2007
03.08
Sri Lanka has impressed me so much that I’ve been dying to share its wonders with others.  I actually feel responsible to relate the experiences that I’ve had thus far. This has been a terrible year for tourism in the country and many of the wonderful people I have met along the way are suffering for that. Especially now it’s on my mind, as I sit here typing with a splendid view of picturesque Medaketiya Beach where they are still attempting to re-build and re-establish tourism after thousands died and hundreds more were left injured, homeless and orphaned in the wake of the tsunami.

Though lack of tourism may be hurting Sri Lanka, ironically, it was working wonders for my trip. “This is a very special time to be in Sri Lanka,” one man told me. “You’re seeing it for what it really is.” This couldn’t have been more true as I ventured into the city of Kandy, the easy-going capital of the Hill Country, set in a bowl of picturesque green hills and centered around Kandy Lake. It was Saturday morning, but more importantly it was poya (full moon) weekend, a holiday of sorts, especially for Buddhists who gather at temples to make puja(prayers and offerings). Lucky for me, Kandy is the home of one of Sri Lanka’s most importantly temples, The Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, where the country’s holiest relic is kept- a tooth of the Buddha.The tooth is said to have been snatched from the flames of Buddha’s funeral pyre in 543 BC, and was smuggled into Sri Lanka during the 4th Century AD, hidden in the hair of a princess. At first, it was taken to Anaradhapura, but with the ups and downs of Sri Lankan history it moved from place to placebefore eventually ending up at Kandy. Gradually, the tooth came to assume more and more importance as a symbol of sovereignty. It was believed that whoever had custody of the tooth had the right to rule the island. In the 16th Century, the Portuguese apparently seized the tooth, took it away to India, and destroyed it in a fire. Yet, the Sinhalese claimed the Portuguese had run off with a replica and the real tooth remained safe. Even today there are rumors that the real tooth is hidden somewhere and that the tooth kept in the temple is a replica. Whether you choose to believe this story or not, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic to Sri Lankan Buddhists, who believe they must complete at least one pilgrimage to the temple in their lifetime. Worshiping at the temple is thought to improve one’s karmic lot immeasurably.
I entered the temple complex with hundreds of men and women who moved in separate lines through a brief security check. Then a pleasant walkway led me through green grass lawns dotted with families and couples relaxing, and to the next line of people, even longer and passing through yet another security check. This was the entrance to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, yet the numbers of people were too daunting for me at that moment so I turned and entered another temple called Natha Devale. The main temple, perched on a stone terrace with a beautiful gateway, was surrounded by hundreds of white-clothed worshipers who sat and prayed as a monk read over the loudspeaker. The scene was tranquil and inspiring and I wondered among the many people, most of whom seemed oblivious to the single foreigner in their midst.

Blessed with that moment of sanctity, I joined the long line entering the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic, left my shoes at the entrance, bought some flowers for the offering and began to move with the steady stream of worshipers. Inside the temple was a major traffic jam, two lines colliding in a crash of bodies that packed onto a staircase and snaked their way up to the main temple. Holding my flower arrangement above my head, I moved with the river of bodies as it filed to the second floor and slowly past the main shrine. For a few brief seconds I was in front of the shrine, laying my flowers upon a large altar piled high with beautiful, sweet smelling floral arrangements. Behind an elaborate gold, silver and bronze panel, through a door where I could see several large arcing elephant tusks and red velvet drapes, in the back of two rooms, lie the Tooth Relic Shrine. The tooth itself is not even visible, only the large gold dagoba-shaped casket in which it is supposedly kept. That doesn’t deter the thousands of devotees who filed past the open door for a quick glimpse or sat around the shrine kneeling and praying. A sign above the door read “Abstinence from all evil, performance of all good, governance of one’s mind, it’s the teachings of the Enlightened One.”


I have never considered myself to be religious, nor do I apply to a certain faith. I am asked often here about my beliefs and I’m usually met with funny stares when I try to explain that I don’t have a religion. But on this trip, I have felt moved spiritually in many ways. Be it wandering around the Hindu temple Arunachaleswar in Tiruvannamalai, dwarfed by a 66m gopuram with 13 storeys, surrounded by trinket sellers, merchants, half-naked sadhus and orange-clad priests; having tea in a friend’s home in Negombo where a Catholic shrine in the corner lit the room with its countless pictures of Jesus interspersed with burning candles; exploring the Charminar in Hyderabad where hundreds of veiled Muslim women scurried in the midday heat between markets and Mecca Masjid, one of the world’s largest mosques with space for 10,000 worshipers; or bowing my head to a gaudy golden shrine covered in jewels and supposedly housing a tooth of Buddha. In all instances, I have felt the strength of a Higher Power, in all the forms it presents itself to us.

No Comment.

Add Your Comment