Temple Of The Tooth

Kandy, Sri Lanka

This temple, the most important Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka, was built ca. 1700 with later additions, replacing an earlier temple of ca. 1600. It houses a tooth relic of the Buddha - the same tooth that was formerly enshrined at Anuradhapura and then at Polonnaruwa, for this relic has always symbolized, to the Sinhalese, the legitimacy of their kingdom. Thus the Portuguese, wishing to delegitimize the native dynasty, confiscated and destroyed one version of the relic in the early 1500's. According to believers, however, the Portuguese only succeeded in destroying a replica; the true relic was hidden away and eventually sent to Kandy, where it served to legitimize the new Kandyan kingdom.

So it is, that at least some version of the relic remains enshrined in the temple today. Whatever the truth of its authenticity may be, its importance today reflects both the events of its history, and the devotion that it inspires in its believers. In 1998, the temple was the target of a bomb attack by the LTTE, that resulted in considerable damage and loss of life. In a perverse way, that outrage only served to reinforce the continuing role of the tooth relic as an important part of Sri Lanka's cultural heritage.