautiful. On the Sunday we went to the temple it was hot and sunny and there were a lot of people in the temple. You can see the crowds and queues in the video above. The path leading from the ticket office to the temple itself wasn't that crowded but once we got to the place where we had to drop off our shoes, the crowds started to get ever bigger.
To get into the temple you walk down a long beautiful path to the place where you drop off your shoes. There is a special place for foreign tourists to put their shoes. This is to make sure that the shoes are not stolen. Of course it doesn't come free and you have to pay a bit more money for it. After dropping off your shoes you cross a a bridge that goes over a moat and walk into the temple. Once we tried to get over the moat the crowds and queues started.
Inside the Temple
Once we got over the moat and into the temple we noticed a lot of engravings on the wall that represented typical Buddhist themes as can be expected.
Of course there were many devotees too. All the devotees were carrying flowers of some sort that they would give to the monk that was inside the chamber where the tooth is meant to be. We were not sure of the purpose of the flowers but they were all very fragrant. It should also be noted that many of these devotees were incredibly happy to be there and very friendly. The guy in the picture below was posing for his own picture and then posed for Queenie too.
The video above shows best what it was like inside the temple: overcrowded and busy. Because there were so many people it was hard to really appreciate any of the artifacts and devotional items. We were just hustled into the crowd and moved along. It is difficult to see how anybody could find any sense of peace in that madhouse. That said, it should be noted that despite the tremendous number of people inside the temple, it was very quiet indeed. There were some devotional rooms which were for different devotional purposes we assumed but most of it looked fairly normal Buddhist fare.
If you were hoping to see the tooth, no chance. You won't even see the box in which it is stored. The tooth is in a chamber administered by a couple of monks who collect flowers from the devotees and visitors who are all hustled past the chamber within about two seconds (see the video). The entire experience, even though expected, was a let down. People visit the temple for many other reasons too including the evening and morning prayers, but the tooth is definitely not the reason to visit.
There is also a museum attached to the temple. No pictures or videos are permitted inside the museum. We visited out of interest and although we thought the museum had some interesting artifacts, we have seen better. The most interesting display was the one highlighting the terrorist attack on the temple a few years ago and the reconstruction efforts to rebuild the temple. We didn't spent a long time in the museum and decided to go back out onto the temple grounds and enjoy the beautiful sunny day.
Outside the Temple
Outside the temple we sat outside in an old wooden structure where we mingled with some of the local devotees. We were happy to be sitting as we had been walking around for a long time. The locals were, as everywhere in Sri Lanka, friendly and always smiling at us. The place we were sitting in was an old wooden structure with no facades. The framework of the structure was really beautiful. We sat there for a long time drinking water and watching the crowd go by. It is a good place to do that and there seemed to be enough space for everyone.
We also saw the typical incense burning altar in the grounds. The one thing that was different was the oil lamp glass house that was on the grounds (you can see it at the end of the video). The devotees put their oil lamps on a rack in the glass house. I went inside to take pictures and the video and it was super hot inside. Not comfortable at all. I thought it was worse than any sauna I had been in. Despite this many of the devotees spent a long time inside there attending to their burning lamps and pouring oil onto the flames.
Our Overall Impression
We have seen Buddhism practiced in multiple countries and temples including (obviously Taiwan), among the Tibetan people in China, in Thailand and Japan. It is amazing to see how different the devotional practices are very different and it is interesting to speculate that beneath these variations are cultural imperatives that motivate modes of worship. So visiting the temple, from this perspective, was interesting. However, I would also say that it is one of the more sacred temples in the country and yet it oversells the fact that it has the Buddha's tooth and some people believe the tooth is kept in safe keeping elsewhere. The temple itself is interesting enough in itself but we have seen better and more interesting temples. If you are a devotee I can understand why you would want to visit this temple but as outsiders looking in, there are better and more interesting temples in other parts of the world.