Kandy | Sri Lanka | Destination Guide

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{en:Kandy} city is well known for its scenic beauty, favourable climate, cultural values and historical significance. The city is beautified by an inner tier of mountain ranges with Hantana towards the south, Udawattekelle to the East and Bahirawakanda towards the North West. Kandy is 9.22square miles in extent. The city is bounded by the Mahaweli Ganga [River] along its entire western, northern and eastern sides. The river, the longest in Sri Lanka, also provides natural protection as well as a healthy clean environment to the city.

The city of Kandy lies at an altitude between 1500-2000 feet. More precisely, the built-up area at approximately 1200 feet above sea level in Kandy plateau. Located at a distance of 72miles [116km] from the capital city of Colombo, it is considered as the largest city in the hill country of Sri Lanka, surrounded by a chain of hills. The tributaries of the Mahaweli running through the city provides the natural drainage to the city and functions as a natural water outlet too.

Kandy Lake

The lake at the center of the city with a traditional artistic feature is attractive and keeps the environment cool. So, the city is considered as one of the best tourist resorts on the island. This was built by the last king converting a stretch of paddy land into a lake over a period of 3 years and completed in 1812. Conceptually, it is a monumental creation of ‘Kiri Muhuda’. [Milky Sea] The banks of the lake are covered with an awesome variety of trees of which some are historic. Naturally, the narrow path along the Lake has become a popular walking stretch for city dwellers and lovers.

Art & Craft

Kandyan Art is a distinct school among the indigenous arts and crafts of Sri Lanka. Closely associated with the Buddhist temples, Kandyan Art encompasses frescoes, wall paintings, lacquer wood painting, wood carving, stone carving, metal work, jewellery, furniture, Kandyan architecture and much more.

Arts and Crafts form a rich mosaic in the cultural fabric of the Kandyan Society. The Artificer, Dancer, Weaver, Wood Carver, Artist and the Musician were held in high esteem. They contributed to the economic life of society second only to Agriculture. The ancient Artists and Craftsmen all over Asia had been well organized into guilds. A similar system prevailed in Sri Lanka as well from early times. The Knowledge practices and out forms were passed down from generation to generation. Even marriages were within the same group so that the craft was closely guarded.

The artists and craftsmen had the patronage of the king. The best were permanently employed in the royal household and were gifted with land in return for their services. All Royal requirements including, jewellery, ornaments utensils were turned out by them. Gifts given to other Heads of state on Delegations were all turned out by these craftsmen. Jewellery and ornaments required by the nobility too were turned out by the traditional Craftsmen. These items were also equally beautiful and high in quality.

Kandy Esala Perahera

The Esala Perahara held in Kandy is one of Asia’s most outstanding pageants and few can compare with it in antiquity, grandeur and splendour. It is held annually in July/August for ten days depending on the phases of the moon, usually finishing on the full-moon day of the month of August. Traditional dancers, drummers, caparisoned elephants; Kandyan Chieftains (Nilames) parade the streets of Kandy. In very early times the Sacred Tooth Relic was paraded to bring Peace and Prosperity to the country. Until the reign of King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1781) this pageant was performed by the Dalada Maligawa only, but the King invited the four Devales to join this pageant, thus making the event even more culturally significant to all religions of the island.

Since then the parade has five processions – Dalada Maligawa, Natha Devala, Vishnu Devala, Kataragama Devala and Paththini Devala joining in with their Basnayake Nilames giving the leadership to the processions. People from all over the world witness this great pageant each year with devotion and awe. The Esala Perehera could be considered ‘the’ cultural symbol of Kandy and Sri Lanka.

History of Kandy

Available historical records suggest that Senkadagalapura [an early name for Kandy] was established by the King Wickramabahu III during the period of his reign from 1357-1374 AD. Some scholars contend that the original name of Kandy was Katubulu Nuwara located near present Watapuluwa. The more popular historical name – Senkadagala – according to folklore was originated from one of the several possible sources. These include naming after a brahmin with the name Senkanda who lived in a cave near by, a queen of King Wickramabahu named Senkanda, and after a coloured stone named Senkadagala. The present name Kandy is only an anglicized version of Kanda Uda Rata [meaning the “Land Upcountry”] originated in the colonial era.

After King Wickremabahu III who founded the city, Senasammata Wickremabahu ascended the throne in the 15th century (1473-1511) making it the new capital of the Kandyan Kingdom. He was followed by his son King Jayaweera Astan (1511-1551) and later by Karalliyadde Bandara (1551-1581). His successor however, preferred to rule the hill country from Sitawaka on the western flanks of the hills. A period of turmoil for power ended with the ascent to the throne by Konappu Bandara who came to be known as Wimaladharmasuriya I.

Wimaladharmasuriya I having embraced Buddhism consolidated his authority further by bringing the tooth relic of the Lord Buddha to Kandy from a place called Delgamuwa. He proceeded to build a temple for the sacred relic which subsequently developed into the present Dalada Maligawa. In between the death of Wimaladhramasuriya I in 1604 and the capture of the last King of Kandy by the British in 1815 seven successive kings ruled the Kandyan kingdom from its base at Senkadagala or its suburbs such as Meda Maha Nuwara, Kundasale and Hanguranketa. The beautiful Octagon at the Dalada Maligawa and the picturesque Kandy Lake were constructed during the time of the last King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe who was exiled to South India by the British.

The history of Kandy and its townscape witnesses rapid and drastic change from the beginning of British rule particularly after the 1818 rebellion. As Sir Lowry in his {en:Gazetteer} recorded “The story of English rule in the Kandyan country during the rebellion of 1818 cannot be related without shame… Hardly a member of the leading families remained alive… Those whom the sword and the gun had spared cholera and small pox and privations had slain by the hundreds… Others became ignorant and apathetic. Any subsequent development efforts of the government for many years were only attempts begun and abandoned

However, Ananda Kumaraswamy – the great savant of eastern culture writing in 1912 after nearly hundred years of British occupation had this to say. “Hardy mountaineers of the interior, preserved their independence enabling us to form an estimate of Sinhalese as a live and individual people, with a national character and a national art; an individuality and art which is more difficult and often impossible to trace in the low country districts long subjected to western influence”.

Since its founding in the 14th Century, Kandy which remained the last stronghold of local kings had gone through many a vicissitude. Although Colombo represents the prime commercial and administrative center, Kandy continues to remain the cultural capital of Sri Lanka with a rich heritage of living monuments.

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