Gaveshaka describes the duties and responsibilities of the Diyawadana Nilame

The lay custodian of the Sacred Tooth Relic
After twenty years, a new Diyawadana Nilame will be participating in the Sri Dalada Perahera, popularly known as the Kandy Perahera, this year. He is Nilanga Dela Bandara who was elected as the 19th Diyawadana Nilame on July 1, 2005.

Following age old custom, clad in traditional costume, he will walk the streets of Kandy during the Perahera in August behind the Maligawa tusker who carries the Dalada karanduwa (casket), flanked by other officials of the Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic of the Buddha.

The new Diyawadana Nilame was elected according to the provisions laid down in the Buddhist Temporalities Act 19 of 1931 with a few amendments made later. The two Maha Nayaka Theras of the Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters, Divisional Secretaries, Basnayaka Nilames and other lay custodians of 'devales', and chief monks of the Raja Maha Viharas (temples which received royal patronage) of the Kandyan kingdom participated in the election. In all, 292 were eligible to vote.

The new Diyawadana Nilame received 199 votes and was a clear winner. The next candidate got only 44 votes, the third 43 and the fourth just four. There were two spoilt votes.

Although we see the Diyawadana Nilame once a year during the Perahera, his is a full time job as the chief administrative officer of the Dalada Maligawa. While the Maha Nayaka Theras of the Malwatta and Asgiriya Chapters of the Siyam Nikaya (they reside in Kandy in their respective temples) are the custodians of the Tooth Relic representing the Buddhist clergy, the Diyawadana Nilame is the lay custodian of the Relic.

This responsibility was given to him officially in 1853 by the British government. Until the capture of the Kandyan kingdom in 1815, it was the king who protected the Tooth Relic. Before the Dalada Maligawa was built, the Relic was kept in a separate building in the palace premises. It was considered the symbol of the king's authority and it was accepted that whoever had the Tooth Relic should be considered the monarch of Sri Lanka. The king offered part of the food prepared for him as alms to the Relic before his meal. The present custom of offering 32 curries as the mid-day alms to the Tooth Relic goes back to the time of the royalty when the king's meal comprised so many curries.

The post of Diyawadana Nilame existed even before he became the lay custodian of the Tooth Relic. He was one of the trusted officials of the king. He was very close to the king and his main task was to see about the royal bath. He prepared the water and was by the king's side when he bathed. He would pour the water and rub the king's body.

It is always someone with connections with the up-country, generally referred to as Kandyans, who is chosen as the Diyawadana Nilame.
Although in theory, anyone below the age of 70 can come forward, the accepted tradition is for one of the Basnayaka Nilames, the lay custodians of the 'devales' which belonged to the Kandyan kingdom from the days of the royalty, to be elected as Diyawadana Nilame.

They know the traditions and rituals dating back to the days of the Kandyan kings. The Diyawadana Nilame must have a thorough knowledge of the rituals observed in the Dalada Maligawa. These can be studied only by observation and studying the traditions since they are not written down anywhere.

Although the ceremonies connected with the Esala pageant (the Dalada Perahera) is the best known, there are three other key ceremonies connected with the Dalada Maligawa. These are referred to as the 'hatara mangalle' (the four ceremonies). The 'avurudu mangalle', as the name indicates, is held during the Sinhala New Year period in April. The second is the 'esala mangalle' connected with the Perahera in August. Then comes the 'kartika mangalle' held in November. It is a ceremony in honour of the gods. The 'alut sahal mangalle' is linked to the harvest and is held in January.

The planning and conducting of these ceremonies form part of the Diyawadana Nilame's responsibilities.

The Dalada Maligawa has been allocated land, particularly paddy fields, by the kings for the maintenance of the Maligawa. The administering of these lands is the responsibility of the Diyawadana Nilame. He is given the power to lease the land and raise funds for the maintenance of the Maligawa. The administrative staff as well as those who have been given functions connected with the rituals of the Tooth Relic report to the Diyawadana Nilame as head of the establishment.

Generation after generation, there are families who serve the Sri Dalada, performing 'rajakariya' or duties allocated to them. They have been given land and in return they perform numerous services.

These include the dancers, drummers, musicians and singers, the 'multanrala' and his assistants preparing the cooked offerings (kitchen staff), the 'nekathmohottala' (the astrologer) and a host of others. While some are involved with day to day Temple rituals, others get busy during the ceremonies, particularly during the Esala Maha Perahera. It is the Diyawadana Nilame who takes the responsibility for the planning and coordination of all these activities.

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