Inventory no.: 192

Sacred Tooth Relic Silver Plate, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, Ceylonese, perahera)


Silver Tray Showing the Procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic

Ceylon/Sri Lanka

circa 1880

length: 23 cm; width: 18.2 cm

This rectangular tray or plate is repoussed with a scene from the annual perahera parade associated with the Festival of the Sacred Tooth Relic at Kandy, the last seat of the Sinhalese kingdom, in what is now Sri Lanka. The stupa-shaped golden casket in which the Sacred Tooth is kept is clear beneath a canopied howdah on the lead elephant’s back. Also shown to the right of the procession is the banner in the shape of the sun with a human face, one of the mangul lakuna or 108 auspicious symbols associated with the foot of the Buddha, that is carried as part of the perahera procession. A rectangular cartouche is incised with the rounded Sinhalese script.

The tooth is said to have been removed from the funerary ashes of the Buddha by a monk and handed over to the king of Kalinga in Eastern India. Thereafter, the Tooth Relic became an object of great veneration by generations of Kalinga kings.

It is believed to have arrived in Sri Lanka in the 4th century when the procession associated with the Relic is first recorded.

The procession period begins with the planting at each of the four Dewale (main shrines) of poles cut from a certain tree. This ritual is shown in each of the four corners of the plate.

The tusker usually walks on a long white cloth spread before it (shown in the plate). A group of singers (the

kavikara maduva) and musicians proceed ahead singing in praise of the Tooth Relic (also shown). The Diyawadana Nilame (Custodian of the Tooth Relic) walks behind accompanied by his assistants. Skilled dancers and drummers accompany them and symbolic weapons are carried too on either side.

The British Museum has on display silver manuscript covers that are also repoussed with a scene from the Procession of the Sacred Tooth Relic, dated 1886 (inventory no. OA 1982.10-8.2).

Inventory no.: 192