Celebrations in connection with the United Nations Vesak Day  held in Sri Lanka for the first time from May 11 end today.  The closing ceremony will be held today, at the Sri Dalada Maligawa premises – the Maha Maluwa, which will be attended by the President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari as the chief guest.  [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

Saga of the Sacred Relic since 4th century AC


Daily rituals are performed at the Dalada Maligawa connected to the veneration of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Celebrations in connection with the United Nations Vesak Day  held in Sri Lanka for the first time from May 11 end today.  The closing ceremony will be held today, at the Sri Dalada Maligawa premises – the Maha Maluwa, which will be attended by the President of Nepal Bidya Devi Bhandari as the chief guest.  There will be an  exposition of the Sacred Tooth Relic especially for the International delegates  who arrived from about 82 countries for this religious event celebrating Gautama Buddha’s Birth, Supreme Enlightenment and Parinibbhana on Vesak day.

Dathadhatu (Pali) or Dalada, the Tooth Relic of the Buddha  is venerated by Buddhists as the living Buddha. The worship of a Relic of the Buddha has been mentioned in the Mahabarinibbhana Sutta.   According to Buddhism, Relics are divided into  three main classes, the saririka (a Relic of the Buddha’s body), paribhogika(an object which the Buddha used during his life time), and uddesika (a likeness of the  Buddha – the Buddha image).

The Relic worship began with the  distribution of the Relics  after the Buddha’s cremation. Eight kings in India received the Relics from  Drona, the Brahmin who collected the Relics from the funeral pyre.  The seven great Relics of the Buddha are the four  tooth Relics, two collar bones and the frontal bone. The most well known and famous  is the Buddha’s Tooth Relic. It is believed that the Tooth Relic was brought to Sri Lanka in the 4th century A.C.

The  Tooth Relic is in the Sri Dalada Maligawa, Kandy where daily rituals are performed.  This Relic is believed to have been removed  by Arahant Khema from the funeral pyre and taken to Kalinga to be handed over to king Brahmadatta. The king and his son Kasiraja paid great homage to it. This veneration continued and king Guhasiva of Kalinga abandoned his heretical beliefs and venerated the Tooth Relic.  The Relic was taken by king Pandu of Pataliputta on a complaint made to him by some heretics against king Guhasiva, saying that he was paying homage to a bone of a dead man. Later king Pandu too embraced Buddhism and the Relic was returned to Guhasiva of Kalinga.

Sidanta (Danta), the son of the king of Ujjeni had a desire to pay homage to the Tooth Relic. When he went to Kalinga, king Guhasiva gave his daughter Hemamala in marriage to Danta and made him the custodian(dhaturakkhadikaro) of the Tooth Relic.

King Pandu’s nephews waged war  against Guhasiva to obtain the Relic. Guhasiva decided to send the Relic to king Mahasena in Sri Lanka for its safety. Guhasiva died in the battle: Prince Danta and Princess Hemamala disguised themselves as Brahmins and concealing the Tooth Relic in Hemamala’s hair arrived in Sri Lanka.   By the time they arrived, king Mahasena had died. Danta and Hemamala arrived at Meghagirivihara in Anuradhapura and sent a message through a bhikkhu to king  Siri Meghavanna who came to the vihara, accepted the Relic and with great reverence  placed it in a shrine near the palace. The first exposition of the Relic for the public  was where Arahant Mahinda gave his first discourse. The king ordered that the Relic  be taken to the Abhayagiri vihara. Thereafter a festival was held annually in honour of the Relic.

During the Polonnaruwa period, it was believed that the possession of the sacred Relic  gave a prince the right  to the throne.  We find  in history, many instances where  there had been fighting amongst  Sinhala princes and also foreign invaders  to obtain  the  Tooth Relic to be the ruler of the Island.

