Journey Of The Sacred Tooth Relic In Sri Lanka

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  • Historical records indicate that the Tooth Relic was in the custody of the Anuradhapura rulers, until king vijayabahu I shifted the capital to Polonnaruva in the 11th century. From the time of its arrival in Sri Lanka in the 4th century, until the end of the 10th century, only a few instances are recorded in the chronicle Mahavamsa. Yet, Fa-Hsien, the Chinese traveler monk, who lived in the Abhayagiri monastery in the 5th century has left behind many details about the worship and rituals connected with the Tooth Relic. According to him, the procession instituted by Kirti Sri Meghavanna in the 4th century, was continued in a grandeur scale. The sacred Tooth Relic was taken in procession from the Tooth Relic shrine to the Abhayagiri Vihara where the Relic was exhibited for three months with elaborate ritual worship.The sacred Tooth Relic was well guarded by the kings and some of the kings even went to the extent of prefixing the term 'Datha' (Tooth) to their names, e.g. Dathopatissa, Dathappabhuti, Dalamugalam, etc. which clearly indicates their close association with the sacred Tooth Relic.

    The present ruins of the Atadage at the Sacred Quadrangle (Dalada Maluva) in the ancient city of Polonnaruva, is identical to the Tooth Relic temple built by Vijayabahu, in the 4th century The Velaikkara stone inscription standing at the side of this edifice provides many details on the history of the tooth relic. It appears the Tooth together with the Bowl relic, was brought down from the Uttaramula-ayatana monastery of the Abhayagiri Vihara and installed in the Atadage shrine. This shrine was placed under the protection of the Velaikkara mercenaries who were in the service of the king.

  • The Atadage was well known for the ritual known as the Netra-Mangallaya. The eyes of the Buddha image located in the ground floor shrine room were washed annually with unguents. The architectural plan of the Atadage signifies that this two storied plan has been the prototype followed in the later periods down to the present Dalada shrine at Kandy.

    King Vijayabahu I maintained friendly relations with his contemporary, king Anuruddha of Burma even to the extent of the latter requesting the Sri Lankan ruler to send him the sacred Tooth Relic. The wise king appeased the Burmese king's desire by sending him a replica of the Relic, which is said to be greatly venerated by the Burmese.

    The years following king Vijayabahu's death appear to have been quite calamitous in the political field. With the accession of king Parakramabahu I in the year 1153 AD, Sri Lankan political scene assumed a firm basis. While rebuilding the county's economy especially through vast agrarian schemes, he lost no time in bringing about a renaissance in the religious activities. Most of the existing religious edifices in Polonnaruva remain in mementos to his immeasurable service to the cause of Buddhism.

  • Parakramabahu I managed to secure the possession of the sacred Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic and enshrined the sacred objects in a new edifice built in the center of the city. He was also said to have had the exposition of the Tooth Relic in a circular shrine built at the Jetavana monastery, which is possibly the ruined edifice in proximity to the Tivanka Patimaghara image house in the northern extremity of the ancient city.

    The next great ruler to build a formidable relic shrine for the accommodation of the sacred Tooth and Bowl Relics was Nissankamalla (1187 – 1196). As recorded in his inscriptions, he had the Relic Shrine Hatadage built and, having offered his son and daughter to the Relics, redeemed them with the completion of the shrine. This edifice lying almost adjoining the Atadage, represents a larger version of the Atadage.

    By the beginning of the second quarter of the 13th century, the capital was shifted to the South Western part of the country in the wet zone. Thus, began the Damabadeniya period, which period saw the blossoming of an era of classical literary works.

    By the time, the Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic had again been taken away by the monks to a safer location in Kotmale in the central hills. Later, King Vijayabahu III was reported to have brought the two Relics and enshrined them in a beautiful edifice built for the purpose on the hill top of Beligala. The king re-instituted the rituals connected with the Relics and handed over the custody of the Relics to his elder son, who succeeded to the throne under the name Parakramabahu II (1236 – 1270). Being an erudite scholar, he was well known for the compilation of classical literary texts, including the Kavusilumina.

    Parakramabahu II brought down the Relics from Beligala in a procession with great veneration and placed them in a shrine built near the palace at the Dambadeniya rock. According to Dalada Pujavaliya, Parakramabahu conducted the Relics to Srivardhanapura the city of his birth and held a great ritual of worship. He built the Tooth Relic shrine at the Vijayasundararama at Dambadeniya, where the Relic was deposited and festive rituals were conducted.

  • Yapahuva (ancient Subha-pabbata) comes into prominence around this time with the appointment of his brother Bhuvanekabahu as the sub-ruler of this province. This location, simulating the well known Sigiriya rock fortrees, found itself to be a very secure place for the Relics. However, Chadrabhanu of Java invaded the country for the second time and after defeating the local sub-ruler at Yapahuva, demanded the Tooth Relic from Vijayabahu of Dambadeniya. Yet, the Sri Lankan ruler was able to defeat him and bring peace to the island again.

    Bhuvanekabahu built a shrine for the sacred tooth Relic at Yapahuva with a grandeur stairway the ruins of which still portray the aesthetic achievement of the 14th century. As the chronicle records, he continued the tradition of paying homage to the sacred Tooth Relic daily.

    Almost after his reign, Sri Lanka again faced severe droughts and also an invasion from the Pandyan country in South India, under the great warrior Arya Cakravarti. He devastated the country and plundered much wealth and treasure, including the Tooth and Bowl Relics, which he handed over to the Pandyan king Kulasekera. The next king, Parakramabahu III visited the Pandyan capital and after friendly discussions, brought back the Relics and initiated the traditional rituals. Even at this late age, Polonnaruva Tooth Relic shrine was in existence, for the king is said to have brought the sacred Relics from India to Polonnaruva and enshrined them at the old Tooth Relic shrine at the ancient capital, which was abandoned by this time. According to Marco Polo, the well known traveler, the Chinese Emperor, Kublai Khan, sent a messenger to obtain the Tooth, hair and Bowl Relics from the king. However, the king was able to please the Chinese Emperor by dispatching two fake teeth, which were graciously received by the Emperor who established ritual worship for the objects.

  • Next ruler was Parakramabahu IV, during whose time, there was a religious revival. He reorganized the rituals connected with the sacred Tooth Relic in a systematic manner as recorded in the text Dalada Sirita. Yet another significant factor was the handing of the responsibility of the security and conduction of rituals in the care of the chief prelate of the Uttaramula monastery, which institution originated from the Abhayagiri Vihara of Anuradhapura.

    The next ruler of note connected with the story of the Tooth Relic was Bhuvanekabahu IV, who selected a new capital, Gampola, in the central hills; yet, no mention is made of his bringing the Tooth Relic to this new city. It was possibly Vikramabahu III who had the Relic shifted to this hill capital and held a festival in honour of the sacred Tooth Relic. He is credited with the building of the shrine at Niyangampaya at Gampola, which comes close to the 14th century Gadaladeniya temple in the decorative elements.

    Thereafter, Bhuvanekabahu V (1372 – 1408) shifted the capital to Jayawardanapura Kotte closer to Colombo. Although he did not bring the Tooth Relic to the capital, he is reported to have conducted many ritual performances for the Relic. It was his successor, Virabahu, who brought down the Tooth Relic to Jayawardanapura Kotte from Gampola. China entered into Sri Lankan politics during his reign. The Chinese general, Chen Ho, invaded the island, captured the king and the family and took them before the Chinese emperor at the time, together with the Tooth Relic. However, conflicting and stronger reports conclude that the Chinese general did not take away the Relic and that he left the island after paying due homage and worship to the sacred Tooth Relic. This belief is corroborated by subsequent reports on the processions, festivals and rituals conducted by rulers like Parakramabahu VI, who was held in high esteem as the greatest ruler of the late medieval period. He is said to have built a three storied shrine for the Tooth Relic, had four golden caskets enveloping the sacred Tooth Relic and promulgated several regulations in the service on the Tooth Relic.

    The subsequent period, which saw the arrival of the first colonial power, the Portuguese, in 1505, brought about the deterioration of Buddhist activities. The disturbances in the ruling power, missionary activities of the Colonial powers of the Portuguese and the Dutch and other calamitous situations resulted in the Tooth Relic being secretly carried away by the faithful monks to safer locations. Thus, the Relic was shifted to the next kingdom, Sitawaka ruled by Mayadunne. According to Dathadhatuvamsa, prior to the bringing of the Tooth Relic to Ratnapura, it was taken as far south as the Mulgirigala Vihara and then to the Ridivihara in the Kurunegala District. The Tooth Relic was finally hidden in a cairn located in the Delgamuva Vihara in Ratnapura, and it was from this temple that the Tooth Relic was brought to its final and present resting place in Kandy by Vimaladharmasuriya I (1592 – 1603).