Kandy | Sri Lanka’s Hill Capital
129 Km away from Colombo and 465 metres above sea level, is Kandy (Sinhala: මහ නුවර ; Tamil: கண்டி) , the charming hill capital of Sri Lanka. Kandy is the cultural centre of the island and a World Heritage City. Nestling amidst low hills, and looped by the Mahaweli river, Sri Lanka’s largest, Kandy is still the home of the arts and crafts, music and dance and song which flourished under the patronage of the Kandyan Kings.
The city was born in the 14th century and became the capital of the Kandyan kingdom in the 16th century. It was the seat of much of Sri Lanka’s culture. The Royal City fell to the British in 1815, when the last Kandyan King, Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe was captured.
For Buddhists, Kandy is the sacred city. The focal point is the Dalada Maligawa also known as the temple of the tooth, where the Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha is enshrined. There are many shrines and temples in and around Kandy, where you will see rare paintings, frescoes, wood and stone carvings.
The highlight of the year is the Kandy Esala Perahera, when a replica of the relic casket is taken in procession accompanied by exotically costumed drummers, dancers and about 80 – 100 caparisoned elephants during ten glittering nights in July/ August.
The beautiful city, surrounded by hills and valleys, rivers, lakes and cascading waterfalls, boasts of the Royal Botanical gardens at Peradeniya .
Kandy is an exciting place for shopping with souvenirs of wood, copper, silver, brass and bronze. Ceramics, lacquer work, handlooms, batiks, jewellery, rush and reed-ware too could be purchased. While in Kandy, an outing to a tea factory as well as a tea plantation should also be made to witness first hand, the process that leads to the creation of the famous ‘Ceylon Tea’.
Table of Contents
- 1 Kandy – Points of Interest
- 2 Festivals and Events in Kandy
- 3 Activities in and around Kandy
- 4 Other Points of Interest Close to Kandy
Kandy – Points of Interest
The Dalada Maligawa is also known the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic. Dalada Maligawa is a Buddhist temple in the city of Kandy which was the last capital of the Sinhalese kings. It is the most blessed sites of worship for Buddhists from all over the world. The temple that was built during the 16th century is the abode for the Tooth Relic of the Buddha (left canine tooth to be precise). It was brought to Sri Lanka by two siblings from the Kalinga province in India in the 4th century AD.
The Temple of the Sacred Tooth relic is the ‘lodestar of the Buddhists”. The present Temple was constructed mainly under the Kandyan Kings from 1687 to 1707, and 1747-82. It is an imposing structure, surrounded by a deep moat. One of the most spectacular sections of this temple; the Pattirippuwa or the Octagon, was added by king Sri Wickrema Rajasingha in the early 19th Century. He also built the Kandy lake.
Rituals are enacted daily in the temple to venerate the relic, accompanied by flute playing and drumming.
The ‘Dalada Maligawa’ is in the UNESCO list of World Monuments. There is also an annual procession which commences at the Maligawa called the Esala Perahera, also known as the festival of the Tooth. This is where the Tooth Relic is brought out of its chamber and is carried through the town on a decorated elephant.
Royal Botanical Gardens, Peradeniya
The Royal Botanical Gardens which is also known as the Peradeniya Gardens is renowned for its 300 and more variety of orchids, medicinal plants and herbs and spices. The birth of the Gardens dates back to 1371 during the reign of King Wickramabahu III who kept court near the Mahaweli river
The area, nearly 150 acres in extent, is beautifully undulated, its average elevation above sea-level being about 1,540 feet. The Royal Botanic Gardens at Peradeniya was formally established in 1821, six years after the final occupation of the Kandyan Kingdom by the English. However, its s history dates as far back as 1371 when King Wickramabahu III ascended the throne and kept court at Peradeniya near the Mahaweli River. The site is less than four miles from Kandy on the Colombo road, and occupies a loop of the river Mahaweli.
Malwatte and Asgiriya Monasteries
Kandy’s principal Buddhist Viharas (Monasteries) have considerable importance – the chief incumbents (high priests) of these two monasteries, are the senior ecclesiastics of the Buddhist order in Sri Lanka. The Malwatte monastery on the southern side across the lake is embellished with 18th century architectural design and planning. The higher order ordination of the sangha (the monks), take place annually in both these temples.
