Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Now riding the UNESCO Horse (Hoax)

Jockey Dayan Jayatilleka

by Sachi Sri Kantha, March 14, 2011

I propose to Dayan Jayatilleka that while he has links with UNESCO officials, he would attain higher fame if he takes an interest in proving two questionable folk claims that (1) Lord Buddha’s tooth is really held in the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy. (2) the Maha Bodhi fig tree (a branch of the tree in Kapilavasthu under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment) in Anuradhapura is really 2,500 year-old.

[Readers will be interested to know that Dr. Sri Kantha and his family have survived the Japanese earthquake and tsunami unscathed, although property was damaged and everyone was shaken up.]

The LTTE was implicated in hurting its legitimate cause seriously among Sinhalese Buddhists, by attacking two of their holy symbols, namely the massacre near the Sacred Bo-Tree in Anuradhapura in 1985, and the terrorist bomb attack at the Dalada Maligawa, Kandy, in 1998. The vital questions to be answered (and remain hidden in the hoopla of historical myths) was, are these ‘holy symbols’ real? Or are they hoaxes? As none has dared to tackle this question, I provide a challenge to one of the foremost LTTE critics among the Sinhalese, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka.

The promotional blurb about Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka’s new appointment the last January stated the following, under the caption, ‘Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka Assumes Duties In Paris’ [Sunday Leader, Colombo, Jan.23, 2011]:

Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka

“The newly appointed Sri Lankan Ambassador to France, with accreditation to Spain and Portugal, and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka assumed duties at the Embassy in Paris on January 17. Speaking on the occasion, the newly appointed Ambassador highlighted the necessity for engagement with the French society in the bilateral arena and stressed the importance of a greater degree of cross cultural dialogue in a bid to broaden the existing relations with the countries of accreditation and UNESCO. Having served as Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative/Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva from 2007 to 2009, Ambassador Jayatilleka is an academic who is an Honorary Senior Fellow of the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) at the National University of Singapore (NUS), having been Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the ISAS, NUS in 2010. The winner of a Fulbright Scholarship, he read for his PhD at the Griffith University in Brisbane. A Senior Lecturer at the University of Colombo, Ambassador Jayatilleka was a Visiting Senior Fellow at John Hopkins University, Washington. Ambassador Jayatilleka has served on several international panels, including the UN Human Rights Council’s Inter Governmental Working Group on the effective implementation of the Durban Declaration which he chaired, in addition to chairing the Governing body of the International Labour Organisation. He was vice president of the Human Rights Council, and Coordinator of ‘General and Comprehensive Nuclear Disarmament’ of the UN Conference on Disarmament as well as of the Asian Group of UNCTAD. Ambassador Jayatilleka is the author of Fidel’s Ethics of Violence: The Moral Dimension Of The Political Thought of Fidel Castro, co-published by Pluto Press, London and the University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbour (2007).”

As a Dayan-watcher for the past 30 years, it is my onus to wish him well in his new assignment. As a Sinhalese village wag from Sri Lanka might gossip in a street boutique, ‘One cannot keep the scum pressed down for long. It always rises to the top’. How long Dr. Jayatilleka will last in his current job is anybody’s guess. This is because his professional career has so many blanks (omitted in the above-cited blurb), as a ‘quitter’. Here is a partial list.

He quit being a promoter of Marx-Lenin-Stalin ideals in Sri Lanka.

He quit doing a Ph.D. (while as a Fullbright scholar) at the State University of New York at Binghamton, USA., to become a rebel!

He quit being a Sinhala rebel (of non-starter ‘Vikalpa Kandayama’ fame) on the run, after receiving pardon from dictator J.R. Jayewardene regime of 1980s!

He quit being a Sri Lanka Mahajana Party (SLMP) member, after it’s founder Vijaya Kumaratunga’s assassination in 1988.

He quit being a Minister of Planning and Youth Affairs of EPRLF’s North-East provincial council, during the IPKF period.

He quit being an acolyte and apologist of Ranasinghe Premadasa, after latter’s assassination in 1993.

He quit being an editor of Lanka Guardian, the journal founded by his versatile father Mervyn de Silva, in 1998 after a short run.

He has been constantly quitting being a teacher, while keeping his rank as the senior lecturer in political science at the University of Colombo.

Last but not the list, he quit espousing the Eelam Tamils’ right for self- determination.

