Vavuniya may well be known as a place ravaged by conflict, but today it is emerging from its battered past, and the traveller has the freedom to knock about here. Madu Kanda is a little known temple found here, secluded in a quiet, historic village, waiting to be discovered and to have its history celebrated. A recognised archaeological site, the Madu Kanda Temple is also named a ‘Sri Dalada Viharaya’ – a temple of the Tooth Relic.
In its present state it wouldn’t impress upon anyone the role it is said to have played in the significant historical events that unfolded centuries ago. A fairly well-preserved ruin of what appears to be an image house, and other remnants of ancient structures connect to one another in a logical arrangement of a once flourishing temple. Stone steps, foundations, guardian stones and columns that have yielded haphazardly to the ravages of time are among the ruins in this ancient temple. How it became linked with the famed and much venerated tooth relic of Kandy is an elaborate tale.
Although historically the royal pair Hemamala and Danta, disguised as hermits, are said to have landed in Lankapattana, a shore identified as the east of the Island in Trincomalee with the sacred relics, the Madu Kanda Temple lies along a route that hints at a different positioning of events. The inconspicuous Mullaitivu harbour situated north of the Island not only served better for a secretive mission, the harbour was not known to be used by previous visitors from the neighbouring country.
According to ancient texts, following the arrival of the sacred relic to the Island, it was received by King Kith Siri Mewan at a place known only by name: the Megaghiri Viharaya. Although no such place is identified at present, it is deduced that it may in fact be Madu Kanda Temple. As further evidence to support this argument, along the route from the north to Madu Kanda it is said that there are over 2,000 ruins of ancient temples where the Tooth Relic had found shelter. Kiri Vehera – where milk food was offered in obeisance, Kachchakodiya, where a flag (kodiya) was made from a cloth (kachha), Wee Mangalyaya and Thapas Eliya (Thapas – hermits, Eliya – emerged) are some of the names of places that are situated along this route. Another trail of such places continues on from Madu Kanda Temple to Anuradhapura.
Besides, the name Madu Kanda itself is connected to the story of the sacred tooth relic. Once the sacred relic was safely deposited at Abhayagiriya in Anuradhapura, the news of its arrival at Megaghiri Viharaya spread amongst the people, who built a series of Mandapa or ‘Madu’ – structures in veneration to the Tooth Relic – transforming the temple premises and thus earning its name of ‘Madu Kanda’ Temple.