Barmy Army Descends

Trip Start Nov 16, 2007
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Trip End Dec 15, 2007


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Friday, November 30, 2007

Another beautifully sunny day in Kandy encouraged me to arise early and visit Sri Lanka's most important Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth (or Dalada Maligawa), posed artistically against the steep wooded hills of the Udawatakelle Sanctuary.
Before heading into the temple entrance itself, I enjoyed a brief walk around the Pattini, Natha, and Vishnu devales.  Sitting adjacent to one another in a large compound next to the Temple of the Tooth, they form a rather magical quarter of the city filled with a picturesque jumble of shrines, dagobas and bo trees, which offers fantastic views of the Temple of the Toothand buildings of the Royal Palace complex.
Appropriately enough, the temple houses the legendary Buddha's Tooth, which arrived here in the sixteenth century.  The temple was badly damaged in 1998 when the LTTE detonated a massive truck bomb outside the entrance, killing over twenty people and reducing the fašade to rubble.  Restoration work was swift and thorough, and there's little visible evidence left of the attack, although crash barriers now prevent vehicular access to the temple, and all visitors have to pass through stringent security checks.
The temple's exterior is classically plan; a rather austere collection of unadorned white buildings, with the most eye-catching feature being the octagonal tower (the Pittirippuva) where all new Sri Lankan heads of state give their first address to the nation.
The interior of the temple is relatively modest in size.  In front of you lies the Drummers' Courtyard (Hewisi Mandapaya) into which is squeezed the two-storey main shrine itself (the Tooth Relic is kept upstairs).  The main doors are fashioned of fabulously decorated silver, and fronted by a moonstone and four elephant tusks sheltering two lion stones with gaping red mouths.  The walls are decorated with a colourful and intricate confusion of entwined geese (a symbol of union or marriage), lotuses, vines and lions, and dotted with painted medallions of the sun and moon - a symbol of the kings of Kandy which can be found all over the city.
When the noisy drumming of the morning puja ceased, I made my way up a set of stairs to the upper level, passing the casket in which a replica of the Tooth Relic is paraded during the annual Esala Perahera procession, and joined the queue of Buddhists waiting to make their offering (typically lotus flowers or hard-earned cash) to the relic.  You're not actually allowed in the Tooth Relic chamber, but you are permitted to file past the entrance and look inside for a cursory glance at the big gold casket which holds the Tooth.
Whilst the exact nature and authenticity of the Tooth remains unclear, it remains an object of supreme devotion for many Sri Lankan's.  Legend has it that when the Buddha was cremated in 543 BC at Kushinager in north India, various parts of his remains where rescued from the fire, including one of his teeth.
Some of the outer buildings are also of interest.  The Alut Maligawa (New Shrine Room) was built to celebrate the 2500th anniversary of the Buddha's death.  The interior is filled with a glut of Buddha statues, many donated by foreign countries, which offer an opportunity to compare Asian variations of traditional Buddha iconography.
The Sri Dalada Museum is devoted to anything and everything concerned with the Tooth Relic itself, with many of the finer exhibits rather overshadowed by photos and remains from the damage caused by the 1998 bombing.
Finally, the Raja Tusker Museum stands in a handsome old palace building, devoted to the memory of Sri Lanka's most famous elephant, Raja.  The main attraction is Raja himself, Sri Lanka's only stuffed elephant!  Raja died in 1988 after fifty years' loyal service as Kandy's Maligawa Tusker - the elephant which carries the Tooth Relic casket during the Esala Perahera.  The animals death prompted a day of national mourning, and curiously, the remains are now an object of devotion to many Sinhalese, as denoted by those praying at Raja's glass case.
There was just time for a walk around Kandy's lake, offering wonderful views across the water to the Temple of the Tooth, and a bird-filled island in the centre - formerly a royal pleasure house (or "harem") and converted into an ammunition store by the "no sex please, we're British"!After all the culture, it felt good to head out into the city and meet with Andy, Simon and Tommy later that evening in the Queens Hotel - the Barmy Army's base for the duration of the Test match.  The beers were very welcome, as was the no-nonsense talk predominantly about cricket and football!  Armed with our 'Barmy Army' tour t-shirts, and wristbands giving us access-all-areas within the ground, we eventually headed home, passing a KFC and Pizza Hut which both appeared to be increasing their takings ten-fold thanks to the newly arrived English fans.
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