For the sake of his father, whom I consider as one of my mentors in English journalism, I propose to Dayan Jayatilleka that while he has links with UNESCO officials, he would attain higher fame if he takes an interest in proving two questionable folk claims that (1) Lord Buddha’s tooth is really held in the Dalada Maligawa tooth relic in Kandy. (2) the Maha Bodhi fig tree (a branch of the real tree in Kapilavasthu under which Lord Buddha attained enlightenment) in Anuradhapura is really 2,500 year-old.

In Sri Lanka, both the tooth and the tree are held in veneration by the pious Buddhists. But, many scientifically-minded skeptics (too weak to open their mouth) subscribe to the belief that these two have long remained as state-certified hoaxes, since the 5th century AD, when Mahanama Thero authored the Mahavamsa chronicle in the Pali language (not Sinhala!), between AD 459 and 478. Dayan Jayatilleka can use his influence to arrange tests for the scientific validity of these claims, by an international panel of scientists, using radio carbon dating methods. The results of such tests should be published in peer-reviewed, international science journals. No hanky-panky allowed (I reiterate, the results should be shown for criticism), unlike the secret DNA testing of the remains of Prabhakaran and his son by Sri Lanka’s dubious army scientists in 2009! Now, let me analyze the recorded material on the two pertinent hoaxes.

Lord Buddha’s Sacred Tooth and Dalada Maligawa (The Temple of the Tooth)

in Kandy

I provide the following six recorded versions, in reverse chronological order.

Version 1 (C.A.Gunawardena: Encyclopedia of Sri Lanka, 2005)

“The repository of a tooth relic of the Buddha, this temple in Kandy is one of the holiest sites in the Buddhist world and attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims…The veneration of relics of the Buddha and of his chief disciples is a Kandy Tooth Relic 1907 A. W. Andreefeature of Buddhist worship in the island. Special sanctity attaches to the tooth relic, which is believed to have been smuggled to Sri Lanka in the 4th C[entury] in the hair of an Indian princess when Buddhism in her region of India was under threat. Custody of the tooth relic came to be regarded as an emblem of a regime’s sovereignty and of a city’s capital status, and temples were built in successive capitals, starting with Anuradhapura, to enshrine it.

The tooth relic was brought to Kandy in 1590. The present temple, on the site of earlier temples, was built by King Narendrasinha in the early 18th C[entury] and renovated by Kirti Sri Rajasingha later in the same century. The octagonal pattirippu was added in the early 19th C[entury] by Sri Wickrema Rajasingha, the last king of Kandy; it housed the temple’s collection of books of palm-leaf manuscripts. It was among the parts of the temple that were damaged in 1998 when the separatist group, the LTTE, drove a truck to the entrance and detonated a bomb placed in it. This attack on one of the holiest Buddhist shrines caused great outrage and prompted the government to ban the LTTE. This ban was lifted in 2003 to enable peace talks to start.” (p.100)

Version 2 (Richard Nyrop et al.: Area Handbook for Ceylon, 1971)

“The relic of Buddha’s Tooth was reputedly brought to Ceylon in the fourth century AD. Possession of the Tooth was later considered essential to legitimize the rule of a Sinhalese king. During the several centuries of dynastic wars, the Tooth was moved from place to place. The Kandyan kings became the final repositories of the Tooth and built the Temple of the Tooth, which still stands in Kandy”. (p. 34)

“The relic considered most sacred to Ceylonese Buddhists, the right eye tooth of the Buddha, was brought to the island in the fourth century AD. It reposes in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy, having survived numerous misadventures.

It came to be believed that no king could rightly rule without possessions of the Tooth, that none but a Buddhist could rule the Sinhalese, and finally that the Sinhalese king was a Boddhisattva, or future Buddha. This belief became so strong that during the British period portraits of the ruler, Queen Victoria, in the guise of Boddhisattva, decorated temple walls”. (p. 193)

“The Portuguese claimed to have carried the Sacred Tooth Relic to Goa and there burned and pulverized it; the Buddhists, on the other hand, believe that it miraculously escaped harm and was restored to its sanctuary in Kandy”. (p.193)

My Comment: Versions 1 and 2, do not provide any details about the composition of the tooth! Is it of human origin or of any other vertebrate or mammalian origin? (Read below, for juicy details on this theme.) Surely, Queen Victoria (a pious Christian) wouldn’t have been amused to hear that she was depicted as the Boddhisattva in the Kandy temple! The description in Version 1 vaguely tells its origin in Ceylon. First, if it was smuggled into the island, by a princess as a hair ornament, what was her name?

