Buddha's Tooth

05/09/2013 17:32

When Siddhartha Gautama finished his reincarnation cycles by a stomach poisoning, some 486 years before Christ did, his body was burnt with sandalwood along the river Chotta Gandak, in Kushinara, present state of Uttar Pradesh, India.It is said, once cremation ceremony was over, eight relics from his body were distributed throughout the Buddhist world and were saved in temples and monuments built for that purpose. One of these relics was the left canine, which a monk handed to the king Brahmadatte. The relic was kept to be venerated in Dantapuri, Orissa.

Eight centuries later, clashes in Kalinga kingdom recommended moving the relic to protect it. Prince Dhantha and his consort Princess Hemamali, hiding the tooth in her hairstyle, embarked at Tamralipti, in the mouth of the Ganges. Both landed in Lankapattama harbour, Sri Lanka, during Siri Meghavanna kingdom. The king ordered to build a new temple, the Meghagiri Vihara, in Anuradhapura, the main city.

The relic was always linked to the royal power. So it has been following the successive moving of the kingdom capitals from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Beligala and Yapahuwa, up to the year 1280, when the Indian General Aryacakravarti invaded the island and included the relic as part of the spoils of plunder. One decade later the Sinhalese king Parakramabahu II achieved its return to the Island and the tooth was kept, first in Kurunegala and later in Kotte, near the present day Colombo.

The existence of the Buddha’s relic also reached the ears of the Chinese Empire. As early as the seventh century, between years 629 and 645, the monk, traveller and translator Hiuen Tsiang made a long journey through South Asia to visit the holiest places of Buddhism. Apparently he didn’t reach Ceylon lands, but he met in India with monks from the island. Hiuen Tsiang returned loaded with more than six hundred books related to Sakyamuni teachings. He translated many of them from Sanskrit into Mandarin and also wrote, in 646, his Memoirs of the West compiled during the Tang Dynasty, reflecting the views on the Temple of the Tooth in the Indian Ocean Island, which is decorated with all kinds of gems and its splendour dazzling the eyes as it was sun ... visible day and night, from a distance looks like a big bright star.

Six centuries had gone when Kublai Khan ordered the deployment of a fleet to Ceylon in 1284. According to some sources the reason was to seize the relic. If we have to believe Marco Polo, who was involved and so reflected it in the Book of the wonderful things of the East, was to get the biggest and most beautiful ruby worldwide exists ... it has a foot long and is as thick as a man's arm. Neither tooth nor ruby ​​came ever to China.

On 15 November 1505 the Portuguese arrived. In its efforts to extend Catholicism became obsessed in destroying the relic. Twice, a fake copy was send to Goa to be ground in a mortar, burned and remaining ashes thrown into the river.

In the seventeenth century the true relic arrived to Kandy, then capital of the kingdom of the same name in the centre of the island. The last Sinhala king, Narandrasinha, began the construction of Dalada Maligawa, the complex of palaces and temples.

The tooth is kept in a set of seven golden boxes, inlaid with precious stones, nested one inside the other in the way of Russian dolls. All the stuff is set onto a table behind a gilded silver fence watched by two guards.

At the sound of the drums chamber doors are opened three times at day to allow believers make their offerings. Of course, they only may see the shrine. Until 1815 only the king was allowed to see the sacred tooth.

Every year, since the days of Kandy’s king Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, in the late eighteenth century, is celebrated in the city one of the most colourful processions across Asia. It’s the Esala, celebrating Buddha's birthday ten days before the July full moon. During the Esala Perahela, the Esala procession, the tooth is carried around the city. Dancers and musicians hitting thousands of drums precede an endless parade of elephants richly embellished with rich clothes and jewels, and even light bulbs that cover the back, the head and trunk. The latest one comes from Maligawa, the Temple, and is the most richly harnessed. Along last night procession carries on its back a replica of the Buddha's tooth relic canopy.

As the Veracruz matchwood or Prophet’s beard hairs, Siddhartha Gautama's teeth multiplied. Besides the temple of Kandy, his canines can be venerated at Lingguang Temple in Beijing, at the Fo Guang Shan Monastery in Kaohsiang, Taiwan, in order of Engaku Shari-ji in Kamakura, Japan and in the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Singapore’s Chinatown.

© J.L.Nicolas


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