Kandy, nestled around a glistening, oblong lake, is a World Heritage City and one of Sri Lanka’s primary pilgrimage sites. Safely tucked away in a lakeside palace-temple is Lanka’s claim to Buddhist fame: a tooth from the Buddha. Supposedly snatched from the funeral pyre and then whisked away to Sri Lanka in the elaborate hairstyle of a princess, the Buddha tooth relic has migrated around the tiny island, most recently calling Kandy home.
The Tooth has caused much political strife among the Sri Lankans, as it is believed that whoever controls the Tooth, controls the land. Due to a terrorist attack in 1998, the Buddha Tooth is heavily guarded by military guards with machine guns, and everyone entering is subjected to a search and a metal detector. However, once you get past the road blocks and the unsmiling military guard (okay, they will smile, but only if you start it), the atmosphere is calm and reverent.
As it is free for locals, the Buddha Tooth Palace is chockfull of Lankans, with a handful of tourists for good measure (and good money). Shoes left behind, worshipers and spectators make their way up stairs, under elaborate archways, and through various museums and shrines. Slowly queuing up the wide staircases, the throngs of devout worshippers make offerings of flowers, rupees, and prayers. Seated and kneeling pilgrims fill the room of the relic, the murmurs and chanting echoing, hushed and personal.
A pilgrimage to the Buddha Tooth Temple is supposedly a Must-Do for the Sri Lankans, as well as a big boost of positive karma. Hopefully we soaked up some of that good karma as well.