Temple of the Tooth and Dagoba Kandy 1907 photoVersion 3 (J.C. Willis: Ceylon – A Handbook for the Resident and the Traveller, 1907)

“Up another flight of steps from the central building is the dark and close chamber in which the sacred tooth, enclosed in cover upon cover, getting more and more richly ornamented as we get nearer to the tooth, which itself is only produced upon rare occasions, such as a visit of royalty. The actual tooth is a discoloured piece of ivory, too large to have been a human tooth. The original tooth is said to have been captured by the Portuguese at Jaffna, and destroyed by the Archbishop of Goa, but most Buddhists maintain that the original tooth was not at Jaffna – which indeed seems a curious place for it – and that the one destroyed was a counterfeit.” (p. 204) [emphasis added]

Version 4 (P. Arunachalam: Sketches of Ceylon History, 1906)

“The Sinhalese kings, subject to attacks from the Tamils established in the North and to Tamil invasions from South India, were in no enviable position. About 1288 Arya Chakravarti of Jaffna captured the Sinhalese capital of Yapahu (in the Kurunegala district) and carried off its most valued treasure, the tooth relic of Buddha, and presented to the Pandyan king of South India, from whom it was afterwards recovered by Parakrama Bahu III, by a peaceful mission.” (p.46-47)

“In 1560 AD, the most sacred object of Buddhist worship, the Dalada or Tooth-relic of Buddha, fell into the hands of Portuguese. It had an eventful history. From the flames on the cremation of Gautama Buddha at Kusinara (about 540 BC), it was preserved for 800 years in Kalinga. About 310 AD, when the king of that country was about to engage in a doubtful conflict, he dispatched the precious relic to Ceylon in the charge of his daughter, concealed in the folds of her hair. The grateful king and people of the island established its worship on a magnificent scale at Anuradhapura, and afterwards at Polonnaruwa when the capital was transferred there. After the relic had remained about a thousand years in Ceylon, it was captured by Arya Chakravarti (p.47 supra) and taken back to South India. It was recovered by the diplomacy of Parakrama Bahu III and brought to Polonnaruwa. During the troublous times that followed, it was hidden in different parts of the island, and finally came into the possession of the Tamil kings of Jaffna, from whom it was taken by the Portuguese on the capture of Jaffna. They carried it to Goa and rejecting offers of vast treasure by the Buddhist king of Pegu, reduced it to ashes. Soon afterwards a copy, or as the Buddhists claim, the original itself – the destroyed tooth being a counterfeit – was set up, which is enshrined at the chief temple at Kandy, the Dalada Maligawa, and draws worshippers from all Buddhist lands.” (pp.51-52).

Version 5 (Ernst Haeckel: A Visit to Ceylon, 1883)

“The famous Buddha temple of Kandy again, which stands within the same enclosing wall and surrounding moat as the palace, did not fulfil the expectations raised by its widely spread reputation. It is of small extent, badly preserved, and devoid of any particular artistic merit. The primitive wall paintings, and the carved ornaments in wood and ivory, are the same as are to be seen in all other Buddhist temples. As Kandy did not become the capital of the native kings till the sixteenth century, and the palace and the temple alike were built no longer ago than 1600, they have not even the charm of a high antiquity. Nor does the Buddha-tooth possess any special interest; it is kept concealed in the temple under a silver bell, in an octagonal tower with a pointed roof. Although this tooth has been an object of devout veneration and worship to many millions of superstitious souls for more than two thousand years and down to the present day, and although it has –as Emerson Tennent expressly tells us – played an important part in the history of Ceylon, it is in fact nothing else than a simple rough-hewn finger-shaped bit of ivory, about two inches long and one inch thick.” (pp. 99-100) [emphasis added.]

Version 6 (Sir Emerson Tennent: Ceylon, 1859)

