Exploring Sri Lanka’s Culture in Kandy

Kandy is often known as the cultural capital of Sri Lanka and is located in the southern center of the country. It is the second largest city in Sri Lanka, and it was the last capital city of the famous Kings of Sri Lanka. It is surrounded by lush hills, tea plantations and beautiful scenery, but the city itself also has a lot to offer a tourist. I met some new friends, Mike & Hannah a couple from the UK, at the hostel and we decided to spend the day exploring the city.

In the center of town is the beautiful Kandy lake, which has an easy accessible pedestrian walkway all around the lake. It’s really lovely around sunset time as the colors of the water and surrounding forests light up in bright orange hues. Unfortunately, I picked one of the worst seasons to visit Sri Lanka, as it just the end of the rainy season and everything is still muddy and it rains often. Luckily, we had a good day to see the lake and sites, with rain for only an hour!

View of Kandy Lake from the pedestrian walkway
View of Kandy Lake from the pedestrian walkway

Another excellent stop in downtown Kandy is the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. One of the most sacred Buddhist temples, it is located inside the palace of the former kingdom of Sri Lanka. It is believed that the tooth was pulled from the body of the Buddha and has been passed around for nearly 2000 years. Although the tooth was an important religious relic, it was also an important political piece. Safeguard of the relic was a responsibility of the monarch, and over the years the guardianship of relic became to symbolize the right to rule. Therefore, there were skirmishes over the control of the relic, and some monarchs even went to great lengths to hide the tooth relic during their reign. The modern day temple was built to house the tooth in 1595, and survived a terrorist bombing attack in 1998. Monks, worshippers and devotees visit the relic and temple so this is a very active location. When we visited, we found a group of monks leading a ritual prayer with lots of Buddhists making flower and incense offerings. It was so interesting to see the chanting and prayer service in person. The building itself is beautiful, with a unique octagonal gazebo and beautifully painted murals and ceilings.

Octagonal gazebo at the Temple of the Tooth
Octagonal gazebo at the Temple of the Tooth

Also inside the temple grounds is the World Buddhist Museum. A surprisingly interesting stop, the museum wings are organized by region (ie Bangladesh, Korea, India) and show a variety of Buddhist relics from each country. I really enjoyed looking at all the different typictions of the Buddha from the various regions, and the changes you notice. Chinese Buddha was very fat and jolly, while Indonesian Buddha looked almost femine, and almost all the Buddhas from Myanmar were made out of gold. We also learned about some of the history of Buddhism, different teachings and the significance of the different hand and seated positions you see on Buddhist temples and statues.

Our final stop on our tour of Kandy was the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha Statue (I know, quite the mouthful. I haven’t the slightest idea how to pronounce it…) Visible from nearly every part of the city, a cement poured 88 foot Buddha towers over the city from up on one of the steep mountains. A bright white statue, its a steep walk uphill to reach the site, or you can take a cheap tuktuk up. We opted to walk, and were greeted with a nice layer of sweat by the top of the hill. But once up there, we got a lovely view of the Buddha, and even got to walk up the backside of the Buddha, for a panoramic view of the city from above.

The big white Buddha
The big white Buddha
The new temple for the tooth
The new temple for the tooth
Entrance to the World Buddhist Museum
Entrance to the World Buddhist Museum

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Author: Megan Arz

I am a travel and food obsessed Midwesterner living in Chicago and dreaming of the world. I work as a full-time program manager for Greenheart Travel, but I am also committed to integrating the travel lifestyle into my every day routines. I am passionate about ethical travel, meeting new people, creating unique memories and eating local cuisine!

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