SACRED TOOTH RELIC IN SRI LANKA
From the time of its arrival in Sri Lanka in the 4th century until the end
of the 10th century when the capital Anuradhapura was shifted to
Polonnaruva, only a few instances are recorded in the chronicle Mahavamsa .
Yet, Fa-Hsien, the Chinese traveller 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 king 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.
Going by the descriptions of literary texts dealing with the sacred Tooth
Relic, and also the sporadic references of the chronicle, it is possible to
conclude that the sacred Tooth Relic was well guarded by the kings and considered it to be the palladium of kingship. Some of the kings even went
to the extent of prefixing the term `Datha' ( Tooth) to their names, e.g.
Dathopatissa, Dathappabhuti, Dalamugalan, etc., which clearly indicates their close association with the sacred Tooth Relic.
The intrusion of South Indian Cholas and the internal disharmony in the ruling houses resulted in the Tooth Relic facing unsafe vicissitudes now
and then. Yet, the historical records indicate that the Tooth Relic continued to be in the custody of the Anuradhapura rulers, until king
Vijayabahu I shifted the capital to Polonnaruva in the 11th century.
The present ruins of the Atadage at the Sacred Quadrangle (Dalada
in the ancient city of Polonnaruva, is identical with the Tooth Relic temple built by
Vijayabahu. The Velaikkara stone inscription standing at
the side of this edifice provides many details on the history of the Tooth
Relic. It appears that the Tooth Relic, 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, according to the
Velaikkara inscription, 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 eye-balls of the Buddha image located in the ground floor shrine room
were washed annually with unguents, as recorded in the inscription. The architectural plan of the Atadage too, is significant in that this
two-storied plan seems to have been the prototype followed in the later periods down to the
present Dalada shrine at Kandy.
According to the text Sasanavamsa, 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
The years following king Vijayabahu's death appear to have been quite calamitous in the political field. The country came to be ruled under
separate rulers who were weaklings. Consequently, many Buddhist shrines were destroyed. In this state of affairs, fearing the destruction of the
sacred Tooth and the Bowl Relics, the monks secretly removed them to safer
locations in the southern country, Rohana. With the accession of king Parakramabahu I in the year 1153 AD, Sri Lankan
political scene assumed a firm basis again. While rebuilding the country'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 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 glory of
Polonnaruva waned, and with the invasion of Kalinga Magha, 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 this 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 down 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 Damabadeniya rock According to the text Dalada Pujavaliya, Parakramabahu conducted the Relics to
Srivardhanapura, the city of his birth, and held a great ritual worship.
He was responsible for the building of the
Relic shrine at the Vijayasundararama at Dambadeniya, where
the Relic was deposited and festive rituals were conducted
by the king.
The peaceful and prosperous time under Parakramabahu was disturbed by the
invasion of Chandrabhanu of Java. However, the king was able to expel the
enemy and bring back the country to a stable status again. It is recorded
that during a severe drought, the sacred Tooth Relic was taken out of the
shrine and a great procession held. He placed the Relic on the throne and
having worshipped the Relic for seven days, offered the kingdom to the sacred Tooth Relic, which resulted in the termination of the drought. This
incident indicates the esteem that the sacred Tooth Relic enjoyed as a symbol of kingship.
Even during the lifetime of Parakramabahu II, his son Vijayabahu as sub-king, renovated and enlarged the Relic shrine and conducted great
ritual services. As the chronicle records, he restored the ruined religious
edifices at Polonnaruva, including the Tooth Relic shrine and having placed
the Tooth Relic therein, conducted an abhiseka (coronation) ceremony.
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 fortress, 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. It is interesting to note that 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
traveller, 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
Bhuvanekabahu II (1293-1312) is reported to have brought the Tooth Relic
from Polonnaruva and placed it within a shrine built at his capital, Kurunagala.
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 charge 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 honor of the sacred Tooth Relic. He is
credited with the building of the shrine at Niyangampaya at Gampola, which
comes closer to the 14th century Gadaladeniya temple in the decorative elements.
Thereafter, Bhuvanekabahu V (1372-1408) shifted the capital to Jayavardanapura 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 Jayavardanapura 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 of the Tooth
The subsequent period, which saw the arrival of the first colonial power,
the Portuguese, in 1505, brought about the deterioration of Buddhist activities. Further, 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
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).