When we were planning our Sri Lanka itinerary, I was advised to keep minimal time at Kandy. It is, after all, a simple hill town, very similar to the many beautiful ones dotting Kerala, India. Keeping that in mind, we planned a day trip to Kandy from Colombo to visit the unmissable Temple of the Tooth, Sri Dalada Maligawa. I hadn’t expected much from the trip at all. We have been to a thousand temples in India, Bali, and Malaysia. I looked forward to the architecture and the serenity, yes, but not much more. It was serendipitous that I actually found faith in my day-trip to the last Kingdom of Kandy.
The Kandy-Colombo Travel
The most scenic way to travel from Colombo to Kandy is by train. But we stumbled on a number of road-blocks when planning this:
1. The famous private trains run by ExpoRail and Rajadhani have shut operations in Sri Lanka
2. The public railways need prior booking for 1st class. The other classes are too crowded to travel in for unseasoned tourists with toddlers in tow.
3. Most importantly, the railways were undergoing a strike the week we landed in Sri Lanka. So any effort to overcome points 1 and 2 were moot.
Therefore, we hired a private cab to take us on our first road trip in Sri Lanka. Most cars in Sri Lanka are hybrid and energy efficient. We got a Prius for LKR12000 (INR 5200 approx) door to door chauffered by an amazing person called Neelantha. I believe my Kandy trip was elevated to a very different plane thanks to this person’s deep knowledge of Buddha and Buddhism.
The Kandy-Colombo road, one of the oldest in Sri Lanka, is unfortunately not an expressway and ran through a ton of towns and traffic. This meant that the mere 120kms took us more than 3.5 hours to cover. This road is called the A1 Grand Trunk Road of Sri Lanka and was the first modern highway constructed in 1820 under the orders of the British Governor of Ceylon, Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton. The machinery used in the construction is preserved and displayed by the side of the road to the day. They are beautiful and astonishingly, functional still. The construction was carried out by Captain William Francis Dawson, in whose memory the Dawson Tower stands by the road near the Kadugannawa Pass. We stopped by the pass for some beautiful views and photographs.
About the Sacred Tooth
In the long drive from Colombo to Kandy, Neelantha started talking about the Great Buddha and his influence on this paradise island. He spoke of Buddhist spirituality, of the Four Noble Truths, and of the importance of making peace with sorrow in Buddhism.
When you look within, there is no I. When there is no I, how can there be me, mine? Then what are we grieving? Allow your Sorrow to sit with you. Allow yourself to ache. Know that your Sorrow is as much part of your divine energy as your Happiness”, said our wise chauffer.
He also spoke about the intriguing story of the Sacred Tooth. After the parinirvana of Gautama Buddha, his tooth was preserved in Kalinga and smuggled to Sri Lanka by Princess Hemamali and her husband, Prince Dantha on the instructions of her father King Guhasiva. Guarding the relic became the responsibility of the monarch, that eventually came to imply that the custodianship of the relic symbolized the right to rule. The relic changed many dynasties before landing in the Last Sri Lankan Kingdom of Kandy.
The relic is stored in a cascade of eight pure gold boxes and the common man is not allowed to see the relic itself normally. They worship the golden boxes in the main temple house. However, on special circumstances, the public is shown the relic to bring good luck to the believers. It is said that it was shown once after a drought of 16 years. The showing brought rains and a happy harvest to Sri Lanka that year.
The Glory of Buddha
As I roamed that afternoon around the brick walls of the Temple, as I crossed the moat and marveled at the Moonstone carvings, I looked around at the faith that surrounded me. The city was decked up for the Perahara, an annual procession, and the faith felt alive in the atmosphere. The gleaming white octagonal Paththirippuwa stood tall yet relaxed, calming me in a way I hadn’t felt in a long time. I marveled at the glory of the young Indian Prince, who had transcended the boundaries of time and space to propagate his wisdom. How influential would a leader need to be for him to inspire spiritual emancipation 2500 years after His death?
It’s been a few good years that my skepticism has gotten the better of my faith. Looking at the peaceful submission of the Buddhists around me, I felt a forgotten pull at the bottom of my heart, that of pure faith. I wondered whether I had closed my mind off too soon to the wonders of faith. The trip to this beautiful Kingdom and its Heritage relic has rekindled in me a thirst for spiritual discovery. I can honestly say I am excited!
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