Kandy lies nestled within a ring of mountains and sits on the banks of the island’s longest river, the Mahaweli. Being the hill capital of Sri Lanka, it is a city of proud people as it was the last bastion of Sinhala Royalty until the British captured the town in 1815. It is also home to Buddhism’s pinnacle of worship, the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha which lies in the Dalada Maligawa making it the centre of religion and culture in the island. In honour of this heritage Kandy hosts an annual pageant which is an explosion of colour and light, during the period of the Full Moon in August in which the Tooth Relic is paraded on elephant back heralded by traditional instruments and troupes of dancers. Recognising its cultural significance, Kandy is designated a World Heritage Site and is one of only seven in Sri Lanka. Collectively, these features have made Kandy a favourite destination amongst travellers to Sri Lanka.
Must Do List
- An offering at the Temple of the Tooth
- The Kandy Esala Perahera
- Stroll around the picturesque Kandy Lake
- Roses and orchids at the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens
- Elephant feeding and bathing at the Pinnawella Elephant Orphange
- Nature treks in the Knuckles Mountain Range
- Golf at the Victoria Golf and Country Club
Kandy – In Focus
Kandy holds a fascinating history and a proud people as it was the capital of the last remaining independent kingdom in Sri Lanka in 1592, after the Portuguese overran most of the Maritime Provinces. Known as Senkadagalpura at the time, it stubbornly held on to its kingdom for two centuries while the rest of the country was under colonial rule, despite repeated campaigns by the Portuguese, Dutch and then the British to overrun the naturally well fortified city. Finally, the British captured this thorn in the side of colonialism in 1815 without much effort as the incumbent of the throne at the time King Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe was preoccupied with an ongoing feud within his kingdom. As a result of the victory, he was deposed as King and the dominion was vested with the British Empire, effectively bringing an end to Sri Lanka’s longstanding Royal legacy. Kandy is also home to the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha which has lain here for the past four centuries, since first being enshrined in what is now the Dalada Maligawa by King Wimaladharmasuriya I, and this has seen the city become a focal point of pilgrimages. Its heritage has made Kandyan culture unique, with everything from its food to its attire being different to other parts of Sri Lanka.
Kandy has typical hill country weather with conditions being mainly mild and wet. Temperatures range from 17°C to 31°C and average relative humidity is 70%. Evenings are markedly cooler and mist is common after dark. Most of its rainfall occurs during the South-West monsoon from May to August.
Kandy is the hill capital of Sri Lanka and is a hub city from which all towns in Sri Lanka can be reached. Reached from Colombo by the Colombo-Kandy road, which is the country’s main trunk route, Kandy can also be accessed by rail with the journey being extremely scenic and train services being both regular and reliable.
Colombo to Kandy – 3.5 hours
Kandy to Nuwara Eliya – 3 hours
Kandy town to Victoria Golf & Country Club – 45 minutes
Kandy town to Knuckles Range – 1 hour
Kandy to Habarana – 3 hours
Kandy to Galle – 6-6.5 hours
Accommodation – Hotels in/around Kandy – Click
Kandy offers a wide range of excellent accommodation at reasonable rates. Mahaweli Reach and Chaaya Citadel are the most popular and overlook the Mahaweli River. Amaya Hills, Hotel Topaz and Thilanka Resort and Spa are located on the hills above Kandy town and offer spectacular views of the city at night. The Queen’s Hotel right in front of the Kandy Lake in the city centre is a grand colonial building and takes you a step back in time. For the plushest of comfort, Earl’s Regency on the outskirts of Kandy offers 5 Star accommodation and overlooks the sweeping Mahaweli River. The Victoria Golf & Country Resort is one of the finest golf courses in Asia and the 500 acre property has several villas which provide stunning views of the Victoria Reservoir. Other villa type properties in the area include the Kandy House, a luxuriously renovated traditional manor house and Hega’s Folly which provides an unforgettable experience with its brightly coloured building and interior.
As Kandy is a major tourist destination it offers a wide range of curios, knick knacks, richly worked brass items and colourful traditional batiks. The most popular item here though are the brightly painted carved elephants which can be found in sizes ranging from half an inch to monsters of up to two feet in height. The brassware available in curio shops is a testament to Kandy’s Royal heritage with the intricately patterned trays and vases being the creation of artisans whose ancestors were jewellers to the Kings. Colourful handmade batik scarves and wall hangings are produced using techniques passed down through the generations and mostly bear motifs of traditional Kandyan scenes like elephants and Royalty.