During the Pandyan invasion, the Tooth Relic was taken  to a place of safety and during the Cola invasion the bhikkhus took the Relic to the south.  The kings in possession of the Relic always ensured the safety of the Tooth Relic.  King Vijayabahu I had a shrine built for the Relic.  Mugalan Mahasthavira entrusted the building where the Relic was  placed to be guarded by the Velaikkara forces.  Although there was this security, Vikramabahu I took away the precious stones, jewels and  valuable object of gold offered by the devotees.   Because of this behaviour by Vikramabahu,  the  Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic were  taken to Rohana by the monks for safety and were in the possession of the Rohana princes. After a battle King Parakramabahu I obtained the Relics from the Rohana princes, which  were taken to Polonnaruwa. King Nissankamalla too was a staunch devotee who built a shrine for the Sacred Relic which is believed to be the Hetadage.

With the Magha invasion, bhikkhu Vacissara went to Pusulpitiya in Kotmale with the Sacred Tooth Relic and hid it in a temple, now known as the Dathakarandaramaya.

King Wijayabahu III had received the hidden Relic and as he did not wish to keep the Relic in his capital, built  a shrine  on the top of a  rock in Beligala and placed guards for its protection.   His son, Parakramabahu II who was a very pious king removed the Relic from Beligala to Dambadeniya his capital and built a shrine near his palace for it. Again with foreign invasions the Sacred Relic was taken to Yapahuwa where a special shrine, the daladage  was built to house the Relic.  The Pandyans invaded the island and took possession of the Relic and  handed it over to the Pandyan  king Kulasekera in South India. King Parakramabahu III  after discussions and negotiations  with this king was able to bring back the Relic to the island and placed it in Polonnaruwa once again.

King Parakramabahu IV built a shrine for the Tooth Relic and ordered the continuation of the rituals and  ceremonies. Every Poya day special ceremonies were held which were attended by the king. When the king occupied a new palace, the Tooth Relic was brought for the protection of the palace and pirith was chanted.  The Daladasirita was compiled on the king’s orders where instructions are laid down  for the performance of daily rituals in veneration of the Tooth Relic.

During king Parakramabahu VI time, the Sacred Relic was taken to Kotte. Due to the turmoil in the country, the Relic was then taken to Delgamuwa. From there the Relic was secretly taken to many places for its safety. It had been taken  to Uudumbara Kevulgama Rock temple, during the time of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha by  a bhikkhu from the Asgiriya Temple.

With the  invasion of Kandy by the Portuguese, the Tooth Relic was once again taken by the bhikkhus to the Highlands.  After the Portuguese were driven away,  Vimaladharmasuriya I brought back the Tooth Relic to Kandy. A three storeyed palace was built to house the Sacred Relic by his son Vimaladharmasuriya II.

The  upasampada (Higher Ordination) of bhikkhus was revived during the time of King Kirti Sri Rajasinha by Upali Maha Thera and other bhikkhus who were brought  from Siam. It was  at the suggestion of the Maha Thera that the Dalada Perahera  was given prominence  and made to join the Devala perahera of the Hindu deities during the Esala Festival. Today it is known as the   Dalada Perahera which is held in July/ August annually. Kirti Sri Rajasinha made a golden casket for the Tooth Relic and a large diamond is placed on the top covered by other caskets. It is said that at present there are seven caskets protecting the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Again with the British invasion during the time of king Sri Wickrama Rajasinha and with the raging  battles, the Relic was   removed to Kundasale, Valliwela, Medapitiya, Arattana, Hanguranketa and many other  places for its  safety.  It is mentioned that the Relic was even hidden in a Kurahan Gala (a grinding stone).

After the Kandyan kingdom was ceded to the British on  March 2, 1815, the Tooth Relic was brought back to Kandy. With the 1818 uprising, it was removed to Matale by the Bhikkhus. The British once again brought back  the Sacred Tooth Relic to the palace in  Kandy from Hindagala and  appointed a resident custodian – the Diyawadana Nilame.  Thereafter in 1853, the custody of the Tooth Relic  was handed over to the Mahanayaka Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Temples and the Diyawadana Nilame. At present the  two Temples take turns for the performance  of the Theva (daily rituals) at the Sri Dalada Maligawa, each Temple performing the rituals for one year.

There is a belief that by performing rituals and with the exposition of the Tooth Relic, there will be rains during periods of drought and they refer to this as “daladawatura.”


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