A Sweet Tooth Enshrined in Kandy?

Does anyone else see some humor in the realization that the famous and significant Buddhist Temple of the sacred Tooth Relic is in a Sri Lankan town called “Kandy”?  Or maybe it’s just me and my nerdy knock-knock prone sense of humor. Well, anyhow, one of the big draws in Kandy is this temple, but we’ll get to that.

one of the brightly painted trucks - it was hard to capture images of them as they sped towards us or we flew by them.

one of the brightly painted trucks – it was hard to capture images of them as they sped towards us or we flew by them.

We arrived in Sri Lanka at the least desirable time in our opinion: early in the morning.  To be exact, it was 7 am.  Morning arrivals are always hard, especially when there are time changes to adjust to.  To our bodies, it was actually 3:30 am, and we had just completed the 3rd leg of a 21 hour journey that had originated in Capetown.  What this typically means is that all day we just can’t….keep our…eyes……zzzz.  Our driver, Rohan, was there at the airport to greet us with a big smile.  We piled into his tidy white van with the backpacks neatly stacked in back, Jon in the front seat, and the rest of us in the reclining seats in between, and we set out for the 3 hour drive to our hotel in Kandy.  Immediately we could see the India/Asia influences in dress and architecture on this island between two major cultures.  Men wore sarongs and women wore bright saris with their midriffs bare.  Everywhere there were shiny tuk-tuks of every color and embellishment, and brightly painted buses and trucks.  I loved all the color.  It was like being in a parade – some of the buses even had strings of lights, garlands, or flower decor on the front grills.  Just when we thought we had seen it all in the driving realm, our eyes were opened to a new sort of road chaos.  In Sri Lanka, the roads are nicely paved, and they even have lines.  It seems that there are few personal vehicles (at one stop, I counted 1 car passing by for every six “professional” type vehicles: bus, taxi, tuk-tuk, transport truck, motorbike or van).  All these professional drivers probably helps reduce the number of road accidents, but it is astounding to me that we only saw 2 accidents in our week there.  The objective appears to be to use all the pavement all the time….so, if there is no vehicle in the oncoming lane, it is entirely fine for vehicles in the other direction to use it up (3 or 4 cars across at times).  Once or twice I was confused about whether we were on a one way street until a bus careened around a corner and narrowly missed the cars in front of us.  Also, if you want to pass (which apparently is all the time), you just lay on your horn, pull out into oncoming traffic, and force the oncoming traffic to get over as you squeeze yourself buy in the middle lane you have created out of sheer nerve.  Sometimes this imperils the pedestrians (who also want to use the pavement and not the dirt shoulder), or the occasional cow or dog standing in the road, but usually it is a stern-faced tuk-tuk driver or slightly stricken-looking motorcyclist that is forced to the shoulder when everyone decides to pass at once.  Well, one thing is for sure, with the dizzying array of colorful vehicles, and the video-game like atmosphere of the back seat I occupied, I nearly was able to stay awake on the ride from the airport.  Nearly.  We finally whipped a hair-raising u-turn to swing into an “authentic” breakfast spot that Rohan suggested we at least try. This is not the sort of place we would have been served at – poor Rohan was not even getting the respect he deserved with all us bed-headed gringos lurking wide-eyed over his shoulder.  Finally, he sent us away to sit on a bench, and brought us some orders of bread (Hoppers I think), with a green dip, and some pressed cracker/bread which I think is called Pol Rotti, served on a banana leaf plate.  I ordered a warm cup of something that looked like mud, but it tasted pretty good.

Our breakfast

Our breakfast

Sri Lankans hop off their motor bikes and run in and order

Sri Lankans hop off their motor bikes and run in and order

Some of the performers

Some of the performers

Our pool in Cinnamon Citadel Kandy - it was actually heated!

Our pool in Cinnamon Citadel Kandy – it was actually heated!

Our hotel in Kandy, was the Cinnamon Citadel, and it was located on a river, in a jungle, and had a nice pool.  We played in the pool and napped into the afternoon, and then Rohan, who was anxious to get us on a “program” as he called it, came by to pick us up for the evening’s activities.  Our first stop was a visit to a nearby traditional dance theater.  Here we saw a myriad of traditional Sri Lankan dances performed by women and men in bright costumes, all to the accompaniment of drumming.  To my kids, it was as if I had tucked them into their car seats, popped a pacifier in their mouth, and set them next the rhythmic hum of the washing machine.  No amount of glaring, poking, cold beverage or verbal threats could shake them from their apparent drugged-looking state.  They managed to shake themselves awake a bit for the grand finale which consisted of two men who rubbed flaming torches on their bodies, then put the torches down their throats, and finally they walked across a bed of coals, unscathed.  It was all a bit touristy but pretty cool to see all the costumes.

The entrance to the inner sanctuary. So much too look at you almost don't mind that there is no actual tooth to be seen.

The entrance to the inner sanctuary. So much too look at you almost don’t mind that there is no actual tooth to be seen.

Afterwards, we met up with a guide who was to take us next door to visit the Sri Dalad Veediya or the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.  When Buddha died in 543 BC, he was cremated, but his left canine tooth was recovered from the ashes.  It was believed that whomever possessed this tooth was the rightful ruler and so the tooth went on to spawn centuries of stealing and warfare in India, which was all depicted in murals and statues inside this temple.  Finally in the 4th century, a king ordered that the tooth be destroyed because of a disagreement among whether people should believe in god or worship a tooth.  But when the tooth arrived and King Paandu was supposed to destroy it, a miracle occurred and he converted to Buddhism instead.  This enraged another king who came with his army to defeat King Paandu, and he himself was killed in battle.  To protect the future of the tooth, a prince and princess of that city then took the tooth, hidden in the prince’s hair and in disguise, and they crossed over to Sri Lanka, where the tooth now remains as a powerful symbol of the living Buddha.  I knew prior to our arrival that we would not be able to see the actual tooth, but thanks to the savvy guide we had, we were one of the few tourists who were able to enter the interal sanctuary of the temple and visit the tomb when the “viewing window” was open and through this small portal behind a pile of donated rupees, flower and food offering, and some saffron-robed monks, we saw a rather large crown shaped closed casket (but weren’t allowed to take a photo).  This all involved an hour or so of being crushed amongst tourists from around the world and that in itself was a crazy and kind of exhilarating experience.   Finally, we had a brief tutorial from our guide on the Buddhist way of life (he made the point to us that it is not a religion but a philosophy), which I hope one of our kids will write about eventually.  Our night ended late, with dinner at a local restaurant called the “white house”, and finally, we all tumbled home and into the beds that had been calling to us all day. Tomorrow, we tackle Sigiriya.


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