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,
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.
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
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
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
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.