Kandy is a small dense city, a warren of narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants that sits on an artificial lake. On one side of the city is the Temple of the Tooth, built to house the Buddha’s tooth. The Tooth sits in a series of elaborate boxes and is an important symbol for Sri Lankan Buddhists, and represents Sri Lankan sovereignty.
A few weeks ago there was an exhibition of the Tooth Relic, something that happens every five years or so. Visitors don’t view the Tooth itself, but instead one of the boxes holding the tooth. One of our friends likened it to seeing the Tooth in its pajamas. The country had been experiencing a drought and whenever they bring out the Tooth it rains. And on the first day the Tooth was displayed it did rain.
The first few days of the exhibition 150,000-200,000 people dressed all in white came each day to see the Tooth. All cars, buses, tuktuks, oxcarts, etc. passing through Kandy have to go along the two lane road running around the lake, and the increase in people and vehicles caused the traffic to become more snarled than before. The lines to see the Tooth Relic were unlike anything I’ve seen. People came from all over the country and spent the night sleeping in line. During the day the people in line were pressed tight up against each other waiting for the brief window of time in the afternoon when they would see the Tooth, or at least the box it’s held in.
After a few days the crowds really ramped up, and Brian and I decided to take a break from the Tooth Mayhem and visit the beach. It’s a good thing we did because the last few days of the Exhibition there were over 500,000 people visiting. The government ended the Exhibition a few days early. According to the rumors they did this because they couldn’t handle the crowds, there had been terrorist threats, or some combination of those two. Whatever the reason, when we returned to Kandy after the exhibition ended, things had returned to normal.