The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic is the most revered site in Sri Lanka. Locally known as the Sri Dalada Maligawa, this place of worship was constructed in the 16th century AD. Situated adjacent to the Royal Palace complex of the former Kingdom of Kandy, the shrine overlooks the vast expanse of the Kandy Lake.
Preserving the sacred tooth relic of the Lord Buddha in this haven of refuge, local tradition has, since time immemorial, declared that whoever houses and protects the divine relic automatically is given the power to rule the country. While somethings have changed, the symbolism remains powerful.
The artifact serves as a significant symbol of Sinhalese identity and pride and those in possession of the relic have a political, as well as a religious, dimension.
Every day thousands of white-clad pilgrims make their way to this hallowed space, bearing lotus blossoms and frangipani for their offerings and prayers, known as pujas. It is essential that you are dressed appropriately, clothes must cover your legs and shoulders and, before entering the holy temple your shoes must be removed.
A visit to the Temple of the Sacred Relic Temple is a must when you are in Kandy. While the tooth stays hidden within a gold casket, visitors and devotees always visit the temple during puja just to have a look at the well protected inner shrine where it is kept.
Annually, during the Esala Perahera procession, the relic casket gets paraded through the streets atop a male elephant. The 10-day festival is one of the largest Buddhist festivals in the world and the most important in Sri Lanka. The temple is best visited in the morning or the evening when the ceremonial offerings and prayers are given.
Visiting the Temple of the Tooth
Every day white robed pilgrims make the journey to the temple, bearing offerings of lotus blossoms and frangipani to honour the precious relic. The flowers are purchased from vendors beside the temple gates, and the whole complex is wonderfully scented with blossoms and incense. Visitors of other faiths as well as tourists are welcomed at the Temple of the Tooth, and it’s very easy to navigate your way around. Just follow the slow procession of devotees filing through the halls and past the relic.
You can hire a guide at the entrance, and be aware that if anyone starts chatting to you whilst you’re buying your ticket, it is likely that they will be guides. Only allow them to accompany you if you’re willing to pay for their tour afterwards! If you prefer to go it alone, take a guide book as information is scarce. However, inside one of the halls, there is a series of informative story boards (in English) telling the legend of the sacred tooth.
There are several museums to explore (entrances are included in the ticket price and many of the labels are in English), and the King’s palace is also inside the temple grounds, although this is not open to visitors.
Opening hours: 05.30 – 20.00 hours
Top Tip: You will need to remove your footwear before entering the temple – shoes are stored at the entrance and handed back on departure. It’s a good idea to wear socks to avoid burning your feet (the pathways outside become very hot in the sun).
Things to Do
Witness a sacred ceremony
Visit the Temple of Tooth during Wednesday and witness NanumuraMangallaya, a ceremony where the sacred tooth is washed with scented water. Because the sacred relic is often kept in a closed casket for safekeeping, witnessing this sacred ceremony would be an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Tooth Temple is not one of the most important tourist attractions in Sri Lanka for no reason. The temple itself is an artwork worthy of admiration and reverence, and the entire complex is composed of museums, other temples, and other key sites, such as AlutMaligawe shrine and the Audience Hall. All these make for wonderful sightseeing
Explore other tourist attractions
Kandy is home to many places of interest, not just the Temple of the Tooth. So make sure you maximise your holiday by visiting other tourist attractions in the area, whether it is near or far from Sri DaladaMaligawa.