16th September 2001

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Rain chants in the hills

A sacred ritual

According to the Dalada tradition, the chief prelates of the Malwatte and Asgiriya chapters together with the Diyawadana Nilame, (the three custodians of the Tooth) should be present in order to open the seven Relic caskets.

Massive preparations are undertaken once they collectively decide to hold an exposition. Generally, expositions are held between 1 and 6 pm. But due to security reasons, the exposition will commence at 10.30 a.m. The chanting of pirith, Kavikara Maduwa sessions, conch blowings and drumbeats announce the forthcoming event. The keys to the first casket are kept with the Diyawadana Nilame, while some are with the Malwatta prelate and others with the Asgiriya prelate. The keys are kept in gold containers and are treated with utmost respect and not handed over to any others. All jewellery is removed, inventoried and sealed and returned to a special safe thereafter. A human hand does not touch the Relic at any time. The Diyawadana Nilame, having washed his hands in sandalwood water, uses a satin cloth to remove the Relic and lays it upon a white lotus inside the exposition casket.

On the day of the exposition, the caskets are opened at an auspicious time. Besides the two prelates, five priests from both Chapters should necessarily be present at the time to assist the Diyawadana Nilame.

Originally, the Relic was displayed in the casket known as the gem-studded 'Hemamala casket' in which the Dalada was carried to Sri Lanka. But this time, the Temple will use a special crystal exposition casket from Thailand.

At the end of the day, amidst hewisi, horane, pirith and other stanzas being repeated, the Relic will rest inside the Relic Chamber.

The exposition casket also contains brass scriptures, inscribed on plates of brass details on higher ordination, an invaluable Buddha statue carved out of a precious stone and an ivory casket.

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti Pix by Iresha Waduge

Momentous and rare it is in the life of any Buddhist to view the Sacred Tooth Relic. But from time immemorial, it has been the Buddhist tradition to hold expositions of the revered Tooth Relic during times of famine, drought and misery to invoke God's blessings and to pray for rain.

With the country in the throes of a stifling drought, all Sri Lankans will hope that such an exposition, to be held from September 22 to October 7, will bring the much needed rains.

The significance of the Dalada or 'dantha dhathu' to this country is not easily explained, according to Ven. Warakawe Dhammaloka Thero, Secretary of the Asgiriya Chapter and an authority on the rituals and traditions associated with the Tooth Relic. it being an inalienable part of Sri Lanka's religious and cultural heritage, he claims that the Tooth Relic has remained politically significant as the symbol of one's political power. Since the Polonnaruwa period, the possession of 'Dalada' was the most 'crucial factor' when staking political claims, the Thero explains. Konappu Bandara who had no royal blood had to acquire the right to the throne by discovering the Tooth Relic hidden in a grinding stone and bringing it to Senkadaga-lapura before setting up his kingdom there. Similarly, Parakramabahu the Great had to postpone his coronation until he had seized the Tooth Relic from Sugala Devi and brought it back to Polonnaruwa.

Getting ready for the crowds with temporary shelters

Ancient rulers thus protected the Tooth Relic as life itself. A special Vellakkara force had been maintained for the defence of the Tooth Relic alone.

Besides its political significance, the 'Data Wansa Katha' is clear on the many 'tests' the Tooth Relic had to endure in the hands of unbelievers. According to Ven. Dhammaloka, many were the Hindu rulers who, upon invasion, demanded that the Sinhala kings prove the miracles associated with the Tooth Relic, scoffing at the practices as reverence to a 'mini etaya'. The Wansa Katha has it that the Relic had been crushed amidst burning coals, buried amidst garbage and hammered into walls, but had each time, miraculously reappeared, unharmed on a white lotus.

'Such were the tests of insults and injury sustained by the Sacred Relic, yet no harm has come upon it ever,' says the Thero.

With rain and prosperity in an agrarian country being associated with just and fair rule, the exposition of the 'Dhathu' is significant as it is done only during times of national calamity. It provides the ultimate opportunity to worship the physical relic of the Buddha which lies within a special crystal exposition casket, a gift from Thailand. Unlike the Perahera, which is more an annual cultural pageant and does not allow a view of the Relic, an exposition is a religious function allowing devotees to worship it and make their offerings.

