A king of Burma and the Sacred Tooth Relic
Posted on August 6th, 2021

By Maung Htin Aung

The June 10, 1962 edition of the Times of Ceylon contained the following tales about the tooth relic, the Burma connection and other legends surrounding the relic. Excerpts from the article:

Kandy Perehera

Maligawa Tusker steps on the Pavada carrying the casket of relics
A recent statement in the popular ‘Believe it or Not’ series that a broom made with the hair of King Bayinnaung of Burma and his Queen was being used to sweep the Temple of the Sacred Tooth at Kandy, seemed to have been received with some seriousness in Ceylon because the “Sunday Times” published a refutation of the statement.

In Burma, however, it caused only amusement because the absurdity of the statement was at once noticed by the average Burmese newspaper reader for Bayinnaung lived and died before the Temple at Kandy was built.

The refutation that human hair had too evil a smell to be used as a broom in the temple, also puzzled the Burmese reader firstly, because the Relic originally arrived in Ceylon hidden in a woman’s hair, and secondly because in Burma brooms made of human hair are never meant to be used in relic chambers and special shrine rooms where the gods themselves come to worship.


Bayinnaung was one of the greatest kings of Burma and also one of the great patrons of Buddhism. He united not only the whole of Burma into a single kingdom but also conquered the whole of Indo-China and parts of China and India, thus establishing the Second Burmese Empire.

He built a magnificent palace at Pegu and dazzled with his power and glory such hardened European travellers as Caesar Frederic, the Venetian, and Ralph Fitch the Englishman, who left to posterity glowing accounts of the Second Burmese Empire and its founder.

The Portuguese documents of the period referred to him with awe as Great Braginoco and he was the one oriental despot to whom the Portuguese of those days showed respect and consideration.

Bayinnaung came to the throne of Burma in 1552, the very same year that Dhammapala came to the throne of Kotte, already shaken by the ill wind of Portuguese power.

In the midst of his victories, Bayinnaung was perturbed by the news of the “raid” on Kotte by the Portuguese Viceroy soon after Dhammapala came to the throne, and in 1554, he sent an embassy to Kotte to enquire after the safety of the Sacred Tooth, in the face of persistent rumours that the Relic was no longer in its Temple.

Tooth was safe

The embassy returned with the good news that although the Temple had been despoiled and damaged by the Portuguese “raid”, the Sacred Tooth itself was safe. Bayinnaung in 1555 sent back another mission, bearing gifts for the Temple.

The mission included among its members leading craftsmen who were building his great palace at Pegu. Under the instruction of the King, the Burmese Ambassador bought a piece of land and donated it as an endowment to keep lights always burning in the Temple. The King also sent a broom made of his own hair and the hair of his chief queen to sweep the steps of the Temple.

The mission returned only after the craftsmen had repaired and re-decorated the damaged Temple.

The Burmese mission during its stay was royally entertained by the Regent Tammita Suriya who had lately replaced Vidiye Bandara, King Dhammapala’s own father. Before leaving the Burmese Ambassador promised all necessary assistance to help the Regent defend the Sacred Relic and its Temple.

We now know from Sinhalese sources that by that time the Sacred Relic was no longer in the Temple, but the Burmese could not know that because it was a well guarded secret and it may well be that the Regent himself did not know. It was a period of stress and uncertainty and of conflicting rumours.

In 1560, a Portuguese ship arrived at the port of Pegu with the disturbing news that the Portuguese had captured the Sacred Tooth. The King learned from the Captain the following circumstances of the capture.

The father of Dhammapla and erstwhile Regent, Lord Vidiye Bandara, had arrived in Jaffna, fleeing from the Portuguese and had been killed with the result that all his treasures fell into the hands of the King of Jaffna, then the King of Jaffna himself had been captured by the Portuguese and among the treasures of Bandara was found the Sacred Tooth Relic.

Bayinnaung, after hearing the story, believed that the Tooth now at Goa was the genuine one. One cannot accuse Bayinnaung of being too credulous, because the Portuguese themselves really thought that the Tooth in their possession was the genuine one, and perhaps even some of their Sinhalese contemporaries themselves shared in this opinion.

After all, Vidiye Bandara was known to be a bold and ambitious man who would not hesitate to carry off from the Temple the Sacred Tooth, fully aware of the prevailing belief “that he who held the Tooth would hold Ceylon.” Bayinnaung at once chartered the ship and loaded it with treasures assessed by the Portuguese to be worth eight lakhs of rupees at prices prevailing at that time, sent it to Goa with an ambassador with full plenipotentiary powers to buy the Relic at any cost.

Flying the Burmese flag of a golden Peacock on a white background, the ship arrived at a port near Jaffna where the Burmese Ambassador made further inquiries as to whether the captured Tooth was a genuine one. Fully satisfied of its genuineness, the ambassador proceeded in the chartered ship to Goa.

