Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Sweet Tooth

There are some places in the world that just have to be visited because of their names alone: lake Titicaca, Ouagadougou, Timbuktu and Condom spring immediately to mind. Another contender for the list would have to be Kandy (for obvious reasons). As a child I once imagined a town designed by Willy Wonka and peopled by Oompa Loompas. Of course I quickly grew out of such fantasies, but nevertheless the name has held a certain fascination for me to this day.

Sri Lanka was first targeted by Western colonial powers in 1517 when the Portuguese established Colombo and started taking over the coastal kingdoms. These were defeated with short shrift, but the kingdom of Kandy held out in the mountains even after the Dutch took over from the Portuguese in the 17th century. It wasn't until the British arrived on the scene in 1796 that the Kandyans were finally defeated after a couple of bloody wars. That is why Kandy is considered the cultural capital of the Sinhalese. It is also the spiritual capital for the Buddhist Sinhalese as it has a temple containing the holiest relic on the island: Buddha's tooth. And not just any tooth, but his upper, left canine. I'm not sure whether eye teeth are holier than molars, but it's important to be exact about these things. The divine dentition is kept within its own little room, inside a multitude of ever-diminishing golden caskets (sort of like Russian dolls) and is revealed to its adoring fans three times a day for half an hour, when you get to sidle past it for a few seconds.

Buddhism is the religion of the majority Sinhalese population, and it is said by some that the form of Theravada Buddhism practiced here is the least adultered form of the religion in the world. (Most people in the West imagine the Tibetan form, with the Dalai Lama, when they think of Buddhism, but Buddhism in Tibet has been greatly influenced by the local, animistic Bon religion.) Though, to be honest, Buddhism is not as visible here as in Thailand or Laos, where you can hardly walk without stepping on a monk as there most men become monks for at least a short period of time during some part of their lives. Here the religion seems to be more subdued and less visible, though that might be due to the fact that there are also significant Hindu, Christian and even Muslim minorities.

1 comment:

K1 said...

hey don`t foget goa island