When Buddha attained nirvana his body was cremated and his tooth was acquired from the ashes. The tooth soon became an object of veneration and a belief grew that whoever had possession of the tooth would have power to rule that land. Many kings fought for possession of the tooth but in 4th century CE, King Guhaseeva acquired the tooth and by then, was a strong believer in Buddhism. He fought against many kings and protected the tooth to the best of his ability. A prince named Dantha, who had become a Buddhist, came to pay his respects to the tooth and King Guhaseeva liked him immediately; he let Dantha marry his daughter, Princess Hemamala. During an attack against King Guhaseeva, he secretly sent Dantha and Hemamala out of the city with the relic. Sri Lanka was chosen as the new home for the relic and Dantha and Hemamala disguised themselves as Brahmins to travel to the island. The relic was hidden as a hair ornament and the couple arrived safely on the shores of Lankapattana, now Ilankeiturei.
At that time, King Kirti Sri Megavanna ruled over the land of Sri Lanka and was ecstatic that the relic tooth was bought to the island. The king welcomed the royal couple and the relic tooth enthusiastically and with great celebration. He built a palace within the royal palace complex and enshrined the relic in it. Afterwards, the kingdom ordered that an annual celebration take place to honour the tooth relic, the esala perahera.
Over time, Sri Lanka was threatened with many foreign invasions and the seat of the kingdom was moved from city to city. Upon each change of capital, a new palace was built to enshrine the relic. Finally it was bought to Kandy, where it is at present, in the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic.
The temple which houses the sacred tooth relic is built in the royal palace complex in Kandy, which was the last capital of the Sinhalese Kings. The temple now comprises the royal palace, an audience hall and the mahamaluwa, which is a lawn area situated in front of the temple compound. The Royal Palace used to be the official residence of the government agent, Sir John D'Oyly and is now preserved as an archaeological museum. The audience hall is where the Kandyan kings held their royal court and was where the Kandyan Convention was drawn up and read out to the people. It is now used for state ceremonies and conserved under the department of archaeology.
Worshipping at the temple is thought to improve one's karma immeasurably and the shrine receives a constant flow of worshippers and tourists. Be sure to wear appropriate clothing when visiting the temple which is open to visitors daily from 6 am to 5 pm.