“The most remarkable object at Kandy is unquestionably the dalada, asserted to be the ‘sacred tooth’ of Buddha, which for so many centuries has commanded the unreasoning homage of millions of devotees. An allusion has been elsewhere made to the traditional history of this relic (footnote: vol.1, p. 388), its rescue from the flames after the cremation of the mortal remains of Gotama Buddha at Kusinara, BC 543, and its preservation for eight hundred years at Dantapura in Kalinga, whence it was brought to Ceylon in the fourth century after Christ. It was afterwards captured by the Malabars about the year 1315, and again carried to India, but recovered by the prowess of Parakrama Bahu III. During the troublous times which followed, the original trooth was hidden in different parts of the island, at Kandy, at Delgamoa in Saffragam, and at Kotmalie; but at last in 1560 it was discovered by the Portuguese, taken to Goa by Don Constantine de Braganza, and burned by the Archbishop in the presence of the Viceroy of India and his court. The fate of this renowned relic is so remarkable, and its destruction is related with so much particularity by the Portuguese annalists of the period, and their European contemporaries, that no historical doubt can be entertained, even were internal evidence wanting, that the tooth now exhibited at Kandy is a spurious and modern substitute for the original, destroyed in 1560 (emphasis added)…the supposed relic is a clumsy substitute, manufactured by Wickrama Bahu in 1566, to replace the original dalada destroyed by the Portuguese in 1560. The dimensions and form of the present dalada are fatal to any belief in its identity with the one originally worshipped, which was probably human, whereas the object now shown is a piece of discoloured ivory, about two inches in length, and less than one in diameter, resembling the tooth of a crocodile rather than that of a man.” (emphasis added, pp.198-201).

Tennent also provides two additional footnotes in page 201, which are corroboratively interesting:

“The fact of the destruction of the tooth in 1561 by Don Constantine de Braganza is confirmed by the authority of Rodrigues de Saa y Menezes, who in 1678 wrote his Rebelion de Ceylan to commemorate the exploits and death of his father Constantine e Saa y Norona, who perished in the expedition to reduce the Kandyans at Badulla, AD 1630. The story, which must have created a sensation throughout India, is related by Sir Thomas Herbert, whose travels were published in 1634, and by Francois Pyrard de Laval, who visited Ceylon about 1608 AD.”

“Faria y Souza says it was said to be the tooth of an ape, but this arises from confounding Buddha and Hanuman, the sacred monkey.”

So, there you have it! The holy truth about the ‘holy tooth’ stored in Kandy now is that it is a piece of discolored ivory (two inches long and less than one inch in diameter), resembling the tooth of a crocodile or an ape (monkey)! Among the six versions provided above, that of Ernst Haeckel is of merit. He was a well recognized German scientist of the 19th century.

The Sacred Bo Tree in Anuradhapura

I provide the following four versions, in reverse chronological order.

Version 1 (C.A.Gunawardena: Encyclopedia of Sri Lanka, 2005)

“bo(dhi) tree (Ficus religiosa): The bo tree is venerated by Buddhists as the Buddha attained enlightenment (bodhi) while seated under a bo tree. Buddhist temples invariably have a bo tree, and altars for placing flowers in worship are often erected at roadside bo trees. The Si Maha Bodhi, the sacred bo tree in Anuradhapura, the oldest documented tree in the world, attracts thousands of pilgrims. The bo is a member of the fig family, as is the banyon.” (p. 51)

Version 2 (Richard Nyrop et al.: Area Handbook for Ceylon, 1971)

“The sister of Mahinda, Sanghamitta, brought a cutting of the Sacred Bo tree under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment; the ancient tree still stands in Anuradhapura.” (pp.190-192)

Version 3 (J.C. Willis: Ceylon – A Handbook for the Resident and the Traveller, 1907)

“The visitor should next go southwards from the resthouse along the sacred road, and will soon come to the enclosure round the sacred Bo-tree. This grew from a branch of that underwhich, at Buddha Gaya in North India, Gautama attained his Buddha-hood, and was brought with great pomp to Ceylon in 288 BC, so that if the present tree be in reality the original one (as to which there is some shadow of doubt) it is about the second oldest tree of which there is any historical record, the oldest being the tree of Confucius, which dates back to 500 BC. [emphasis added] Its platform has been gradually built up, and is now very high, the separate branches of the tree emerging from the soil at some distance apart. The fallen leaves are regarded as sacred relics by pilgrims.” (p. 121)

Version 4 (Sir Emerson Tennent: Ceylon, 1859)

“The Bo-tree of Anarajapoora is, in all probability, the oldest historical tree in the world. [italics, as in the original.] It was planted 288 years before Christ, and hence it is now 2,147 years old. Ages varying from one to five thousand years have been assigned to the baobabs of Senegal, the eucalyptus of Tasmania, the dragon-tree of Orotava, the Wellingtonia of California and the chestnut of Mount Etna. But all these estimates are matters of conjecture, and such calculations, however ingenious, must be purely inferential; whereas the age of the Bo-tree is a matter of record, its conservancy has been an object of solicitude to successive dynasties, and the story of its vicissitudes has been preserved in a series of continuous chronicles amongst the most authentic that have been handed down by mankind. (footnote: A chronological series of historical passages in which the prolonged existence of the sacred tree has been recorded, will be found in a note appended to this chapter.) (pp.613-619, 632-636)