Bitter debate

The Burmese Ambassador met the Viceroy of Goa and asking for the Tooth, offered to sign, in addition to the eight lakhs worth of treasure brought on the ship, a contract in perpetuity to supply a shipload of rice, whenever necessary, to the Portuguese garrison at Malacca. The Captain of the chartered ship proved to be an eloquent advocate on behalf of the Burmese offer.

The Viceroy whose treasury was almost empty at the time was very much interested, but unfortunately, the Archbishop heard about the matter and rushing to the vice-regal lodge, argued with him, pointing out that the main purpose of the Portuguese intervention in the East was to save the souls of its pagan inhabitants. The Viceroy, in return pleaded that with an empty treasury nothing could be done.

The Viceroy, in fear of ex-communication summoned his advisory council and for days there was a bitter debate between the priests and the soldiers.

The Archbishop and the other priests referred to the Sacred Tooth as “that accursed thing”, and they were of the belief that it had to be destroyed in full view of onlookers, so as to demonstrate to all Buddhists that the Relic had no supernatural powers.

Tooth crushed

Finally, on an appointed day and hour, in the square before the great Cathedral, the Archbishop solemnly placed the Tooth in a mortar, ground it to powder and burnt the powder in a brazier. The brazier was taken to the river and the ashes cast on the waters.

G. E. Harvey, in describing the scene, stated that the Burmese envoys had a look of horror on their faces as they watched the proceedings. In actual fact, the look was one of utter surprise because they were now sure that the Relic was merely a replica and not genuine. Harvey, with due sarcasm, also stated that according to the Burmese envoys, the Tooth had slipped through the bottom of the mortar, mounted up into the sky, flown 750 miles to Kandy, and alighted on a lotus there.

The Burmese as a race are sceptical of miracles, but as devout Buddhists, certain beliefs are ingrained in them and one of such beliefs is that no relic of the Buddha can be destroyed by any external agency. Just as a Buddha would die only a natural death. Therefore, the Burmese envoys were surprised to see the supposed Tooth ground into powder.

A suggestion

So the Burmese embassy sailed back to Burma, but on the way they touched at Kotte and suggested to their old friend, the Regent, that should disorders continue in the kingdom, the Tooth together with the Alms Bowl, could be sent to Pegu for safe custody. Dhammapla, by then had become a Christian, but the Burmese seemed to have thought that he did so for political reasons only and he would always remain a guardian of Buddhism as his name implied.

Historians have commented on the fact that Dhammapala, in spite of his baptism, remained ever popular with his people, and that was perhaps because like the Burmese envoys, they never could believe that Don Juan Dhammapala would ever be Don Juan rather than Dharmapala.

It may be mentioned also that the sole aim of Bayinnaung in endeavouring to procure the Tooth, was to save it for future generations of Buddhists to worship.

The ship finally reached Pegu safely in 1562, and the fact that this treasure ship could sale the Portuguese infested seas without molestation, testified how high was the prestige of the Burmese King.

Alms Bowl

In 1567, a mission from Kotte arrived, bringing with it a stone Alms Bowl which the mission assured was the genuine Begging Bowl of the Buddha, which had reposed together with the Sacred Tooth for many centuries. Bayinnaung showered the mission with rich presents.

It must always remain a matter of conjecture as to whether the Alms Bowl gifted to Bayinnaung was the genuine relic or otherwise. The Sinhalese sources do not seem to mention this particular mission, let alone its gift of the Alms Bowl .

On the one hand, one could argue that no Sinhalese king would part with such a priceless treasure. On the other hand, one could argue also that as Dhammapala was a devout Christian, he did not value it much.

It may well be also that either Dhammapala or his trusted Tammita, the former Regent and now the Chief Chamberlain, wanted the Alms Bowl to be taken to a place of safety across the sea from the scene of strife and struggle, especially as Colombo was now the capital.

There is one curious feature regarding this Alms Bowl: it disappeared from public worship in Ceylon about this time and Sinhalese sources, including the Mahavamsa, suddenly ceased to mention it. Both Hocart and Geiger noticed this, and the latter commented thus:

“The Sinhalese Kings liked to keep the palladium of the Kingdom (namely, the Tooth and the Bowl Relics) in their immediate neighbourhood. It is remarkable how in the later part of the Mahavamsa the Pattadhatu – the Bowl Relic – is relegated to the background and how the whole religious and political interest centres in the Dathadhatu – the Tooth Relic”.

Nell’s view

Nell in his “Annals of the Tooth Relic” stated that during the troublous times at Kotte the Bowl Relic was for security secretly removed to Senkadagala (Kandy), just as the Tooth Relic was removed to Delgamuwa. However, he cited no authority for his statement regarding the Bowl.

In any case, when Portuguese power had waned, it was only the Tooth Relic which emerged for public worship.