The Asgiriya Temple is situated in the western side of the city at Asgiriya. In one of the shrine rooms of this temple is a gigantic Buddha statue of the recumbent Buddha. In Asgiriya is also found the cremation ground of the Kandyan Royalty.
Gadaladeniya Temple sited on a rock, was built by king Buvanekabahu IV and completed in 1344 AD. It has a rooted dagoba and many splendid stone carvings, ornamental pillars and panels with figures of dancers and musicians. A moonstone marks the entry to the main shrine.
Built on a rocky outcrop, the Lankathilaka Viharaya is reached by a long series of steps cut directly into the rock. A cruciform brick building in three storeys, it has a peculiar architectural design.
The temple is full of exquisite painted scenes of the lives of 24 former Buddhas and there is a colossal seated image of the Buddha.
Situated at Welamboda, Embekke Temple is a deistic shrine dedicated to lord Kataragama.
This is a superb example of architecture in wood, and was established by King Vikramabahu in 1371 AD.
The wood art of this temple is astounding – dancers, swans, creepers, soldiers on horseback, floral emblems, double-headed eagles, wrestlers, etc. Special treasures are the doorways of sandalwood and the palanquins used by King Rajasinghe II.
Degaldoruwa is a cave temple which could be reached by crossing the bridge at Lewella. It was built by King Rajasingha in 1771 AD. It is replete with outstanding murals of brilliant red backgrounds depicting the Jataka stories.
Festivals and Events in Kandy
Kandy Esala Perahera
The month of month of Esala (July / August) is a very important one on the Sri Lankan Buddhist calendar, it is when the annual Esala Perahera parades the streets of Kandy. The Esala Perahera, is easily the most colorful pageant in Asia.
The perahera or parade consists of an extremely colourful line up of dancers, drummers, musicians, whip crackers, fire dancers and a multitude of pilgrims. There are also hundreds of elephants bedecked with glittering fabrics and twinkling lights. As the pageantry unfolds through ten nights each year, the city of Kandy takes on the air of a torch-lit dreamland. The highlight is a majestic tusker carrying the sacred tooth relic in its golden casket. The colorfully caparisoned elephants, drummers, dancers and chieftains transports you to the sights, sounds and majesty of the old kingdom. The Perahera is a plea from the devotees for rains which will make the local harvests plentiful.
The cultural show is famous among tourists to the hill capital, Kandy. The show is performed in the evening and runs for approximately one hour, during which the spectators are held spellbound by the colourful acts on show. Sri Lankan drummers exhibit their skills, and divers forms of dance can be witnessed, all executed with skill and enthusiasm. The final act is the fire show, with the artists stunning the audience by eating fire and rubbing fire along their bodies!It is a very enjoyable and entertaining show that colorfully depicts the country’s cultural heritage.
Activities in and around Kandy
Kandy City Tour
The city tour includes a visit to the famous ‘Dalada Maligawa’ (Temple of the Tooth Relic), the main Kandy Market, a spice garden, the gem museum and other interesting places. You will also see the beautiful manmade Kandy Lake which is located close to the Temple. The Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya will no doubt be one of the highlights as it will give you many hours of pleasurable and educational wandering through its massive acreage.
Trekking the Temple Loop West: Embekke, Lankathilleke and Gadaladeniya
For tourists interested in out-of-the-ordinary excursions, and delving into history, a visit to the three Buddhist temples known as the Temple Loop in the Kandy area would be well worth a day spent. The three temples are Embekke Devale, Lankathilleke and Gadaladeniya and they are located approximately 10km west of Kandy. These temples were built during the 14th century and contain some very beautiful carvings and kandyan paintings. It is possible to visit all three in a vehicle, and there is also the option of walking part of the way so that you may enjoy a trek and the surrounding scenery.
Trekking at Knuckles Mountain Range
The Knuckles Mountain Range area is a real paradise for nature lovers, and those seeking action. Many nature trails have been cleared by the Forest Department for trekking and camping – Pitawela Pathena trail, Knuckles Summit trail, Mini World’s End trail and many more. These trails take you through dense forests, across rivers, past waterfalls and through verdant Tea plantations, giving you a wonderful view of the stunning scenery and the local flora and fauna. Little mountain villages are also accessible, enabling you to appreciate their simple lifestyle and revel in the serenity of the surroundings.
