Controversy has piled up over the years as to why former Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeyeratne failed to accommodate the Basnayake Nilames of the four Devales during the first four days of the Kumbal Perahera. The Diyawadana Nilame himself took the position of conducting the Sri Dalada Maligawa part of the procession during the entire eleven days.
There are five sections of the Kandy Esala Maha Perahera. They are the Sri Dalada Maligawa, Natha Devale, Maha Vishnu Devale, Kataragama Devale and bringing up of the rear by the Goddess Pattini Devale.
After the present incumbent in office of the Diyawadana Nilame Pradeep Nilanga Dela, he invited the four Basnayake Nilames to take his position in the Kumbal Perahera, keeping himself out until the Randoli period. However, this brought about a controversial issue, and the former Diyawadana Nilame was blamed for conducting the Maligawa section of the perahera all by himself.
Meanwhile, the offer extended to the four Devale Basnayake Nilames, instead of the Diyawadana Nilame, was an initiative of late Diyawadana Nilame H.B. Udurawana to gain popularity among the Basnayake Nilames, as he ‘broke’ the ring of Nugawela’s, Ratwatte’s, Dehigama’s and so forth.
Now that the former Diyawadana Nilame was out of office, the writer thought it was the ideal time to meet DN Wijeyeratne. Undoubtedly, he was contentious and put up the Maligawa administration introducing electronic solutions, the ‘Maha Gabadawa’ (the royal stores) as well as the museum.
However, when the writer visited and questioned him about this concern at his present residence at Meeduma Walawwa in Rambukkana, he responded saying that the Golden Karanduwa, which was taken in the perahera, was his responsibility after the venerated object was taken out of the inner-shrine room. When he took office in 1985, the then Mahanayake Nilame of Asgiriya Venerable Pallipane Chandananda Thera and the Mahanayake of Malwatta Venerable Panditha Sirimalwatte Ananda Thera had told him that the Golden Karanduwa was his responsibility and that it should be taken with due care during the annual perahera. It is normally the officiating Mahanayake who hands over the Golden Karanduwa during the Perahera.
Presently, even though the Basnayake Nilames take their turns to conduct the Maligawa section of the perahera, he is not entitled to bring down the Karanduwa to be placed on the tusker. This is done by the Mahanayake who is officiating at the time of the year. Currently, it is the Asgiriya Chapter.
In the interim, former Diyawadana Nilame Wijeyeratne who commented on this concern said during the second Kumbala Perahera that was held on July 24, 1993, the Maligawa tusker Jayaraja went berserk soon after he took his position after coming down the Maha Wahalkade. He said DN Wijeyeratne was behind him when the tusker Jayaraja, suddenly, attacked the two escorting tuskers and turned towards DN Wijeyeratne, facing his back towards the Pattirppuwa or Octagon. The dancers and drummers ran away immediately after witnessing the incident.
He said something was amiss, and at that moment, the two veterinarians Professor Vijitha Kuruwita and Dr. Neville de Silva were close in hand. But, they had a difficulty in tranquillizing the tusker, he said, adding that on one side the Ransivige was strapped to his back and on the other, that caparisoned cloaked the gigantic animal. There were thousands who had thronged to see the perahera, he further stated.
However, Dr. Silva, with the greatest difficulty had gone behind the tusker and injected the tranquilizer. With this being done, the tusker ran into the Maha Maluwa and collapsed near the present flag post.
When trying to fathom this whole situation, it could be understood that the tusker, strapped with the revered Karanduwa, was inside the Ransivige which was falling down. Had the Karanduwa hit the ground, it would have definitely opened, and the sacred relics within would have split over, making it an impossible task to recollect the relics which were so minute.
He said as the Diyawadana Nilame, he went behind the tusker and took the Karanduwa into his hand. The only authorized individuals who could touch it were the ‘Vatorurala’ who at that time was Ran Banda and the Kariya Korala Karunatillke. They were assigned to tie up the Karanduwa inside the Ransivige. However, both of them untied the Karanduwa in split seconds so that it could be removed.
If a Basnayake Nilame was partaking in the second Kumbal as done now, he was not entitled to handle the Karanduwa, even during an emergency, DN Wijeyeratne said.
And then what about the teeming thousands of spectators? In this particular incident, no one knew what had happened, until the newspapers carried the details. Yet, how was it done? Well, a tusker was replaced and so was a new dress.
Diyawadana Nilame Wijeyeratne recalled the leading tusker whose mahout was Seneviratne of Botswana. He had sent a message to bring this tusker to swap it with the former one.
Although it takes at least one and a half hours to dress a tusker, we managed to clothe the new replacement within a mere 15 minutes, he said. I also ordered that the dancers and drummers continued their proceedings, so that no one would notice the difference, he stated. The perahera was parading the Queen’s junction by this time, he added.
Had a Basnayake Nilame taken the position during the second Kumbal, and a situation befell of this sort, what would have happened? The entire crowd would go berserk indeed. That was why I decided to walk the entire eleven days of the perahera alone, he said.
Later, the writer questioned as to why the press was not allowed to remove the photographs of the incident.
“I did not say anything, but the police stopped reporters from removing photographs. But none was able to remove the photograph and that is now published,” he said.
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