The seven relic caskets are opened very rarely, the inner chamber of the Relic Shrine being due to opened thrice a day for the performance of the 'thewawa' ceremony alone. According to Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne, 'expositions' are rare for fear of exposing the Sacred Relic to harm, the only concession being due to the need to invoke blessings during times of hardship.

The rituals commence days before the exposition- seven days of chanting pirith to 'create a wave of blessings', and the Kavikara Maduwa extolling the virtues of the Buddha, with drumming and conch shell blowings heralding a season of spiritual splendour. These are traditions that have survived since King Wimaladharmasuriya's time.

The first ever recorded Dalada exposition had been held in 4th Century A.D, and Fa Hsien is among the recorded devotees. With the British taking the Kandyan Kingdom in 1815, there were no expositions held till 1829. The British feared a backlash from the Buddhists and this effectively put an end to all types of Buddhist processions.

But the parched land and spreading famine caused Governor Robert Brownrigg to request the custodians of the Tooth to hold an exposition in keeping with tradition. This was recorded as one of the most spectacular expositions ever, resulting in the Bogambara Lake being filled with 'miraculous rain'.

The Diyawadana Nilame says that Dalada records prove that expositions have always resulted in downpours - brought upon by the thousands of monks praying on behalf of the nation. The rain known as 'Dalada Wathura' showers blessings on a nation that had suffered without a drop of rain, and nobody falls ill after getting drenched in it. 'It cleanses the body, mind and spirit- and we should also prepare spiritually to receive these blessings,' says the Diyawadana Nilame. With thousands of Buddhist clergy joining the chant of 'Devo Wassathu Kalena' to end the drought, it seems that the Dalada is quietly preparing to release showers of blessings.


Much preparatory work is in progress in Kandy town. A temporary shelter has been put up on the main pathway leading to the Temple of the Tooth to shelter the special invitees, while other makeshift shelters are also expected to be constructed for the people who would have to brave the heat and long queues to pay homage to the Relic.

To create the necessary 'religious' backdrop, the Diyawadana Nilame has requested the Kandy Municipal Council to declare all slaughterhouses and wine stores closed for the entire period of 16 days. In addition, Buddhist flags are to be flown and 'seth pirith' chanting will commence one week before the exposition to create the necessary religious ambience.

The Kandy Municipal Council has been instructed to keep the city especially clean. The Maligawa and the four Devales will be given a thorough spring-cleaning and the entire city is expected to ' spread the message of Buddha and have an air of spirituality'. Devotees will join the local authorities to spread white sand in the entire sacred city area, remove litter and hoist Buddhist flags in celebration of the rare event.

3,000 police personnel will be deployed within the Kandy city limits to enhance security and the Temple has also received brand new metal detectors and screening machines, which are to be installed within the next few days.

The Scouts Association, the Sri Lanka Red Cross, St. John's Ambulance Service and other organizations will perform support services. According to Maligawa sources, several groups have also sought permission to organize 'dansal' to provide food and drink to the devotees and even provide shelter to those coming from a far. There will also be special bus and train services.

The Entrance:

Queue No1- From Queen's Road

Queue No 2- From Trinc-omalee Street through Raja Veediya

Queue No 3- Sri Sangharaja Mawatha

Queue No 4- Through Anagarika Dhar-mapala Mawatha for Buddhist clergy, VIPs and those carrying special passes (high security zone entrance). Those who join the queues for the viewing of the Tooth will not be allowed to join or leave it after the appointed time. They are also requested to carry minimum requirements and to carry identification to facilitate security arrangements. The custodians also request, if possible, only to carry what is to be offered to the Temple such as pirikara. The exposition begins daily at 10.30 am.

Appeal to public

Diyawadana Nilame Niranjan Wijeratne appealed to the public to refrain from carrying unnecessary paraphernalia to the sacred city during the period of the exposition to facilitate the stringent security procedures. In addition, he also requests people not to carry polythene and litter the area, especially the Bogambara Lake that was dredged and cleaned at great cost.

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