describes the duties and responsibilities of the Diyawadana Nilame
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
planning and conducting of these ceremonies form part of the Diyawadana
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.
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.
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.