My Comment: It should be noted that unlike other authors, the view expressed by J.C. Willis in 1907, deserves some respect. After all, he was serving as the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Peradeniya, when he compiled his handbook. Emerson Tennent’s observation made in 1859 that the Bo-tree of Anuradhapura “is, in all probablility, the oldest historical tree in the world” deserves revision. Radiocarbon 14 dating techniques, during the past 50 years, have proved that there are more living trees which are older than that of the Bo-tree. What in fact Tennent meant to imply was that the Bo-tree is, “in all probability, the oldest historical tree in the world, with some religious significance.”

However, the fact that the Bo-Tree was brought to Ceylon in 288 BC merits revision, after a century. The chronology of Indian history assembled by Mabel Duff in 1972 offers the following dates [all refer to before Christ (BC)].

477 – Lord Buddha’s death

315 – Chandragupta establishes the Maurya dynasty in Pataliputra.

291 – Bindusara Maurya succeeds his father Chandragupta.

263 – Asoka succeeds his father Bindusara, when he is said to have put most of the Royal family to death.

246 – Third Buddhist Council, held at Pataliputra in the 17th year of Asoka’s reign.

241 – Buddhist Council sends Mahendra (son of King Asoka) as missionary to Ceylon, where he introduces Buddhism. He was aged 12, probably born ~253.

193 – Mahendra dies in Ceylon, in his 60th year.

Lord Buddha’s date of death (enlightenment or nirvana) has not been fixed properly by historians. Mabel Duff, while mentioning the date of 477 BC, adds the following details. “Buddha’s death in the eight year of Ajatasatru, and calculated from the accession of Chandragupta Maurya, which it preceeded by 162 years. Sinhalese tradition places it in 543 BC, Rhys Davids assigns it to about 412 BC, Westergaard and Kern to between 388 and 370 BC.”


If the dates provided by Mabel Duff hold, the purported introduction of the Sacred Bo tree into the island should have occurred 2,252 years ago. But suggestion that the Bo tree one sees in Anuradhapura is 2,252 years old deserves scientific validity. Sadly, proof for this is hardly forthcoming, though scientific methods (the vital carbon 14 dating) are available now. For the uninitiated, I provide one sentence from a 2002 review of Ronald Lanner, a specialist on tree longevity. He states in his introduction, “For sheer verifiable longevity, no other organism rivals that of the Great Basin bristlecone pine (Pinus longaeva), several of which exceed 4,000 years of age, and one of which has attained at least 4,862 years.”

Compared to the longevity of this pine, that of Anuradhapura Bo-tree pales into insignificance. As I indicated above, the Bo-tree’s merit may be in all probability, it may be the oldest historical tree in the world, with some religious significance.” But this deserves scientific verification.

As per the sacred tooth of Lord Buddha, descriptions provided by J.C. Willis and Sir Emerson Tennent prove that the original tooth had been destroyed by the Portuguese in 1561 in Goa. This year will be the 450th anniversary of its destruction.


Arunachalam, P: Sketches of Ceylon History, Asian Education Services, New Delhi, 2004 (originally published in 1906, Colombo).

Mabel Duff, C: The Chronology of Indian History (From the Earliest Times to the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century), Cosmo Publication, Delhi, 1972.

Gunawardena, C.A: Encyclopedia of Sri Lanka, 2nd revised ed., New Dawn Press Inc., Elgin, IL, 2005.

Haeckel, Ernst: A Visit to Ceylon (translated by Clara Bell), Tisara Prakasakayo Ltd., Dehiwala, 1975 (originally published 1883).

Lanner, R.M.: Why do trees live so long? Ageing Research Reviews, 2002; 1: 653-671.

Nyrop, R.F. et al.: Area Handbook for Ceylon, Foreign Area Studies, The American University, Washington DC, 1971.

Sir James Emerson Tennent: Ceylon, vol.2, Asian Education Services, New Delhi, 1999 (originally published in 1859, Longman, Green, Longman and Roberts, London.)

Willis, J.C.: Ceylon – a Handbook for the Resident and the Traveller, Colombo Apothecaries Co, Colombo, 1907.