Sri Lanka Chronicles (2/5)

The next day was spent traveling in the car from Colombo to Kandy. On the way we visited an elephant orphanage (highlight of the trip). Apparently setup in 1985, this orphanage now houses only 2-3 orphans, since all of the orphans have reproduced. It was heart-breaking to see elephants with their legs blown-off by land mines – the cost of human arrogance is felt even by animals. We also saw a couple of injured elephants being taken care of. One of these gentlemen was kind enough to provide me with superb pictures – the best elephant pictures I have ever taken!

As I was walking about, I met some kids who asked me to click their pictures – so I obliged. I thought they came out pretty well – what say (see below)?

We then made our way to a spice garden. As with all of these type of gardens – there was a brief  tour of the place, some inputs on what medicinal properties some of the herbs have and then a pitch to buy their oils and creams – all of which have ‘ayurvedic’ medicinal properties – all vouched for by a ‘doctor’. We did manage to get nice head massages (free!) though; and managed to extricate ourselves from the ‘you must buy this now’ scenario pretty well. It was almost as if we were rats running away from a stream of overflowing water. We then warned our driver that we did not want to go to any of these ‘buy this’ places. Being the good guide that he is, he said yes, sure, and then lead us to many more of these type of places!

My parents, ever the buying kind were not as upset as I was about the amount of time we spent looking at woodworks from a wood-carving factory en route to Kandy. I was lamenting the fact that beautiful, natural SL beckoned while we sat cooped up in a man-made enclosure, looking at man’s imitation of nature’s perfection. My protests fell on deaf ears, and I was left wandering around the showroom, twiddling my camera as my parents managed to pick up some ‘gifts’ for friends/relatives/bosses etc. Hell, they even managed to convince me to get something for my advisor! Finally, we got out to be lead to a jewelry shop masquerading as a gem-museum. Thankfully my parents managed to put their foot down and we made our way to the main attraction in Kandy – the tooth temple!


Now, the tooth temple, one would imagine, would be a metaphor for something else. Surely, you do not mean that there is a temple built in a city in central SL for a teeth – surely, Mr. Moorthy, you do not mean that! Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it – the tooth temple in Kandy is exactly what it sounds like. It is a temple for a tooth. Now, this is no ordinary tooth mind you. This is the left tooth of the one and only Buddha! Yes, you read that right. If you are anything like me and oblivious to the world at large till you visit a country, then this should come as a surprise to you, just as it did to me. Apparently, when the Buddha attained Nirvana, his body was cremated by his followers (cremate = burn). Not the whole body turned into ash, the legends tell us. No sir. The left tooth and some bones (and if I remember correctly so did the right tooth) were left un-burnt. So, one of the Buddha’s leading disciples got the tooth and placed it in a place of worship. Note that we are still in India when all of this happened. Now, the ‘mis-lead’ king (these were the words used in the temple’s description) xyz (I forget) wanted to destroy everything Buddhist, since he wanted to become a Shaivite, in order to get his sins of patricide/matricide cleansed (apparently, if you believe in Shiva, you can kill your parents and still go to heaven. So cool!).  Now this mislead king tried destroying the teeth, but some magic occured and he could not. His son and I am guessing his wife managed to steal the teeth away from the temple in India and make their way on to SL. Why they would come to SL is anybody’s guess – it may have to do with the fact that by that time, Buddhism was very prevalent through SL. They placed the tooth in one temple and then over time the tooth made its way through many temples in SL to its final resting place in Kandy. And this tooth is shown to the public every 5 years – the next time will be in 2014. Apparently, the tooth is yellow.

Currently, devotees glimpse a golden covering that entombs the tooth and pray to it. The golden kavacham is visible only 3-4 times a day at specific times and for periods as short as 20 minutes. As with all legitimate temples, if you are ready to shell out money, you can go into the ‘room’ that houses the tooth and all non paying devotees see closed doors till you have cleansed your sins by standing close to a relic. Budhha turns around in his grave again. Oh, I forget. He was cremated. His teeth (tooth) chatters then!

My cynicism aside, the temple itself was beautiful, and has been a target of the LTTE around 10 years ago. The entrance was bombed by a vehicle bomb, leading to complete destruction of the entrance (pictures in the museum chronicle this). This obviously means that there is now two rings of security checks and no cars are allowed within a 1 km radius of the temple. As with all things culturally beautiful, terrorism has ruined the beauty and elegance of man’s belief and faith once again. Before I move on, I should mention that for 100 SL Rs., you have access to a ‘special veranda’ that locals do not get to see! Wonderful. Buddha…you know the drill….One final note of interest. Our local temple guide was a muslim, who identified himself as a muslim when we asked him if he was tamizh/sinhalese. Apparently, muslim is a language now. This was extremely disconcerting, especially since his name was Mohammad. With Mohd., as your name, do you really think that we did not realize you are muslim? To his support though, he probably wanted to separate himself from the ‘Tamils’ (or tiger sympathizers).

Our evening was capped off with a visit to a ‘cultural programme’. Some random dances by some random dudes and chicks. This would have been nice had the dances been co-ordinated and the dancers more enthusiastic. Only one of the dudes showed any interest in dancing and only one of the chicks was elegant. The others simply went through the drill.

…and that ends part 2 of this long series of posts on SL. More of Kandy in part 3. (There are superb pix coming up too! ;))




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