Kandy in Srilanka was the capital city of the last of the Srilankan Kings. The kings were from the lineage of the princely family from the Nayakar dynasty,from Madurai and Tanjore in south India.
My friend drove past the arid, parched north -east heading towards the Central Province of SriLanka. The drive was through forest reserves in which the roads had many signs of elephant crossings. I kept looking for elephants and was mesmerized watching the change in scenery from sand to trees. and from dry to wet. It was thereafter an unnoticeable ,steady climb over a plateau and we drove through a range of mountains to reach Kandy, which lay nestled in between the hills about 550 meters above sea level.
The weather in Kandy was perfect, sunny and warm at 28C. The town was a pretty sight with with many avenues which lead towards and beyond the town center. The town center apparently had been built around a lake beside the Royal Palace which possessed the most prestigious and sacred of the many Buddhist religious relics in the world.The relic was that of the tooth of Buddha that was kept enshrined in a temple within the Palace. We parked beside the lake about fifty meters behind the Palace. We paid the fee and walked to the Abode of Royalty and the shrine of divinity.
The Palace was huge. It was fortified with tall walls and surrounded by a moat. The entrance into the palace however was small and we had to purchase an entrance ticket that was rather expensive. We also had to remove our shoes. We then walked across the bridge over the moat from which I noticed large monitor lizards swimming the water below. At first, I mistook them for alligators. We then walked through a corridor into the palace after climbing a few stairs.The kings court was a long building with a central doorway that led into an imposing hall, decorated with stucco and terra- cotta work. There were rooms beside the hall with a long veranda that overlooked the inner court yard. The palace had many storeys and huge decorated halls. These halls have now been turned into a museum. The museum helped me understand the history of the citadel. From the paintings and pictures of the royalty displayed on the walls, I noticed that they were all educated in the United Kingdom and were conferred with titles of honor by the British.
Kandy was ruled by the Srilankan kings of South Indian lineage who ruled over the native Sinhalese and a cosmopolitan race of the many ethnic groups in India. Keralites,Telugu and Tamil people who had settled into the tropical farm lands that were famed for its spices formed part of the population.The SriLankan kings were always confronted by invasions led by the then super powers, who were none other than the Portuguese, Dutch and finally the British. The Kandyan rulers fought for their rights but ended up living a truce with the Dutch and finally with the British who took over the entire administrative control from them and paid them a royalty.
The war ravaged castle was thereafter renovated and the town soon flourished. The British patronized the royalty till it suited them and during the era of forming a colonial empire, the King and his family were imprisoned and deported by ship to a prison in Vellore which was in South India. The British there after laid roads, rail, schools and farm based agricultural industries. They introduced growing tea in the mountainous ranges surrounding Kandy. Kandy then became the most prosperous city in Srilanka famed for its spices and Tea.
This town which possessed the relic of the tooth of Buddha also celebrated the religious festivals associated with Buddhism. Many hundreds and thousands of Buddhists gathered in town and the palace grounds was the host of the festivities. The Hindus and Muslims took pride in the celebrations which was when the Holy relic was taken out in procession around town. This relic of the tooth of Buddha is now enshrined in a golden tabernacle placed above an alter, decorated between two huge elephant tusks. It is in a hall, in a two storey temple within the palace complex. Many people sit before the alter and some prostrate in worship. The temple hall is filled with Buddhists chants and a sweet odor of sandal. They burn incense sticks before the alter. It is a common religious practice. The scent from the burning incense sticks fills the air with a mystic fragrance.
Coming out of the temple into the courtyard there is a royal garden as well as a memorial built in honour of the preserved carcass of an elephant tusker, upon which the relic of Buddha was first brought into the city. We then walked around the lake which was home to many water birds and monitor lizards. The lake however has been turned into an entertainment park, sporting boat rides for a fee.
Beside the Lake are a few cultural centers selling the famed boutique hand printed typically Lankan clothing, spices and variety of tea. The centers are crowded in the evenings,with tourists who come to watch the famous Kandyan dance performances.
Getting our tickets we seated ourselves to view a rare variety dance performed by young men and beautiful women. They wore decorated jewelry as well as traditional dresses and danced to the the rhythm of drumbeats, symbols tambourine, flute, blowing of conch shells and singing. Ceremonial dance, religious dance with graceful movements, traditional village folk dance, war dance, demon dance and fire dances were performed by the artists with dexterity, in costumes that matched the situation. A rare peacock dance enthralled the crowd and after the show was over many western tourists took pictures, posing themselves beside the artists. They then put some money into the tip boxes placed at the exits.
I was told that these dances were banned by the British but the people practiced this cultural art form which originated in Temples and were secretly performed, during religious festivals in the remote villages. The post Independence era witnessed it bursting into prominence and today it has become an iconic cultural symbol of SriLanka.
The evening weather measured 19C. The town was bustling with activity and many of the restaurants and bakers were doing good business. We settled for diner at a restaurant that served good, hot, string hoppers with fine ground prawn curry and vegetables for salad.Though the curry was spicy hot, the salad cooled the heat. We walked back to our hotel which was up on a hillock and from our room I took some time out sitting in the balcony looking out at the city lights spread among the mountains. I remembered my grandmother telling me that my grandfather in the nineteen forties had a roaring business and a tea plantation in Kandy and would always come here to spend the summer months which was the hottest period in India like the British in Srilanka would leave Colombo and move into the cool mountain ranges of Kandy. I wondered why my grand dad sold the estates. Had only he not sold the estates, I thought, I would be doing the same things he did during summer, for I felt that Kandy was a pleasant city. I enjoyed the stay and I wish you too would one day probably visit and enjoy the cosmopolitan feel and pleasantness of Kandy which was the last fortress of the Srilankan royalty.