Basnayake Nilames galore

Kotte temple killings spark crackdown on unofficial devale heads
By Damith Wickremasekara

Officially appointed Basnayaka Nilames- Chief custodians of devales (temples), have decided to crackdown on bogus Nilames functioning in the country’s devales. The All-Island Basnayaka Nilames Association has decided to seek legal action against those who falsely claim to be Basnayaka Nilames and expose them for the charlatans they are.

The Association’s President Gemunu Thilaka Bandara Walisundara, who is also the Basnayaka Nilame of the Natha Devale in Kandy, said they had decided to initiate action after police arrested a Basnayaka Nilame for his involvement in the murder of two Buddhist monks at the Kotte Rajamaha Viharaya.

“We have found that the suspect taken into custody was not an officially appointed Basnayaka Nilame, but a person who has conducted four peraheras at the Vapikaramaya temple in Galgamuwa in the Kurunegala district,” he said.

He said that, according to the Buddhist temporal laws, there are only 32 Basnayaka Nilames and a Diyawadana Nilame. “We have information that there are a number of persons who claim to be Basnayaka Nilames, and gain various benefits. We want to ensure that nobody makes false claims and misuse the position,” he said.

He said that, in certain instances, politicians with the connivance of temple clergy have appointed themselves as Basnayaka Nilames.

“Many people do not know whether they are genuine Basnayaka Nilames or not, and therefore, are afforded their due place. In some instances, there have been various corruption charges against these dubious Basnayake Nilames”, he said.

He said, last week, they found that one of the main temples in Tissamaharamaya had set up a Devala and appointed a Basnayaka Nilame, who is the owner of a beef stall. “We will be filing action against him soon, and have also informed the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs about the matter’, he said.

To be a Basnayaka Nilame, the person should be a Sinhala Buddhist, owner of moveable and immovable property, between the age of 21 and 70 years, cannot be a debtor to a bank or have a mortgage against his property, shouldn’t have been convicted of theft, fraud, forgery or perjury and not be holding political office. The duration of office is a maximum of five years, which could be extended by the President for a maximum of two more years.

However, the only exception was when the Uva province Chief Minister Sashindra Rajapaksa was appointed Basnayaka Nilame for the Kataragama devale. The former Basnayaka Nilame of the Embekke Devale, Sudantha Senanayake told the Sunday Times that, there were persons without the requisite qualifications, holding such posts.

He said that, there were a number of temples which have established devales and appointed Basnayaka Nilames, when they had no authority to do so. He also said that some persons have set up their own Devales and appointed Basnayaka Nilames to conduct peraheras. “There may be criminals and underworld members among them,” he added.

He further added that, in some instances, the costume of the Basnayaka Nilame too was being misused . “We have seen this in tourist hotels as well,” he added. Buddhist Affairs Commissioner Chandraprema Gamage told the Sunday Times that, according to the Buddhist Temporalities Act, there could only be 32 Basnayaka Nilames, and that action would be taken against those who falsely claim to be Basnayaka Nilames.

He said that genuine Basnayaka Nilames have been issued identity cards specifying the period they shall hold office.

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