Play Golf at Victoria Golf & Country Resort
The Victoria Golf & Country Club, located in Kandy near the famous Victoria Reservoir, is one of the most beautiful Golf Courses in the world. Designed by Donald Steel, it is one that spans slopes, peaks and dales, providing players with a challenging round of Golf, while harmoniously blending in with the scenic panorama that is its backdrop. In addition, the Club is fully equipped with all modern amenities that make it a perfect vacation venue for golfing as well as non-golfing guests, with a range of activities on offer that will keep everyone happy.
Other Points of Interest Close to Kandy
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
Located to the NorthWest of the town of Kegalle, it is the abode to over 60 wild elephants for breeding. Established in 1975 to save the extinction of elephants in Sri Lanka because of poachers and hunters, it had 12 elephants at inception.
The elephants are led to the nearby river twice a day for their baths, and this is quite an interesting event for the many visitors. The baby Elephants under three years are bottle fed milk, and all the animals are given approximately 76k of green manure daily in addition to rice bran and maize. They are given the chance to drink water from the river twice a day during bath time.
Enjoy an experience of bottle-feeding baby elephant calves, feeding other elephants and join them in their bath! The wide river bank which is accessorized with rocks serve as the best location for these beautiful animals to quench their thirst and cool their bodies with a dip in the water. Watch them play and splash around in the water; remember that they’re very social and would enjoy sending a spurt towards you too!
Visit the Temple Loop East: Degaldoruwa, Gangarama & Galmaduwa
East of Kandy city is ‘Temple Loop 2’, another trio of temples, which you can visit in a tuk tuk. The Degaldoruwa and Gangarama Temples can be reached from the Tennekumbura Road, and are constructions done during the 18th century. Both are cave Temples and have an image of a standing Buddha and reclining Buddha respectively. Also to be seen are some of the most beautiful Temple art frescoes in the island depicting Buddhist Jathaka Tales.
The Galmaduwa Viharaya is in the Hindagala district and is a slightly older Temple. It is also considered the Buddhist Temple with a most Hindu-like appearance.
Nalanda Gedige, Matale
Nalanda Gedige is a pagoda like ancient Sinhalese structure constructed purely by the use of stone and rock. Its portico is lavishly decorated in 7th century style that curtailed in Madras, South India. The “Gedige” is used to acknowledge the period of the setting sun and is noted because of its connection with the ancient Ravana’s son, Indrajith.
Aluvihara Rock Temple, Matale
The Aluvihara rock monastery is located a little north of the Matale town. This monastery dates back to the 3rd century BC and is believed to have been established during the reign of King Devanampiyatissa. The caves are ornamented with hand-painted frescoes and coloured statues of devils and sinners showing you various forms of punishment in the afterlife. Dare yourself to take a trip through this magnificent caves and marvel yourself about the next life.
Arankale Monastery, Kurunegala
Be amazed by this 6th century Buddhist forest hermitage where pious hermitage of Maliyadeva and other hermits and sages survived. Arankale was the Royal capital of Sri Lanka and is small stretch of land that is rich with myth, romance and history. The part of it that will amaze you the most are the huge Buddha statues and the Sasseruwa Buddha statue. The Sylvan Forest monastery of the Arankela is another site that’ll keep you awed.
Ridi Viharaya, Ridigama, Kurunegala
Located in the ancient city of Kurunegala, in a small village called “Ridi Gama”, stands the proud “Ridi Viharaya” (Ridhi Viharaya). It is said to have been built by King Dutugemunu in the 2nd century in memory of the silver ore mine that he found and used as the financial foundation for the construction of the great Ruwanweli Saya. It is a cove that tolerates Sinhala, Buddhist, Tamil, Hindu and Christian arts. About 2,300 years ago it is believed to have been the home of Arahath Indragupta and come 2nd century BC, it was used by King Dutugemunu to finance the construction of the Ruwanweli Saya.
This ancient ruined city is situated in the North Western Province of Sri Lanka. The Dambadeniya period started from 1246 and lasted eighty years up until the reign of Parakrama Bahu IV who was better known as Panditha Parakrama Bahu. It was during this rule that a lot was done to develop the arts, literature and the Sinhalese language. Archeologists have put in a lot of effort and excavations have brought out ruins of the temple of the relic of the Tooth and the Royal Palace, garden layouts and ponds, city walls and even moats.