August, the month during which the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera (Pageant) is held, is a period during which we should consider what nations the world over have done to protect and contribute to the Sri Dalada Malgiawa. The Sri Dalada Maligawa has been endowed with objects and precious material over the years. One of the main benefactors has been Myanmar.
Among the herd of tuskers at the moment are two elephants from Buruma, Raja and Myannmar Raja. These elephants have been trained to carry the Golden Casket (Karanduwa) during the Kandy Esala Pageant. These tuskers may be replaced in the future. President Maithripala Sirisena is to receive one more tusker from Myanmar within the next few days. The animal has already been shipped according to Maligawa sources. There are three tuskers among the herd of elephants at the Sri Dalada Maligawa.
The idea to have another tusker is the suggestion of Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela. He had suggested to get a white Tusker from Mayannmar, especially for the deployment of carrying the Golden Casket. However, the then President of Myanmar wasn’t on the same page with the island’s Maligawa authorities regarding the presenting of a tusker to Sri Lanka. But later, the President of Myanmar had offered a tusker as a gift from the Government of Myanmar to the Government of Sri Lanka.
The tusker was inspected by the veterinarians before being shipped. The authorities had encountered problems regarding high transport costs. President Sirisena had intervened and solved the problem by making arrangements for the Government of Sri Lanka to bear the transportation costs. Now the Tusker is reported to be on its way to Sri Lanka. However it won’t be here on time for the pageant.
Gifts from Burma
The Burmese are devoted to the Sri Dalada Maligawa. The stone pillars on which rest the upper floors above the Hewisi Mandapaya or Drummer Hall are gifts from Burmese devotees. On the stone pillars are inscribed the names of our ‘friends’ from Yangon (Earlier Rangoon). The casket is also a gift from a Burmese King and a number of such gifts has been offered to the Sri Dalada Maligawa.
When Upasampada (Ordination) rites were no longer in Sri Lanka, it was the Burmese Sangha (Buddhist monastic order) who brought the rites before the Siam Nikaya. Ven. Sooriyagoda Nayaka Thera was one such monk who was ordained with Burmese Upasamapda rites. The Upasampada ritual faded away and it’s in this impasse that Venerable Weliwita Sangharaja Thera requested King Keerthi Sri Rajasingha to allow the Thai Upasampada rituals to be brought to Sri Lanka.
A TUSKER FROM BURMA
The begging bowl
Yet there is a school of thought that supports the ideology that the begging bowl of Buddha has always been where the Sacred Tooth Relic is preserved. There are others who support another school of thought and believe that the begging bowl is preserved within Natha Devale. Late Professor Ven. Warakawe Dhammaloka Thera was of the view that Lord Buddha’s begging bowl was placed in a stupa (A structure containing relics) close to the Sri Dalada Maligawa. However, some time ago, the Indian Museum displayed some pieces which they claimed were the remains of the Buddha’s begging bowl. This is now a matter of debate and no authority has confirmed the place where this object used by Lord Buddha is preserved.
However, it is recorded that during the year 1576, the King of Burma received a delegation from Sri Lanka. They were from the Kingdom of Kotte. According to these records this begging bowl is fashioned out of stone. Whether these records are genuine is a matter of opinion. But many believe that the begging bowl is preserved somewhere in the vicinity of the Sri Dalada Maligawa.
There is an object within the inner shrine room of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. It’s said that this object hasn’t been used for the purpose it was meant for. This object is known as the ‘Human Hair Broom’. It’s a broom with a short handle and is kept covered with white cloth. It’s used very rarely. This broom was shown to this writer by the then Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter Ven. Palipanne Chandananda Thera. This was during the time when the monk did his duties in the inner shrine room.This broom with a short handle was presented by King Bayinnaung of Burma who ascended to the throne during 1662. This was also the time when King Dharmapala ascended to the throne in Kotte. The Broom was offered at a time when the Sacred Relic was in Kotte.
"There is no tradition of offering human hair to temples in Sri Lanka. This is a practice of the Burmese. They offer anything that they can afford to the Temple of the Tooth"
It had been the practice then to offer human hair to temples in Burma for the purpose of sweeping the temple floors. This practice was done as penance. The human hair in such brooms is said to be the hair of the King and Queen Queen themselves.
A question that might surface in anyone’s mind is whether the hair used in the broom, presented to the heirs of the Kotte Kingdom, would remain for so long? There is no tradition of offering human hair to temples in Sri Lanka. This is a practice of the Burmese. They offer anything that they can afford to the Temple of the Tooth.
Yet how the sacred tooth relic and the begging bowl were later accepted by the Kandyan authorities as inheritance isn’t known. According to the ‘Mahawamsa’ it’s a fact that both these sacred possessions were exhibited between the 12th and 14th Century.
According to historic records King of Burma Bayinnaung was considered to be the greatest benefactor and protector of Buddhism. In fact orthodox monk Shin Arahan was instrumental in the reemergence of Buddhism in Burma. This was a time when Hinduism was set to take over Buddhism.
In fact King Bayinnnaung is said to have conquered parts of China. The Portuguese, who were spreading their tentacles to build an Empire throughout Asia, feared King Bayinnaung. His forethought was to protect Buddhism and not just Burma.
When the news reached the King that King Dharmapala ascended to the Thorne of Kotte, he lost no time in sending a delegation to inquire into the position of the Sacred Tooth Relic. It’s during the year 1576 that this king sent a second delegation to Sri Lanka. It’s said that this delegation brought, among other gifts, the broom made of human hair.
Unlike the begging bowl, the broom made of human hair has lasted until today. But it’s not used, nor is it exhibited to the public. Even before the Mahanayake of Asgiriya showed the broom to me, it’s with pride that I reminisce that this ‘Burmese gift’ was shown to my brother and me on several occasions by an uncle of mine, a monk at the Asgiriya Temple.
I consider it a matter of great importance to share my personal experiences to enlighten the public- who pay obeisance at the Sri Dalada Maligawa- that such objects exist. Objects like these signify the unity and the great camaraderie that had existed between these two Buddhist nations. It’s also heartening to note that a man born to Royalty had gifted something very personal to Buddhism in Sri Lanka.
But, unfortunately, the Burmese distanced themselves after their King wasn’t given an opportunity to pay homage to the Sacred Tooth Relic- when he visited Sri Lanka.