Doubtless Bayinnaung was approached by emissaries from other Sinhalese kings for assistance and in 1574, he sent another embassy to Dhammapala with the suggestion that the friendship between the two kingdoms be sealed by his marriage to Dhammapala’s daughter.

In fact, Dhammapala was childless, but we do not know whether this fact was known to the Burmese.

In any case Dhammapala offered an “adopted daughter” to be Bayinnaung’s queen. The Burmese ambassador was overjoyed, and made his preparations to return to Pegu with the supposed princess, but there was some delay.

Secret shrine

The venerable monks who accompanied the embassy expressed to Lord Chamberlain Tammita their burning desire to worship the Tooth before they left the shores of Ceylon. The Chamberlain took the Burmese monks and envoys to a place some distance from Colombo and under an oath of secrecy, they were one night ushered to a secret shrine and shown the Tooth Relic to worship.

The embassy and the princess arrived in Pegu in due course, where she was accorded the highest honours and inducted as one of the three chief queens. Learning that the Tooth was still with Dhammapala, Bayinnaung sent back the embassy in haste, with much treasure and with the request that the Relic be gifted to him.

After obtaining the Tooth Relic from Tammita himself, the embassy returned to Pegu in 1576. The arrival of the Tooth was a joyous occasion for the King and the people of Pegu. Bayinnaung received on his head the Sacred Relic, and surrounded by the vassal kings of his empire and his lords and ladies, he led the procession round the city.

Then the King enshrined the Alms Bowl which he had kept in a temporary temple in his palace and the Tooth in the great Mahazedi Pagoda. However, another Sinhalese mission arrived in great haste, this time, from the King of Kandy. The mission asked for Bayinnaung’s help and assistance for their King to conquer Colombo and punish Dhammapala and Tammita, whom the mission accused of treachery and insult to Bayinnaung for palming off a common maid-of-honour as a Sinhalese princess and a piece of the horn of a stag as the Sacred Tooth.


“Great King” announced to the Sinhalese ambassador “our master has a real daughter and also the genuine Tooth”.

But Bayinnaung was not interested, and saying that in the Burmese viewpoint only Dhammapala was rightful King of Ceylon, dismissed the embassy courteously but curtly.

Bayinnaung continued to extend his friendship and patronage to Dhammapla and in the great siege of Colombo during 1579-81, he sent his crack regiments consisting of Burmese, Mon and Siamese veterans to the beleaguered city.

In 1582, Bayinnaung died and the son who succeeded him proved to be a great soldier but a poor administrator and soon in the far-flung marches of his dominions.

Kinglets and Viceroys began to plot, and on the high seas, the Portuguese began to wonder whether their dream of empire should cover Pegu after all.

Then Siam and the neighbouring provinces declared their independence, and even the Burmese provinces and Toungoo in Middle Burma and Arakan on the western sea-board, became kingdoms on their own.

When news came from Ceylon that Vimaladharmasuriya who became King of Kandy in 1592, had brought the Sacred Tooth Relic from Delagamuwa and had installed it in a specially built temple, in the corridors of the great Pegun Palace itself, men dared to express their doubt as to the genuineness of the Tooth enshrined in Bayinnaung’s great pagoda.

When further news came that Vimaladharmasuriya had invited a mission of Burmese monks from the new Kingdom of Arakan to worship the Tooth Relic and also to re-establish the Buddhist Order in Ceylon, even those who belonged to the inner circle of the King of Pegu felt weary and despondent.

Finally in 1600, on an appointed date, the armies of Arakan, Toungoo, Siam and a Portuguese adventurer by the name of Phillip de Britto converged on Pegu from all four directions and after a great siege, conquered it.


As the Portuguese, the Siamese and the soldiers of Arakan were busy looting the great palace of its untold treasures the Toungoo army quietly slipped out of the city to the Mahazedi Pagoda five miles away, and breaking it open, took away the Sacred Alms Bowl and the Tooth Relic to Toungoo where they were enshrined in another pagoda.

De Britto who had made himself King of Syriam was impaled, and thousands watched him suffering in agony until he died three days later.

All the surviving Portuguese including De Britto’s queen herself were sold as slaves. Arakan submitted and escaped lightly because Anaukpetlun appreciated its action in sending the mission of monks to Kandy.

On his way back, Anaukpetlun broke open the Pagoda at Toungoo and took away the Alms Bowl and the Tooth to Ava, where they were re-enshrined.

His successor, Tharlun (1629-48) thought the Pagoda was not magnificent enough and sent his craftsmen to Ceylon to study the dimensions and the structure of the Maha Thuparama Dagoba at Anuradhapura.

These craftsmen on their return built at Sagaing across the River Irrawaddy from Ava, a full-sized replica of that Ceylon Dagoba, which came to be known as “Kaunghmudaw” or the “Royal Deed of Merit”. In that magnificent pagoda, the Alms Bowl and the Sacred Tooth have reposed up to the present day.

Courtesy: Sunday Times (April 06, 1997)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2023 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress