Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy is Sri Lanka’s second biggest city, although not very large with around 115,000 people. Because it was Poya, the full moon ceremony which happens every month, most everything was closed for the celebrations. Every month at Poya it is a public holiday, so Sri Lanka has an awful lot of public holidays! It also meant that I went to sleep with the melodious sound of Buddhist chanting and singing.

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

There’s a lot to fill in your time in Kandy. It’s known for Kandy cultural dancing, is the home to a very colourful and eccentric hotel, Helga’s Folly, and also the massive sprawling Royal Botanic Gardens, which cover 147 acres. It’s a beautiful space, and evidently the place to go for courting Kandy couples. Massive park-like gardens and a plant house, spice garden, orchid house, cactus house, herb garden plus a variety of gracious planted avenues. There was plenty to see, even if I did have to make a detour to avoid a troop of monkeys playing in the road.

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

However the thing that Kandy is most famous for is its Temple of the Tooth, and what a crush of people there were. It’s obviously a very sacred place, the home of Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist relic – a tooth of the Buddha and we all know how big a tooth is. Imagine crowds of people – the tourists, fervent pilgrims, the curious – all trying to get a glimpse of the tooth. The tooth is kept inside a huge golden casket, which is inside a special temple, which mere mortals such as myself can only view from the doorway, and then only during evening prayers. And then it turns into a mosh pit, not very Zen at all.

First of all there’s a massive queue of people waiting to walk past the door when it is opened, for a glimpse and a brief prayer. Behind that there’s a little private area, surrounded by small gates, filled with people dressed in white and sitting quietly, praying and waiting. Just when I thought they couldn’t fit any more people in, the white-clad guards opened the gate and more people filed in. It reminded me of a sheep pen. Behind the sheep pen is a long table where people put their offerings, richly scented flowers, and people stand waiting to glimpse the tooth casket when the door is opened. This was where I was waiting.

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

The door finally opened and it seemed like all hell broke loose. Sri Lankan queuing techniques were in full force. People surged towards me from the left and the right, and there I was in the middle of it all, a holy mosh pit. I was the meat (or tofu) in a Buddhist sandwich. I had a mental image of the pictures from the Black Friday sales, it was like a religious stampede. I wiggled my way out, desperate for some space.

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Kandy, Sri Lanka

Then I went downstairs to another kind of holy room, a tiny little space with Buddhas and books, yet more people crushing me all around. Then we went to the library, another tiny little room filled to capacity with fervent worshippers. I was well over it, however went back upstairs to glimpse the tooth.

At first it seemed like a good idea, things were much quieter up there, and I was very hopeful of getting an opportunity to see the tooth. But just as I was about to get my chance as I reached the vital spot, the guard shut the gate and he told me to wait. From then on it was very confusing. I waited, and waited and waited. Then they opened the gate for the sheep pen people and they got to go into the actual room. It seemed to take forever. Actually it did take forever. Then more people came into the sheep pen and their gates shut but they had to wait too. The door to the tooth room stayed shut and there was more waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then finally FINALLY, the door to the tooth was re-opened and my gate opened too. It was my turn at last. After a nano-second at the opening to the room, I was moved on. But I got as close to the tooth as I could.

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