Saturday Magazine

Diyavadana Nilames down the ages
by M. B. Dassanayake

The election of the ‘Diyawadana Nilame’ has been the subject of controversy for quite some time.

First ‘Diyawadana Nilame’ from Kotte

King Dharmapala who succeeded the throne of Kotte not long after the reign of King Parakrama Bahu II, broke with the traditions of the Sinhalese royal line when he became a convert to Catholism. Hiripitiya Diyawadana Nilame then fled from the kingdom with the Sacred Tooth Relic. The nilame had dreamt that a figure dressed in white warned him in a strange jingle of Sinhalese and Tamil thus:

"Kottee Kelale kisi illai Dhatu Kodagan Rale, Po"

Interpreted, the words meant: "My love for Kotte is more begone with the Tooth, proceed to the Middle Kingdom." Its troubled custodian, thereupon, concealing the precious object in his ‘siriya’ (waist cloth) swam the ferry of the Diyawanna Tota behind the Maligawa by night and made haste to the Court of King Mayadunne of Sitawaka.

With the death of Raja Sinha, the Kingdom of Sitawaka disappeared and the palladium, thereafter, very rightly came into the hands of King Wimala Dharmasuriya, who had established himself as the Ruler of Kanda Uda Rata at Senkadagama (Kandy) and had begun to espouse the national cause.

Kandyan Aristocracy

Since then the office of ‘Diyawadana Nilame’ was the restricted preserve of only the Kandyan aristocracy, but the "old order changeth, yielding place to new."

There was a time when the diyawadana nilame who together with the chief monks of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Temples as custodians of the Tooth Relic was elected for life. But according to he Temporalities Ordinance the lay custodian of the Tooth Relic is elected every ten years. The late T. B. Ratwatte Dissava was the first to be elected for the ten year period (1937-1947).

The diyawadana nilame was originally an official of the palace, as the name signifies, he was in charge of the King’s bath, and he also poured water over the King’s hands, before he performed the ritual in connection with the Tooth Relic.

It was King Kirti Sri who ordered that the honours paid to him should be transferred to the Sacred Tooth Relic. Thus the official’s connection with the ritual of the Dalada Maligawa. In the old days the King appointed the diyawadana nilame and after the British took over the Kandyan country, the chief ecclesiastical dignitaries, lay and spiritual, were appointed by the governor.

However, in 1853 the practice was discontinued and the adigars, dissavas, ratemahathmayas, basnayake nilames and temple trustees had to elect the diyawadana nilame, who is the greatest showpiece of the Kandyans, and it is he who decides when the Tooth Relic should be exhibited, administers the revenue, renovates the buildings, appoints minor officials, and above all it is he who organises the greatest of processions, the Kandy Esala Perahera.

We still hear of the diyawadana nilames of old times. They were all dignified, proud and rebellious, and most of them were banished or executed in their fight for freedom.

Ellepola Diyawadana Nilame was maha nilame of Matale, and later made diyawadana nilame by the king. He was charged with treason together with Mampitiya Bandara and condemned to death but was reprieved and imprisoned while Mampitiya was executed by the British on October 29, 1818.

Then came Kapuwatte Diyawadana Nilame, the son of Pilimatalawa Dissava, who was married to Kapuwatte Kumarihamy. The son bore the mother’s name, as it was common among the Kandyans for one of the sons to take the mother’s name when the marriage happened to be binne! We hear of Kapuwatte in disgrace in 1812, but the king pardoned him and bestowed on him the office of diyawadana nilame.

After the British took over the Kandyan country, he was made second adigar, but like the others was imprisoned for rebelling. He was, however, released after a time and made gabada nilame, and resumed the office of diyawadana nilame in 1823. Kapuwatte Diyavadana Nilame died on September 19, 1824.

Then came Pilimatalawa. He was born in 1790 and was dissava of the Four Korales from 1810-1814. He was condemned to death but reprieved and made diyavadana nilame in 1812. He was then made dissava of the Seven Korales. He too joined the rebellion of 1817 and was banished to Mauritius but returned to Lanka. He died in 1833.

The next was Ratwatte Diyavadana Nilame, dissava of Matale Korale, Laggala and Gangala in 1818. He held the office of Diyavadana Nilame for only a short time and was succeeded by Unanboowa Dissava of Udapalata, who was diyavadana nilame for three years.

Then came Dehigama Diyavadana Nilame who held the office for ten years from 1821-1831 and was succeeded by Dullewe Maha Nilame.

Then came C. B. Dunuwille Diyavadana Nilame. He repaired the ‘Vedainna Maligawa’ shrineroom. He was not too popular with the Ratemahathmayas who took him to court, but was unable to oust him. He died in 1881 and was succeeded by Giragama as diyavadana nilame.

He was dignified, popular and upright and was both feared and loved by the people. When he was ill, the father of Sir T. B. Panabokke acted for him. At this time it so happened that a Prince from Siam arrived in Sri Lanka bringing with him gifts of rare value as offerings to the Tooth Relic. He was accompanied by the governor and Sir Solomon Dias Bandaranaike to Kandy.

At the maligawa they were received by the Acting Diyavadana Nilame Panabokke, who took him into the shrineroom. The prince was so inspired that in his religious fervour, he wished to take the Tooth Relic in his hands. This request was promptly disallowed by the diyavadana nilame who felt that so sacred a relic, the Tooth Relic of the Buddha, should not be touched by mortal hands. The prince felt insulted and indignant, taking away with him all the offerings he had brought.

Giragama Diyavadana Nilame died while excavating the Somawathie Chaithiya in Anuradhapura. He injured his toe and died of blood poisoning. After him came Ratwatte Diyavadana Nilame, the father of T. B. Ratwatte who held office from 1937-1947.

Then came C. B. Nugawela of Eladatta Walauwa, father of the first adigar, the late Lawrenece Nugawela. He was very popular and during his period of office he built the front portion of the Dalada Maligawa and also a temple for the priests performing "Thevava" to the Sacred Tooth Relic. He died in 1916 and was succeeded by P. B. Nugawela of Beragama Walauwa. He was the father of a former Minister of Education, the late Major E. A. Nugawela.

P. B. Nugawela Dissava, too, was very popular and did a great deal of work for the Temple of the Tooth. He was responsible for introducing ves dancers to the perahera. He also built a three storyed extension to the Maligawa with the help of a Burmese priest but died in 1937 before its completion. After him T. B. Ratwatte Disava was elected Diyavadana Nilame and was responsible for the renovation of all the paintings and the ‘Veda Inna Maligawa’.

Next C. B. (Collin) Nugawela Dissava was elected. He did a great deal to improve the Dalada Maligawa.

On August 19, 1959, the Kandy Esala Perahera was marred by a tragedy which was unprecedented in Sri Lanka’s religious history. In this incident, 11 women, 2 men and a child was killed whilst 316 persons were injured, 123 of them requiring treatment at the Kandy Hospital. He held office as diyavadana nilame for 14 years (1947-1961) and was very popular amongst the young and old. He was called ‘Uncle Collin’ by all whom he knew. He passed away peacefully at his walauwa on July 1st, 1961, after receiving the Chinese Tooth Relic and participating in all its ceremonies.

He was followed by H. B. Udurawana, after whom a former Minister of Justice Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne was elected diyawadana nilame.

He was succeeded by his son in 1985. Neranjan Wijeyaratne held this distinguished position for 20 years until April, 2005.


Powered By -

Produced by Upali Group of Companies