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Cultural evening in Kandy

Our visit to Kandy was far too short to say the least. We arrived in this picturesque city in the early evening – around 4pm – from Dambulla. Our arrival into the city was greeted by some drizzle, but nothing too heavy to hamper our movement. We had booked a room at a budget hotel on Saranankara Road (based on guide books recommendation) but we also ended up checking out a couple of other places just higher up the hill on our driver, Nilan’s advice. We didn’t quite like those so we went back to our first choice, Expeditor Inn.

Reasonably priced, clean and comfortable, we were also pleased to find ourselves with a room with a view – overlooking the Kandy Lake. The receptionist/caretaker was a helpful and friendly lady in her late thirties/early forties (the common room computer was out of order but she let me used her personal laptop – I had to check my emails as I was trying to organise possible meet-up with a friend’s friend but that fell through in the end), and a porter who was thin and lanky was also on hand to assist the move of our luggages from the van to the room. On the fourth floor. By stairs. Ooops… I normally do travel light but this time, with wedding gifts and attires and whats not, the bag was on the heavy side. I felt quite guilty each time someone (well, usually Nilan) had to carry that.

Once everything was settled and we had a little pause, we headed back into town area. More specifically, to try to catch the Kandyan dance performance that was slated for 5.30pm at the Kandyan Arts Association. We got there just in time to purchase our tickets and grabbed a seat pretty much behind most of the other visitors since we were among the last ones in. Nonetheless, this wasn’t one of the busiest nights so the hall remained only half-filled.

The cultural show was very much a tourist-geared event. It was evident when the majority of those seated in the hall were Caucasians, with a handful of South Asian families here and there. However, at 500 LKR per person, the price was a lot more accessible than many many other things that I’ve paid for during the trip. A programme sheet was distributed at the ticketing desk too, so we would have some information on the significance behind each performance. Unfortunately I can’t seem to locate my programme right now (no idea where I’ve stashed them since my recent move) so I can’t exactly match the names of each dance to the photos that I’ve taken… The dancing and drumming performance didn’t just end there – there were also fire-eating and barefeet charcoal-walking to cap the hour of entertainment!

By the time the show ended, it was already pitched dark outside. Night had completely descended but this was at odd with our European-trained circadian rhythm. In September, “day” for us lasted till near 9pm, not 6.30pm. Luckily, within walking distance of the Kandyan Arts Association, was the Temple of the Tooth. Not only that, the time also coincided with the hour of evening prayer ritual (the other two daily rituals would have taken place at dawn and at noon). Traditional musical instruments played from within could be heard as we approached the temple. (For history of the tooth relic, check this Wiki article.)

There was a cursory security check of our bags just before entering the compound, which was formerly the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Kandy. Upon entering, a couple of things became obvious. First, the temple-goers were mostly dressed in white (I was in an all-black ensemble of tank top and linen pants, hmmm) and carrying flower offerings, signifying their intent to participate in that evening’s rituals. Secondly, the crowd of Western tourists from the dance hall had disappeared like a mirage in the desert. I thought they would have employed similar visiting strategy like us, until it dawned on me that the tourists had probably saw the relic earlier in the day. It would have been a good plan – they could have taken much better photos and also get to enjoy the view of the lake during the day.

Here, we queued for ticket for the fourth time of the day. By now, Claire and I also knew the game well. One foreigner ticket each please (1,000 LKR but you get a free gift with it). Like any other temple, footwears were forbidden and shoulders and knees needed to be covered. I draped the shawl I brought over my shoulders and were thinking of just keeping my sandals in my bag, sort of what I did in Dambulla. No such luck here. Nary a pair could be brought into the inner compound, inside a bag or not. We duly paid the foreigners’ shoes safe-keeping charge. This was also when it dawned on me that I may have committed a major cultural faux pas while I was in Dambulla. I really did not mean to disrespect the sanctity and purity of a temple, oops.

The Temple of the Tooth had a majestic setting to it, no doubt, owing to its location as part of a former palace complex. We entered the complex via Mahawahalkada (the main entrance gate) that sat over a moat, and passed through the ornated tunnel of Ambarawa. We soon met the source of the music we heard earlier. Three musicians were playing by the door of the main shrine. The shrine was two storeys tall and trailing after a large number of pilgrims (with their offerings in hands), we made our way to the upper floor.

The tooth relic itself is encased within a series of golden caskets with the outer most (that we could see anyway) in the shape of a stupa, with plenty of jewellery and gems draped – well, most likely engraved – all over. There was a queue to file pass the small window to the inner shrine where the relic sat, and frankly, one would have a mere second or two to glance at it, before having to move along so the person behind could take a peek too. A monk who stood by the window collecting donations also partially blocked the view. What an anti-climax. I made it up by standing across the gallery and make use of the optical zoom of my camera to at least get a clearer view.

There were a few little things at this temple that revolved around the subject of money which I found, errrm, not particularly Buddhist? Sure, temple upkeeps by mean of donations are common, but that on top of various charges imposed? Not only that, as soon as the last “paying” visitor walked past the aforementioned window to see the relic, the monk actually shut the window! If you were standing anywhere else in the court area and trying to catch a better look without being blocked by constantly moving visitors, honey, that ain’t going to happen. I didn’t (and still don’t) think this gesture runs in line with the principle of generosity urged in the teaching of Buddhism.

I can’t speak for Claire but I found visiting other parts of the temple more interesting. There were various other smaller rooms and nooks where various statues can be found, as well as a relatively spacious Buddhist museum with white-washed carved ceiling beams and golden elephant heads, chequered marble floor, statues of Buddha from all over the world (including those from Malaysia!), and a series of paintings depicting the story of the famous tooth and its arrival to Kandy.

Looking back, we had an amazingly packed second day in Sri Lanka. We started the day with a hike of an ancient rock, continued in the afternoon with a visit to cave temples, and ended the evening with a cultural performance as well as a (famous) temple visit. In between, I’ve chomped down a couple of amazing rice & curry meals (I’ll talk about food some other time) and so the day was as good as it could be. I was pleased.

Ps: do take a look at the Flickr photosets – I couldn’t post all the relevant pictures to every blog entry. Each post is getting longer each time as it is!


All posts in this series:
Sri Lanka: Ceylonese Tales
Sri Lanka: Trekking Sigiriya | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cave temples of Dambulla | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cultural evening in Kandy | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: We sort of saw Nuwara Eliya… | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Morning hike at Horton Plains | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: A room with a view in Ella | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Tissa, Yala and safari | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The southern coast | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The old fort of Galle | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Roadtrip ended in Colombo | Flickr Photoset

Category: Asia, Sri Lanka, Travel

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2 scribbles & notes

  1. m3d says:

    wow…good write up ;) free virtual holiday for me hehe and very nice view of the lake too!!!

    cant wait for the food entry hehehe

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