Located in the foothills of the central highlands around the banks of a picturesque lake, steeped in history, and possessing a salubrious climate, Kandy is Sri Lanka’s renowned second city. In many ways, however, Kandy is more important than the true capital, for although Colombo may be the hub of commerce and communication, it is Kandy that has always been the centre of Sri Lanka’s rich culture and the symbol of the nation’s complex identity. Kandy is known to most Sri Lankans as Maha Nuwara, The Great City. And great it is. The sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha is housed here in its own temple, and is paraded around the city in one of Asia’s most celebrated festivals, the Kandy Perahera, held during July-August. The monasteries of Sri Lanka’s two leading Buddhist sects have long been established in the city. Traditions of Sinhalese music and dance, such as Kandyan dancing, are kept alive in Kandy, as are many arts and crafts. Little wonder, then, that Kandy was designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1988.
Originally called Senkadagala, this illustrious place was founded by a rebellious general named Vikramabahu in 1472 in the aftermath of the collapse of the Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa civilizations. When the Portuguese took control of the coastal regions during the 16th century, the Sinhala kings of Kotte and Sitawaka retreated inland, eventually setting up their capital at Kandy in 1592. With the installation of the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, the city became a focus of Buddhism. It also became the focus of attention for the Portuguese, who made several forays into the kingdom, even capturing Kandy for short periods on several occasions.
The Dalada Maligawa is just one element of a complex of buildings. The Audience Hall – pillared and open-sided – was not completed until after the British were in control of Kandy. But it was pressed into service prematurely, because in 1815 it became the venue of the conference of Kandyan chiefs who agreed to surrender the kingdom to the British. It is a spacious hall with wooden pillars rising from a platform of stone, and the pillars are capped by carved wooden brackets. Moreover, the pillars and beams are adorned with a variety of excellent carvings.