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History of Kandy

Available historical records suggest that Senkadagalapura (an early name for Kandy) was established by the King Wickramabahu III during the period of his reign from 1357-1374 CE. Some scholars contend that the original name of Kandy was Katubulu Nuwara located near present Watapuluwa. The more popular historical name – Senkadagala – according to folklore, originated from one of the several possible sources. These include naming after an ascetic with the name Senkanda who lived in a cave near by, a queen of King Wickramabahu named Senkanda, and after a coloured stone named Senkadagala. The present name Kandy is an anglicized version of Kanda Uda Rata (the country of mountains) originated in the colonial era.

More about Sri Lankan History

After King Wickremabahu III who founded the city, Senasammata Wickremabahu ascended the throne in the 15th century (1473-1511) making it the new capital of the Kandyan Kingdom. He was followed by his son King Jayaweera Astan (1511-1551) and later by Karalliyadde Bandara (1551-1581). His successor however, preferred to rule the hill country from Sitawaka on the western flanks of the hills. A period of turmoil for power ended with the ascent to the throne by Konappu Bandara who came to be known as Wimaladharmasuriya I. Wimaladharmasuriya I, having embraced Buddhism, consolidated his authority further by bringing the tooth relic of the Lord Budhdha to Kandy from a place called Delgamuwa. He proceeded to build a temple for the sacred relic which subsequently developed into the present Dalada Maligawa. In between the death of Wimaladhramasuriya I in 1604 and the capture of the last King of Kandy by the British in 1815 seven successuve kings ruled the Kandyan kingdom from its base at Senkadagala or its suburbs such as Meda Maha Nuwara, Kundasale and Hanguranketa. The beautiful Octagon at the Dalada Maligawa and the picturesque Kandy Lake were constructed during the time of the last King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe, who was exiled to South India by the British.

The Court of Kandy

The history of Kandy and its townscape witnessed rapid and drastic change from the beginning of British rule, particularly after the 1818 rebellion. As Sir Lawrie in his Gazetteer recorded “The story of English rule in the Kandyan country during the rebellion of 1818 cannot be related without shame… Hardly a member of the leading families remained alive… Those whom the sword and the gun had spared, cholera and small pox and privations had slain by the hundreds… Others became ignorant and apathetic… Any subsequent development efforts of the government for many years were only attempts begun and abandoned”.

However, Ananda Kumaraswamy – the great savant of eastern culture – writing in 1912 after nearly a hundred years of British occupation, said: “Hardy mountaineers of the interior, preserved their independence enabling us to form an estimate of Sinhalese as a live and individual people, with a national character and a national art; an individuality and art which is more difficult and often impossible to trace in the low country districts long subjected to western influence”.

Since its founding in the 14th Century, Kandy which remained the last stronghold of Sri Lankan kings has experienced many a vicissitude. Although Colombo represents the prime commercial and administrative centre, Kandy continues to remain the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with a rich heritage of living monuments.

History of the Tooth Relic

On the north side of the Kandy lake stands the temple known in Sinhalese as the Dalada Maligawa (Palace of the tooth-relic). The Pali books call it the Dathadhatughara, or ‘House of the Tooth-relic’. It is here that is enshrined the left eye-tooth of the Buddha Gautama, and this temple is on that account the chief one in Ceylon.

The Tooth is only exposed to the gaze of worshippers on special occasions. John Davy in his Account of the Interior of Ceylon describes the receptacles in which it is kept; ‘Wrapped in pure sheet gold, it was placed in a case just large enough to receive it, of gold, covered externally with emeralds, diamonds, and rubies, tastefully arranged. This beautiful and very valuable bijou was put into a very small gold karandua, richly ornamented with rubies, diamonds, and emeralds; this was enclosed in a larger one also of gold and very prettily decorated with rubies; this second, surrounded with tinsel, was placed in a third, which was wrapped in muslin; and this in a fourth, which was similarly wrapped; both these were of gold beautifully wrought, and richly studded with jewels; lastly, the fourth karandua, about a foot and a half high, was deposited in the great karandua.’ A karanduva is a casket. Relic caskets are usually made in the shape of a sepulchral mound or tope. The inner caskets are said by the priests to be seven in number, to be all gold and all in the shape of a tope. There are keys to three of them only. The outer one was given by Vimala Dharma Suriya.

Early Buddhist tradition does not mention this tooth, at least as a relic of the Buddha. The twenty – seventh section of the sixth chapter of the sixteenth book of the Digha Nikaya, after describing the cremation of the Buddha, enumerates the recipients of the eight measures into which the Brahman Drona divided the remains for distribution among eight rival claimants. No mention is made of the Tooth, nor does the king of Kalinga, the first owner of the Tooth, appear among the eight claimants.

