WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka

Odyssey of the 'Tooth Relic of the Buddha'

(By Aryadasa Ratnasinghe/Budusarana)

The 'Danta Dhatu' (Tooth Relic of the Buddha) is one of the most revered objects of worship by Buddhists throughout the world. It now lies in the sanctum sanctorum of the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy enshrined in an embellished reliquary. The relic was brought to the island by chance during the 9th regnal year of king Keerthi Sri Meghavarna (371 AD), and ever since it was protected by kings and laymen who paid homage to it with unbound munifience. It also became the palladium of regal authority and no king could rule the country without possessing it. Hence it was a treasure owned by the kings on whose preservation the safety of the kingdom and the country depended. 

An Arhant named Khema carried away this Relic form the funeral pyre of the Buddha in 543 BC, and handed it over to king Brahmadatta, who made his benefactions to it with faith and devotion. It came to pass that he was attacked by the powerful king Pandu, but he being averse to warfare, sued for peace and in the meantime, he gave the Relic to Cittayana who was the commander of king Pandu's army to be kept safely. On seeing the miracles performed by the sacred Tooth, the king became a convert to Buddhism. When king Pandu's city of Pataliputra (modern Patna) was attacked by king Khiradhara, he sent his viceroy Guhasiva back to Kalinga (modern Orissa) with the Relic, where it was kept in the custody of prince Danta, to whom the king had given his daughter Hemamala in marriage. Soon the king became engaged in war and he asked his daughter and prince Danta, to carry the Relic to Sri Lanka, in the event of his being defeated in battle. Having defeated, the Tooth Relic was secretly conveyed to Sri Lanka by prince Danta and princess Hemamala in whose custody it was. 

After an adventurous journey, they reached Anuradhapura, and handed it over to king Sri Meghavarna, who placed the Relic in the hands of the bhikkus of Abhayagiri vihara. (The hair ornament in which princess Hemamala brought the Relic to the island was exhibited during the Esala festival in August 1949). 

During the reign of Upatissa (426-468 AD), the Relic was taken in procession from the Abhayagiri vihara to the Mahavihara with great pomp and ceremony. In AD 460,there was a severe drought, and the king fearing a famine, led a procession during the Esala fullmoon night, through the streets of the city carrying the Relic. In sequence, the drought ended followed by a heavy downpour inundating the lowland country. 

King Dhatusena (516-526 AD) offered a golden casket for the Relic. When the Pandyans from South India overran the country, during the reign of Sena I (826-846 AD), the Relic was removed to a safe place,and in 1017 when the Cholians invaded the country, bhikkus fled to the South carrying the Relic with them. Prince Kitti defeated the Cholians and ascended the throne in the name of Vijayabahu I (1058-1114). 

When Kalinga Magha (1213-1234), came into power at Polonnaruwa, the Sinhalese were driven South and bhikku Vacissara had the Relic hidden at Pusulpitiya in the temple called Dathakaranaramaya,which is said to stand to this day. When Vijayabahu III (1220-1224) established his kingdom at Dambadeniya, he brought the Relic from Pusulpitiya to the capital but fearing a further invasion by the Cholians he had it removed to Beligala for safety. When king Bhuvanekhabahu I (1283-1286) ascended the throne at Yapahuwa, Pandyan king Kulasekera's General Aryacakravarti invaded the island and carried away the Relic to South India, where it remained in that country, until it was brought back to the island by king Parakramabahu II (1266- 1293) by peaceful negotiations. His successor, king Bhuvanekhabahu III (1293-1302), took the Relic to Kurunegala and had it secured in a threestoreyed edifice. 

Next we find reference to the Tooth Relic when Kotte became the capital under king Prakramabahu IV (1410-1436) who made offerings to the Relic. The erudite poet,Ven. Sri Rahula thera in his 'Sandes kavyas' (epic messages) Paravi and Selalihini mentions the presence of the Relic at Kotte. The Hansasandesaya and Gira-sandesaya also have reference to it, which were written during the Kotte period. On Nov. 15 1505, the Portuguese arrived in Sri Lnaka, and the king of Kotte at the time was Vira Parakramabahu VIII (1484-1509) who was in the sunset of his life. 

