Diyawadana Nilame

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Carrying the casket of Sacred Tooth Relics by Diyawadana Nilame (1975-1985)
Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne

Diyawadana Nilame is the office of chief lay custodian of Temple of the Tooth, Kandy, Sri Lanka. Formerly an office of the Royal household, today it remains a prestigious position, enriched with over two thousand years of history to safeguard and carry out ancient rituals for the most sacred Relic of the tooth of the Buddha. Diyawadana Nilame has the responsibility of overseeing of all aspects of the Sri Dalada Maligawa. He has the traditional duty of organizing the annual pageant, the Kandy Esala Perahera. The current Diyawadana Nilame is Pradeep Nilanga Dela.

Prior to 1815, during the Kandyian monarchy, the Diyawadana Nilame was a minister of the royal court tasked with supplying the King with water and carrying out the ancient rituals to ensure rain during correct seasons.[1][2] This duty is still carried out by the Diyawadana Nilame for the most sacred Relic of the tooth of the Buddha, marked by the water cutting ceremony on the final day of the Esala Perahera.[3]

History of appointments[edit]

The Diyawadana Nilame is now elected by a far-flung electorate comprising the venerable Mahanayake Theras of the Malwatte and Asgiriya Chapters. Trustees of Buddhist Temples with an annual income of Rs. 1,000/- and registered with the Public Trustee and the divisional revenue officers (now Sri Lanka Administrative Service Officers) in the Kandy areas. These officers have to be Buddhists and male. Lady Administrative Service officers are not eligible to vote. Each term of an elected Diyawadana Nilame is 10 years and he may run for a second term.

It was a Board of Commissioners that had administered the Kandyan Province until AD 1832. Colebrook and Cameron, who recommended the unification of the administration of the country, wrote:

The possession and exhibition of the Relic of the Buddhoo is regarded by the natives of the Kandyan Provinces as the most important of the prerogative of the King of Kandy (new) under the charge of the Board of Commissioners. When it is exposed to the view, the people of all classes are expected to repair from the remotest Provinces to the capital... the relic was exhibited in 1828 AD in the presence of the Governor and other authorities.

This ceremony, which was conducted with great pomp.... the selection and appointment of Chiefs and Priests of Temples, was a prerogative of the Kings of Kandy, which is still exercised by the government, although in the nomination to the priesthood the recommendations from the Vihares (College) are usually attended.

The matters relating to the Dalada, Asgiriya, Malwatte, Devalaya, Nilames etc., were discussed at length in the British Cabinet in 1853 AD. The Duke of Newcastle, the Secretary of State for the Colonies wrote to Sir George Anderson, the Governor of Ceylon on 18 August 1853, as follows regarding the future custodian of Dalada and the election of the Diyawadana Nilame:

I have likewise to approve of what you have done as regards the Dalada or the Sacred Tooth Relic, which I am glad to find again relinquished, as in 1847, to three of the principal Buddhists. I have no doubt you have exercised a sound discretion in making no specific condition with respect to the exhibition of this relic, and contenting yourself with a general caution to the persons placed in charge of it.

The arrangements adopted by you, with respect to the Basnayake Nilames and Dewa Nilame (Diyawadana Nilame) the secular superintendents herefore appointed by the government had been to create constituencies for the purpose of electing these functionaries (nothing of that sort having as yet existed) out of the Basnayake Nilames and principal native headmen of the respective districts, the ‘Dew Nilame’ (Diyawadana Nilame) being also made on election for the Basnayake Nilame in certain cases, and then to provide the persons chosen by these constituencies with a government certificate of recognition similar to that of the protection of the chief priests.

And it appears that both a Dewa Nilme (Diyawadana Nilame) and a Basnayake Nilame have been already elected upon this new system. The election machinery thus introduced is certainly open to some objections but no arrangement appears to have been suggested, nor does any occur to me, which would not have involved other objections at least as great.

Temple of the Tooth had been managed for the longest period by the Wijeyeratne family, who have served the post of Diyawadana Nilame of the Temple of the Tooth for three decades from 1975 to 2005.[4]

Diyawadana Nilames since 1814[edit]

Acting Diyawadana Nilames since 1814[edit]

Acting Diyawadana Nilames appointed by the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs with recommendation from Mahanayaka Theras of the Malwatte & Asgiriya Chapters.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]