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The Siam (also Siyamopali and Siyam) Nikaya is a monastic order within Sri Lanka, founded by Upali Thera and located predominantly around the city of Kandy. It is so named because it originated within Thailand (formerly known in Europe as the "Kingdom of Siam"). The Siyam Nikaya has two major divisions (Malwatta and Asgiriya) and five other divisions within these two major units. The Malwatta and Asgiriya chapters have two separate Maha Nayakas or chief Monks.
On the initiative of Ven. Weliwita Saranankara (1698–1778) the Thai monk Upali visited Kandy in 1753 during the reign of king Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747–1782), and there performed upasampada (higher ordination, as distinct from samanera or novice ordination) for a group of Kandyan monks. The Buddhist order had become extinct thrice during the preceding five hundred years and was re-established in the reigns of Vimala Dharma Suriya I (1591–1604) and Vimala Dharma Suriya II (1687–1707) as well. These re-establishments were short lived.
Although hagiographies written within Sri Lanka avoid the issue, the foundation of the Siam Nikaya was closely linked to both the aristocratic and caste politics of its era, including an attempted coup d'etat that is unusually well-documented, due to the interaction of the colonial Dutch and the king of Kandy at the time:
- "'[T]he plot of 1760,'... occurred during the reign of Kirti Sri Rajasimha and shortly after the formal beginnings of the Siyam Nikaya in 1753. One group within the local aristocracy conspired to overthrow the king and to place a Siamese prince on the throne. The leaders are said to have included not only key lay administrators... but also some of the leading Siyam Nikaya monks. Valivita Saranamkara, founder of the Siyam Nikaya, and his chief student... were named among the conspirators. The plot was discovered, the Siamese prince deported (with the reluctant assistance of the Dutch), and the lay administrators executed." [Anne M. Blackburn, 2001, Buddhist learning and textual practice in eighteenth-century Lankan monastic culture, p. 34]
Upali Thera believed the Buddhist Sangha in Kandy was suffering from a state of corruption, which included the practice of astrology and his efforts were aimed at "purifying" the practices of the monastic order. It was also through the efforts of Upali Thera that the "procession of the tooth" came into being. Annually in Kandy there is a celebration which includes a parade in which the focus is a relic believed to be a tooth of the Buddha. This procession was originally focused on honor to Hindu deities, particularly those incorporated into Sri Lankan Buddhism. Upali Thera believed this to be inappropriate in a Buddhist nation, and his influence led to the king declaring that "Henceforth Gods and men are to follow the Buddha".
The number of Siyam Nikaya monasteries and monks
(Estimates from Ministry of Buddha Sasana, Sri Lanka)
By the mid-18th century, upasampada (higher ordination, as distinct from samanera or novice ordination) had become extinct in Sri Lanka again. The Buddhist order had become extinct thrice during the preceding five hundred years and was re-established in the reigns of Vimala Dharma Suriya I (1591–1604) and Vimala Dharma Suriya II (1687–1707) as well. These re-establishments were short lived. On the initiative of Ven. Weliwita Saranankara (1698–1778) the Thai monk Upali Thera visited Kandy during the reign of king Kirti Sri Rajasinghe (1747–1782) and once again reestablished the Buddhist order in Sri Lanka in 1753. It was called the Siyam Nikaya after the "Kingdom of Siam".
However in 1764, merely a decade after the re-establishment of the Buddhist order in Sri Lanka by reverend Upali, a group within the newly created Siyam Nikaya conspired and succeeded in restricting the Nikaya's higher ordination only to the Govigama caste. This was a period when Buddhist Vinaya rules had been virtually abandoned and some members of the Buddhist Sangha in the Kandyan Kingdom privately held land, had wives and children, resided in the private homes and were called Ganinnanses. It was a period when the traditional nobility of the Kandyan Kingdom was decimated by continuous wars with the Dutch rulers of the Maritime Provinces. In the maritime provinces too a new order was replacing the old. Mandarampura Puvata, a text from the Kandyan perid, narrates the above radical changes to the monastic order and shows that it was not a unanimous decision by the body of the sangha. It says that thirty two ‘senior’ members of the Sangha who opposed this change were banished to Jaffna by the leaders of the reform.
The Govigama exclusivity of the Sangha thus secured in 1764 was almost immediately challenged by other castes who without the patronage of the King of Kandy or of the British, held their own upasampada ceremony at Totagamuwa Vihara in 1772. Another was held at Tangalle in 1798. Neither of these ceremonies were approved by the Siam Nikaya which claimed that these were not in accordance with the Vinaya rules.
The principal places of Buddhist worship in Sri Lanka including the Temple of the Tooth Relic, Adam's Peak, Kelaniya and over 6,000 other temples are now under the administration of the Siyam Nikaya. From time immemorial the sacred Tooth Relic of Gautama Buddha has been considered the symbol of the rulers of Sri Lanka. As time went on, the seat of the kingdom was moved from Anuradhapura to Polonnaruwa, then to Dambadeniya and other cities. Upon each change of capital, a new palace was built to enshrine the Relic. Finally, it was brought to Kandy where it is at present, in the Temple of the Tooth. The oldest Buddhist sect in Sri Lanka, the Siam Nikaya (estd. 19 July 1753) are the custodians of the Tooth Relic, since its establishment during the Kandyan Kingdom. The Siyam Nikaya traditionally grants Higher ordination only to the Radala and Govigama castes. The Siyam Nikaya has been an exclusiveRadala Govigama sect from the time of the Kings of Sri Lanka, giving lie to the myth of a Karava supremacy predating the arrival of Colonials.
The caste based discrimination made many Karava, Salagama, Durava, Bathgama & other castes people considered as low by the Govi to become Catholics & Anglicans,The Siyam Nikaya as custodians of the Tooth Relic have always received the full support and patronage of the Govigama dominated Sri Lankan State and its Ministers and Ministries of Buddha Sasana, Cultural Affairs and others,the monopolisation of the lord Buddha's tooth relic by the Radala Govigama combination on caste based lines have brought shame & a bad reputation to buddhism in Sri Lanka,which resembles the white apartheid rule in South Africa,where only the whites were able to enjoy certain privileges,though in one of his discourses the lord Buddha had specifically mentioned against caste based discrimination.During the late 19th century when buddhism was at the brink of extinction,due to Christian missionaries & the British government,it was a Salagama caste Amarapura nikaya buddhist monk, "Migettuwewatté Gunananda"thero,with his oratical skills & sharp logical arguments soundly defeated the christians at panadura,(Pandura waadaya),& subsequently the american , Col.Henry Olcott after reading the book on panadura debate,decided to visit Srilanka,& helped Sinhala buddhist,& one achievement was the establishment of Ananda college.The Amarapura Chapter was established in 1802. A number of monks of this Chapter had participated in foreign missionary work throughout the world. Monks such as Narada Thera, Piyadassi Thera and Most Ven Balangoda Ananda Maithreeya Thera were some of the erudite monks,from the "Amarapura nikaya"& Ven.Madihe Pannasiha from Ramanna nikaya also had done immense service to buddhism in Sri Lanka.