Attractions & Events
Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Dalada Maligawa)
When King Wimaladharmasuriya I (1592-1604 AD) was crowned King in Kandy, he began to search for the Sacred Tooth Relic and the Bowl Relic of the Buddha and found that it had been kept hidden in a grinding stone at the Delgomuwa Buddhist Temple at Kuruwita for more than 44 years. The King personally visited the site and brought the back the Sacred Tooth Relic to Kandy in a procession which he accompanied. The first Temple of the Tooth Relic was constructed by King Wimaladharmasuriya I next to the Royal Palace, but the Portuguese burned down the 2-storied building and King Wimaladharmasuriya II (1687-1707 AD) erected a 3-storied building to replace it. This building too was burnt down and a new 2-storied building was constructed by King Narendrasinghe (1707-1739 AD) and the Dalada Maligawa seen today is what was constructed by him. He also painted 32 Jataka Stories on the outer walls of the building. The last King of Kandy Sri Wickrama Rajasinghe added the Pattirippuwa or the Octagon which was not originally a part of the Temple, but a resting place for the King, and was later handed over to the Temple. Three daily “poojas” and four annual festivals are held at the Temple of the Tooth Relic.
Royal Botanical Gardens – Peradeniya
Located in Peradeniya on the outskirts of Kandy the Peradeniya Royal Botanical Gardens spread over 147 acres. Established in 1374 as a pleasure garden for the Kings of Gampola and Kandy, and later added to in times of British rule, the Gardens boast of more than 4,000 species of trees, plants and creepers. The Spice Garden and Orchid House are popular very popular attractions, and five Palm Avenues add regal elegance to the setting. Of these the earliest and tallest is the Palm Avenue (Royal Palms) planted in 1905 and the most famous avenue is the one with the rare Double Coconuts from the Seychelles which have the largest seed of all plants in the world.
Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage
The Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage is located in Pinnawela, 90km from Colombo off the Colombo-Kandy road. The orphanage was setup in 1975 to house abandoned and wounded elephants, and its population has now expanded to 65. Orphaned baby elephants are brought here from around the country for care and a captive breeding programme has seen the birth of 25 young. The best time to visit is at feeding time from 9.15am to 9.45 am and 2.15pm to 2.45pm, and bathing time which is from 10am to 11am and 3pm to 4pm when all the elephants are taken to the river adjoining the facility.
Ceylon Tea Museum
The Ceylon Tea Museum is located on the Hantane Mountain 5km from Kandy and is housed in a renovated tea factory on the Hantane Estate. The museum exhibits memorabilia and machinery, documents, books, pictures and objects of historical value to the tea industry. Notable exhibits are the hand operated tea roller which is over 100 years old, the first tea drier ever made called a Venetian Drier, a 56 year old packet of tea still in its original packing and items belonging to James Taylor who was the pioneer planter of tea in what was then Ceylon.
This is the oldest building in Kandy constructed by King Wickramabahu III (1357-1375 AD) of Gampola. The shrine of Natha or Avalokiteswara is a Gedige style, with South Indian influence in its architecture. Two stupas and a sapling of the Sacred Bo Tree are found in the premises. Some archaeologists believe that the Sacred Bowl Relic of the Buddha may be enshrined in one of them.
The Vishnu Devalaya is to the right of the Royal Palace and is connected with the Royalty, as this is the Devalaya where the coronation ceremonies of the Kings of Kandy were performed. The current significance of it is that it is from here that the sacred ‘kap’, which are holy sticks planted before the Esala Perahera in all the temples and devalayas in Kandy are issued. It also holds the third most important ceremony in the Kandyan religious calendar, which is the “Weli Yakun Netieema,” a thanks giving ceremony held for seven days after the Kandy Perahera in honour of the Gods.
This is the fourth most important Devalaya in Kandy to the west of the Natha Devalaya, and is dedicated to the worship of the Pattini Statue which was brought here by King Wimaladharmasuriya II (1592-1602 AD). Pattini worship was brought to Sri Lanka during the period of King Gajabahu I (171-195 AD) from South India.
The Kataragama Devalaya is the third most important Devalaya in Kandy and has a Buddhist Shrine on the premises. The priests performing at the Kandy Kataragama Devalaya are Hindu Brahmins.
