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H. B.Udurawana, Diyavadana Nilame

H. B.Udurawana, Diyavadana Nilame

Today, 31st August, 2009, we commemorate the 20th anniversary of the death of Heen Banda Udurawana, Diyavadana Nilame from 1964 to 1974. The office of the Diyavadana Nilame, like the entire range of public ritual of the Palace of the Tooth Relic, suffered diminution during the early colonial era when the British government failed to adhere to the clause in the Kandyan Convention to uphold "the Religion of the Boodhoo". However, since the maturation of a nationalist movement in the late colonial period, and especially after independence, the office has grown in national esteem. At independence, the ceremonial office of First Adigar, last held by Sir Tikiri Banda Panabokke, ceased to exist, and the position of the Diyavadana Nilame became the sole surviving office of the Sinhala monarchy. Individual occupants of the office brought their own vision and skills, contributing to the national significance of the office.

The future Diyavadana Nilame Udurawana was born on 15th December, 1900 at Udurawana, Wattegama. He was the son of Ukku Banda Udurawana, who was legendarily credited with taking a troupe of dancers to Germany in 1894 and conducting a mini Perahara there, and for that reason known as the Rata Giya Nilame. Mr Udurawana received his education at Christ Church College, Matale, and later pursued agriculture at the School of Agriculture at Alavatugoda. As a student at Christ Church he excelled in athletics and sports.

Mr Udurawana was elected Basnayaka Nilame of the Saman Devale, Alavatugoda in 1948. In 1958, he was elected Basnayaka Nialme of the Natha Devale in Kandy. In addition to holding these traditional offices, Mr Udurawana began a modern secular political career with the election, in 1948, to membership of the Suduhumpola Ward of the Kandy Municipal Council, and in 1970 to the Katukele Ward. He was elected Deputy Mayor, and was Acting Mayor on two occasions. In this long period of service as a high official of the city government, Mr Udurawana made a distinctive contribution to the economic and cultural life of the city. He made improvements to the D.S.Senanayake library and the Kandy Market, and played a crucial role in improving the city’s system of water supply. In 1967, Mr Udurawana was appointed to national office as a Senator in which he served until 1972. A man of outstanding entrepreneurial gifts, he was a well known and successful businessman.

During Mr Udurawanas’s tenure as Diyavadana Nilame, the Mahamaluva, the Great Courtyard, which the British government had vested in the Government Agent, Kandy, was restored to the Maligava. This gave Mr Udurawana an opportunity to re-landscape the space, which had fallen into disuse and disarray, making the project one of the most visible contributions of his tenure. More importantly, he contributed to redefining the meaning of the Courtyard to accommodate changing social, political and cultural conditions. When Sri Lanka was declared a republic in 1972 the officials of the government wanted Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike to address the infant republic from the Pattirippuva (Octagon). In a decision that bears testimony to his sense of duty as well as familiarity with tradition, Mr Udurawana turned down the request, and suggested that the proper stage for the purpose is the Mahamaluva, which the Prime Minister graciously accepted. He also brought about a great deal of order to the arrangements for witnessing the Perahara from the vicinity of the Maligava, facilitating for the first time seating arrangements for Buddhist monks in the Mahamaluva. Needless to say, the tasteful re-landscaping of the Mahamaluva contributed to the city’s elegance and beauty.

Mr Udurawana’s knowledge of protocol and his conviction that he, as an official of the system of temple organization, need not bow down to secular authority is further illustrated in the following incident. The special Perahara organized on the occasion of the visit of Queen Elizabeth in 1954 did not start in time, and the Prime Minister Sir John Kotelawala sent a message through the IGP Sir Richard Aluwihare to the Diyavadana Nilame C.B.Nugawela asking him to begin proceedings with no further delay. That having failed, the IGP asked Mr Udurawana, who was deputizing for the Basnayaka Nilame, to start moving the Natha Devale section, the first after the Maligawa section. Mr Udurawana told the IGP that he would start walking only after the Diyavadana Nilame initiated his, the gamanaranbhaya, the Start of the Walk.

Elephants were an important part of the ceremonial of popular Buddhism and the mediaeval military. The capture, taming, health and nutrition of the elephants were important concerns, and were the responsibility of the Kuruva, a department of the state headed by the Disava of the Four Korales, or a Kuruve Lekam, an official of rank appointed by the king. The importance attached to elephants is also seen in the exemption the Kuruve personnel enjoyed from the jurisdiction of the provincial ruler (Disava). Considering the association of elephants with the Maligava ritual, a knowledge of elephants would arguably be useful for a Diyavadana Nilame. Mr Udurawana excelled in this area, and his family owned nine elephants that were regulars at the Perahara. These included Neela, certified by the Smithsonian Elephant Survey of 1967-68 as the tallest in Ceylon.

The best known public event of the Maligava is the Perahara, and over the years, it has adapted to a society very different from that of mediaeval Kandy in which it was fashioned. The most striking expression of this is the transformation of the Perahara from a political and military spectacle to a "cultural pageant". At the time Mr Udurawana took over the office, this process has been already at work for decades, for example, the introduction of Ves dancers. This trend gathered further momentum during Mr Udurawana’s tenure, and was noticeable even in details like the introduction of batik cloth as part of the caparison of the elephants. The very high prominence given to Ves dancers, their increasing numbers, and the introduction of female dancers to the Pattini Devale section of the Perahara by Basnayaka Nilame Noel Paranagama, are other expression of the same trend.

Although Mr Udurawana was a man of remarkable modernity, it can be said that he in many ways was the last of the old regime, and represented the end of an age, one that preserved some of the mediaeval atmosphere and charm of the Maligava. He was succeeded by Nissanka Wijeratne, a Colombo bureaucrat and a Civil Servant, who understandably brought to the organization of the Maligava a characteristically modern bureaucratic flavour. This was followed by a new politicization of the office replete with alliances with the political powers, and adjustment to the political culture of Colombo, as illustrated most recently in the incident involving two baby elephants.

Mr Udurawana was a formidable opponent in political competition but was of a kind disposition to friend and foe alike. In particular he was kind and generous to his employees and ordinary citizens. He understood and respected professionalism, and in my own study of the rituals of the Maligava, I received the utmost cooperation from him, and on his orders, from all officials of the Maligava. He conducted his own chosen professional activity with great ability, whether as entrepreneur, politician, or Trustee of a religious institution.

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