The Portuguese who remained and ruled the maritime settlements of the island, took a step forward and gradually introduced their religion (Roman Catholicism) into the country by proselytising the Buddhists by reward or by sword. Prince Dharmapala, who became the king of Kotte, proved himself an utterly useless rules. In 1557, he embraced Catholicism and was baptised in the name of Don Juan Dharmapala,and it led to loss of loyalty of his supporters, because they feared that he might do harm to the Relic as the Portuguese were averse to venerating relics. One night, the Diyawadana Nilame, Hiripitiye Divana Rala, had a dream. He was told "Kotte kalale data meda ganna rale", which was interpreted to mean "Leave the mat and pillow and take the Tooth to the mid country". Fearing danger to the Relic, he at once took it to king Mayadunne of Sitawaka (now Avissawella) for safe keeping. The king fearing a Portuguese invasion at any moment, had it hidden at the Delgamuwa vihara. The incumbent of the vihara, sensing danger, caused to artificial replicas to be made in ivory. Keeping one of them in the place where the original was,gave the other to Vidiya Bandara, and the thera, concealing the genuine one in his waist went to Palabaddala and had it secured inside a grinding stone. 

By this time the Portuguese invaded Sitawaka and carried away the artificial relic, thinking it to be the original, and sent it to Goa to be destroyed. However, the Portuguese got the news that what they had got was a duplicate of the Relic and the original was in the hands of Vidiya Bandara, the son-in-law of king Mayadunne. When Dharmapala became king of Kotte,Vidiya Bandara fled to Jaffna but he was captured on the orders of the Archbishop of Goa in 1561. The Archbishop, having secured the artificial relic from Vidiya Bandara place it in a mortar pulverised it, burnt the powder in a brazier and threw the ashes into a river. When Konappu Bandara ascended the throne of Kandy in 1592, in the name of Wimaladharmasuriya I, the incumbent of the Delgamuwa vihara, handed over the real Relic to the king,who enshrined it inside a case cut out of a ruby founded embedded in the banks of a river in Kuruviti Korale, and placed it in an edifice specially erected for it, having brought the Relic to Kandy. In 1611 a bhikku ran away with the Relic when the Portuguese invaded Kandy. 

King Senarath (1605-1635), brought it back to Kandy, after driving away the Portuguese army, and replaced it in the edifice built by king Wimaladharmasuriya I. Fearing that the Relic would be stolen because of this gem covering, king Kirti Sri Rajasinha, who ascended the throne of Kandy in 1747, enclosed it with an ivory case. What we see today is the ivory covered Relic and the genuine one is embedded therein. Hence it looks disproportionate in size of a human tooth. 

The 'Vedasitina maluwa' (inner temple), which we see today,was the work of king Narendrasinha (1707-1739), the last Sinhala king of Kandy. He was succeeded by his brother-in-law Sri Vijaya Rajasinha, a Malabari prince which opened the gates for Dravidian kings to rule the Kandyan kingdom up to 1815. 

The octagon ('Pattirippuwa') which we see today was the work of Sri Wickrema Rajasinha the last king of Kandy, who was taken captive by the British forces on February 18, 1815, and deported to Vellore in South India, where he died in 1832. The architect of the octagon was Devendra Mulachari, reputed for his expertise in architectural design. When the British forces invaded Kandy for territorial aggrandizement, the king carried away the Relic for safety. It was brought back to Kandy, with the approval of the British, and replaced it in the Dalada Maligawa, on April 24, 1815. 

John D'Oyly,the British Resident in Kandy,by being present at the occasion, won the goodwill of the bhikkus, the chiefs and the people. In 1818, a rebellion broke out in the Kandyan provinces against the British administrators, and a bhikku secretly removed the Relic to Elahera in Matale for safety. The British,however, were able to bring it back to Kandy and placed it in the sanctum sanctorum of the Dalada Maligawa. It was only after 10 years that the Tooth Relic was exhibited in Kandy and the perahera conducted as usual, in the presence of governor Edward Barnes. In 1853, by statutory provisions, the custody of the Relic was passed on to the bhikkus of Malwatte and Asgiriya temples, with the Diyawadana Nilame as its lay custodian. During the Esala perahera in Kandy, the casket containing the Relic is taken in procession on the back of the caparisoned Maligawa elephant, which is a tusker. Such was the magical aura of the Tooth Relic that the Buddhists of the country have been given the opportunity to render it their homage with faith and devotion.


WWW Virtual Library - Sri Lanka