Posed artistically against the steep wooded hills of the Udawattakele Sanctuary, Sri Lanka’s most important Buddhist shrine, the Temple of the Tooth, or Dalada Maligawa, sits on the lakeshore just east of the city centre. The temple houses the legendary Buddha’s Tooth, which arrived here in the sixteenth century after various peregrinations around India and Sri Lanka, although nothing remains of the original temple, built around 1600. The main shrine of the current temple was originally constructed during the reign of Vimala Dharma Suriya II (1687–1739) and was rebuilt and modified at various times afterwards, principally during the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasinha (1747–81). It was further embellished during the reign of Sri Wickrama Rajasinha, who added the moat, gateway and Pittirippuva; the eye-catching golden roof over the relic chamber was donated by President Premadasa in 1987.

The temple was badly damaged in 1998 when the LTTE detonated a massive truck bomb outside the entrance, killing over twenty people and reducing the facade to rubble. Restoration work was swift and thorough, however, and there’s little visible evidence left of the attack, although crash barriers now prevent vehicular access to the temple, and all visitors have to pass through stringent security checks.

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