The next section of the Digha adds to the ten measures one tooth in the three heavens, one in the city of Gandhara, one in the realm of the King of Kalinga, one among the cobra-kings. Mrs. Rhya Davids, however, states that Buddhaghosa regarded this section as an interpolation by the priests of Ceylon. Buddhaghosa came to Ceylon in the reign of the fourth king to rule after the arrival of the Tooth into this island. If it is an interpolation, then it was made within the first hundred years after the introduction of the religion.

The existence of relics over and above Drona’s eight measures was explained in the thirteenth century by the Dathavamsa or History of the Tooth, in the following manner: “One Khema removed the left tooth direct from the pyre before the division and took it to Dantapura, the ‘City of the Tooth’, in the kingdom of Kalinga.”

The capital of Kalinga seems to have been known as the ‘City of the Tooth’ from very early times. It is mentioned under that name in what appear to be ancient mnemonic verses quoted in an early text. It does not follow, however, that its Tooth-relic always was considered to be the Buddha Gautama’s. There were teeth that were not so considered, for the life of Hiuen Tsiang mentions that in Turkestan there was a tooth of a solitary Buddha who lived at the beginning of this eon, and also of the tooth of an emperor, three inches long and two inches broad.

From Kalinga the Tooth was brought to Ceylon by a Brahman woman in the ninth year of the reign of Sirimeghavanna, that is, in the latter part of the fourth century CE. The Mahavamsa has only a brief reference to the event and refers to the Dathavamsa for details. A briefer account will be found in the Rajavaliya.

‘You should know that in the ninth year after accession of King Kittisiri Megahavanna, the son of Mahasena… its lordship the right-tooth relic was in the possession of the King called Guhasiva, in the city of Kalinga, in the kingdom of Kalinga. You should know that this king of the Kalinga said to the princess his daughter, Ranmali, and to the prince, his sister’s son, Danta: “My friend Kittisiri Megahavanna is reigning in Ceylon. If I am defeated in battle I shall hoist a red flag. Do not allow the enemy king to get this honourable relic, but do you both disguise yourselves as ascetics and take the Tooth-relic over to King Kittisiri Meghavanna.” He went out to battle and was defeated. When the princess and his sister’s son saw the red flag, they took its lordship the Tooth-relic, disguised themselves as ascetics, travelled to Tottukudiya, where they embarked and landed in Ceylon. They gave the Tooth-relic to King Kittisiri Meghavanna.’

The temple of the Tooth in Anuradhapura was situated next to the king’s palace. This continued to be the custom down to Kandyan times. Kittisiri Meghavanna did not build a temple specially for it, but used the building known till then as Dhammaccakka, or Wheel of Law (doctrine).

From the very outset the Tooth was specially connected with the Abhayuttara Vihara, one of the two great fraternities of monks, for Kittisiri Meghavanna himself ordained that the Tooth should be taken to that monastery yearly, and prescribed the ritual. The sect of the great Vehicle had a hold on this community, and it was thus the doorway of Indian influence. The connection was remembered in the eleventh century by the Indian mercenaries who guarded the Tooth; for in a Tamil inscription at Polonnaruwa they state that the original sanctuary of the Tooth was at Uttaromula monastery, in the Abhayuttara Mahavihara.

From the beginning of the twelfth century down to the reign of Parakrama Bahu IV, at the very end of the thirteenth, the Tooth-relic and the Alms-bowl-relic are always mentioned together. They were evidently the relics, the possession of which was essential to the kings, for whenever the kings had to fly in front of an invader, they carried with them these two relics: ‘I will take the three Sinhalese kingdoms. I shall not leave them. Therefore give me the Tooth-relic of the Sage, the Bowl-relic, and the kingdom’.

Anxiety for the safety of the relics was doubtless one of the reasons why, after the abandonment of Polonnaruwa, the kings fixed their capitals beside rock fortresses. In Dambadeniya there were two temples of the Tooth, one at the top of the rock, one down below, where the modern temple is.

Under the reign of Bhuvaneka Bahu I (c.1280) the Pandyans, invading Ceylon, captured the Tooth-relic in Yapahuva and took it away to India. The next king, Parakrama Bahu III, recovered it by laying himself out to please the Pandyan king.

After Parakrama Bahu IV, who reigned around 1300 CE, no further mention is made of the Alms-bowl-relic, and the Tooth continues its career alone.