Maha Vasala (Royal Palace)
The Palace site was selected as a “Jaya Bhoomi” or victory ground by King Wickramabahu III of Gampola and his successor Senasammatha Wickramabahu (1469-1511 AD) constructed this palace and shifted his capital to Kandy. The Royal Palace was destroyed many a times by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British and what you see today is part of the Palace constructed by King Sri Wickrema Rajasinghe (1798-1815 AD), the last King of Kandy.
Magul Maduwa (Audience Hall)
The construction of the Magul Maduwa was started by King Rajadhi Rajasinghe (1781-1798 AD) in 1783, to supplement the old one and is where the King held meetings with his Ministers and also heard important cases. The present Magul Maduwa has an extension made by the British in 1875 to facilitate the visit of the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII) to Kandy. The building has two rows of pillars with 24 on each side making a total of 48. The carvings on the pillars display a close resemblance to the carvings seen at the Embekke Devalaya.
The Galdeniya Buddhist Temple is a gedige style building designed by the South Indian Architect Ganeswarachariya, using South Indian Devala Architecture. On top of the building a dagoba has been constructed in stone similar to a sikhara of a Hindu Kovil. The temple was built by King Bhuvanekabahu IV in 1344 AD, and has a seated Buddha statue in the meditating posture under a Makara Arch, and the shrine room was completed with paintings. Due to the water seepage through the stones of the roof most of the old paintings have been destroyed but have recently been restored. The Dagoba is in the vata-da-ge style, with a tiled roof and is called Vijayothpaya.
An important Buddhist Temple in Kandy, the Lankatilake Temple was built in 1344 AD and designed by Sthapati Rayar, a South Indian Architect, in the Kandyan style of Architecture. The original building was a four storied one and 80 feet in height, but now only two floors remain. The interior of the temple contains beautiful paintings of “Suvisi Vivaranaya” and has a large Buddha Statue at its centre.
The Embekke Devalaya is probably the best example of Sinhala architecture in wood. Built by King Wickramabahu III of Gampola for his Queen Henakanda Biso Bandara, the Devala was constructed in 1371 AD and is dedicated to the worship of God Kataragama. The Wooden pillars and pillar capitals are inscribed with beautiful carvings, 514 different designs of animals, dancers, drummers, narigeta, gladiators, wrestlers, rope twists and many other designs. The “Keni Madala” of the roof where all the rafters join to a single point is a unique architectural feature of this structure.
Degaldoruwa Temple is a cave temple on a rock 40 feet high, holding the best preserved paintings of the Kandyan period. King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe (1747-1781 AD) used this temple while the Galmaduwa Temple was being built and he later enlarged the cave and commissioned Devaragampola Silwat, a renowned artist monk to make the paintings. The temple also holds a large seated Buddha statue in the viharaya.
Situated close to the Medawala Bazaar on the Katugastota-Medawala road, Medawala Temple is one of the old viharayas repaired during the Kurunegala and Gampola periods.
The “Tampita Viharaya” found here was built by Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe in 1753 AD and is one of the best small temples of the period.
The Fort of the Sinhalese at Balana in Kadugannawa is located in the Ganetenna Gap, which is a strategic point as it lies above the route to Kandy bypassing the Kadugannawa Pass. Its location made it useful as a guard point to observe strangers entering the city of Kandy, and was a favourite place of the Kings of Kandy to wage guerrilla type warfare against the Portuguese, Dutch and British armies. Several battles took place near the Balana Fort including the fight between Konnappu Bandara and Rajasinghe I of Sitawaka. Today only the remains of the foundation can be seen.
Asgiriya Chapter Temple
The Asgiriya Chapter is one of two Chapters of the Siamese Sect, and the Asgiriya Temple complex consists of the Gedige Viharaya Adahanamaluwa, Hayagiri Wijesundararamaya, Meda Pansala, Pahala Pansala and the Maha Viharaya. Out of these the Gedige Temple is the most important as all the Kings of Kandy except for two were cremated here. On the royal decree of King Kirthi Sri Rajasinghe, the Sacred Tooth Relic is kept in this Temple overnight after each day of the Kandy Esala Perehera and the next day the Perahera begins from this Temple.
Malwatte Chapter Temple
Malwatta Chapter is the second Chapter of the Siamese sect and has the largest number of Buddhist Monks and the largest number of Viharayas under its authority. Currently, there are more than 60 Temples in this complex.