This king thought, let any daily rite that was performed for the supreme Budda, highest leader of all the worlds when he was living, be henceforth used for his Tooth-relic. To publish it he of his own accord composed a book in the Sinhalese language, called “The Ritual of the Tooth-relic”, and caused the daily service of the relic to be performed daily in accordance with it’. This book is still extant under the title Dalada Sirita. The greater part is little more than a prose version of the Dathavamsa, but at the end comes a set of regulations which is translated with notes in chapter VI of the present work. The priests of the temple state that the stanzas they use were fixed by this same king.

De Queiroz says that in the time of the Portuguese the Sinhalese sovereigns were accustomed to carry about their persons a model of the Tooth set in gems and gold.

In 1560 the Portuguese claimed to have captured the Tooth and to have taken it to Goa. The King sent ambassadors to Goa, offering any sum that might be required in exchange for the Tooth. The archbishop and other prelates, however, opposed this bargain. The Tooth was delivered to him, and with his own hands he pounded it in a brazen mortar and threw the powder into a brazier of live coals, after which the whole was cast into the sea.

The Sinhalese, however, deny that the real Tooth was ever captured, but only an imitation, and in 1566 they exposed what they claimed to be the real Tooth to the adoration of a Peguan embassy.

In the middle of the eighteenth century King Kirti Sri Raja Sinha showed himself a great benefactor of the temple.

In 1815 the Kandyan kingdom was annexed by the British. A convention was then made by which ‘it was provided that the religion of the Buddha should be declared inviolable, and that its rites, ministers, and places of worship should be maintained and protected. In the earlier years of the British administration, accordingly, the British Government stepped in to the place of the Kandyan monarchs, and exercised its authority as head of the Buddhist Church without hesitation’.

In 1817 there was a rebellion, and the Tooth was secretly removed by the rebel party. It was recovered by the British towards the end of the rebellion. Davy remarks that, ‘When the relic was taken, the effect of its capture was astonishing and almost beyond the comprehension of the enlightened: “Now (the people said) the English are indeed masters of the country; for they who possess the relic have a right to govern four kingdoms; this, for 2,000 years, is the first time the relic was ever taken from us.” And the first adikar (minister) observed, “That whatever the English might think of the consequence of having taken Kappitipola, Pilame Talawe, and Madugalle, in his opinion, and in the opinion of the people in general, the taking of the relic was of infinitely more moment”.

After the recovery of the Tooth the temple was provided with an armed guard. ‘The relic itself was under the custody of the Resident, and was shown to the people by order of the Governor, who himself attended in 1828 with much of the pomp and ceremony which accompanied the event in the time of the Sinhalese kings’. An agitation arose on the Christian side, however, against this countenancing of a heathen religion by a Christian Government, and in 1846 an Ordinance, numbered two, was passed in which the Government relinquished the charge of the Tooth and withdrew from direct interference in the appointment of priests and chiefs of temples of the Buddha and of the gods.

– This text is adapted from “The Temple of the Tooth in Kandy,”

Memoirs of the Archaeological Survey of Ceylon, Vol. IV

Ancient Flags of the Kandyan Provinces

An interested reader may refer, among other sources, to the following publications for further information on Kandy and the Kandyan Kingdom:

References

  1. History of Sri Lanka Vol.II (c1500-c1800), University of Peradeniya,(1995) Ed. K.M. de Silva. (In particular the papers by T.B.H. Abeysinghe, and L.S. Devaraja in this volume will be of much interest) Sri Devi Printers, Dehiwala, Sri Lanaka. ISBN 955-589-004-8
  2. Kandy (1983) by Anuradha Seneviratne, Central Cultural Fund, Ministry of Cultutural Affairs, Government of Sri Lanka
  3. Udarata (In Sinhala) Sinhalese Encyclopaedia, Ed. Hettiarachchi, D.E, Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Ceylon
  4. Udawattekele – The Forbidden Forest of the Kings of Kandy (1986) by Nihal Karunaratne, Department of National Archives, Colombo
  5. British Intrigue In the Kandyan Kingdom by Tennekoon Vimalananda, 1973.
  6. The Kandyan Wars by Geoffrey Powell.
  7. De Silva, K. M., The Rebellion of 1848.
  8. Insight Guides II Sri Lanka, Anderson, John Gottberg ed. et al, Apa Productions (HK) Ltd., Hong Kong, 1983.
  9. Gunaratna, Rohan, Sri Lanka, English Edition, Casa Editrice Bonechi, Italy, 2000.