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The unforgettable Heen Banda Udurawana Diyawadana Nilame

by M. B. Dassanayake - Daily News Monday Dec 16 2002

Former Diyawadana Nilame Heen Banda Udurawana's 102nd birth anniversary fell on 15th December, 2002, as he was born on 15th December, 1900 and he passed away on 31st August, 1989, 13 years ago.

He was elected the 16th Diyawadana Nilame (lay custodian of the Sacred Tooth Relic) in 1964, and continued in office for ten years and was succeeded by Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne in 1974.

The most remarkable thing about the election of Mr. Udurawana as Diyawadana Nilame was that with nothing very remarkable about him, he proved to be the most remarkable lay custodian of the Sacred Tooth Relic in modern times. He was followed by Dr. Nissanka Wijeyeratne and his son Neranjan Priyadharshana Loku Banda Dullewa Wijeyeratne succeeded his father in 1985, and once again, re-elected in 1995 for a further ten year period.

Mr. Udurawana, was born on 15th December, 1900, at Udurawana, Wattegama. He was a proprietary planter businessman, leading contractor and transport agent. He was educated at Christ Church College, Wattegama, where he excelled in athletics and volleyball. Later he passed out from the School of Agriculture, Alawatugoda.

He was elected Basnayake Nilame of Saman Devale, Alawatugoda in 1948 and later as Basnayake Nilame of the Historic Natha Devale at Kandy in 1958. He was a Member of the Suduhumpola Ward of the Kandy Municipal Council in 1948, and of the Katukelle Ward in 1970, until the Council was dissolved. He was Deputy Mayor and acted as Mayor on two occasions. During his tenure of office he took effective action to improve the Kandy D. S. Senanayake Library, Kandy Central Market and got a satisfactory Water Supply Scheme for Kandy. He also served as a Senator from August, 1967, to October, 1979

Like a juggernaut, he crushed all opposition under is overpowering personality. A burly man with a hefty chuck for a chin he looked the type that brooked no nonsense. Generous, friendly and hospitable, around his rocky figure tempests lost their force. But at each step in his spiralling rise to power Udurawana confounded, if not dumbfounded his critics and made his friends raise their eye-brows in surprise, for he was the square-peg that, for once, fitted into the round hole.

He entered politics as a stop-gap by accident and remained there as though by right by an irony of fate. Politics came to him; he never went in search of politics. He is no unforgettable character. But he is more than that; a great gentleman whom all those who met him will always remember.

Mr. Udurawana was not liked by some of those who worked under him, because he could not tolerate inefficiency, procrastination and bombast. He liked people who could work quickly, efficiently and cheerfully. To them he was a delightful. He was himself excessively modest. He never said 'no'; he simply said, 'I mean to say'. That meant 'try again'. He possessed the four noble qualities, viz, "Meththa, Muditha, Karuna and Uppeksha," which he practised to the best of his ability.

His radiant smile and gentle demeanour endeared him to all he came into contact with and they are thankful to him for the profound influence he had on them. He was a workaholic. His selfless service with a deep zeal, his sense of duty and devotion for work, his integrity, high principles to all, and worthy of emulation.

He was a devout Buddhist and always tried to live upto the true Buddhist principles. He was very kind hearted and was always ready to help anyone who sought his help. In spite of his rank, he was always humble and obliging. He was ready to give a helping hand especially to the under privileged people who came for his assistance. Such noble acts cannot be assessed in terms of rupees and cents. He always believed in quality rather than quantity.

As Diyawadana Nilame he initiated the Mahamaluwa Restoration Society and obtained flood-lights gifted by the Federal Republic of Germany. On a request by the then Prime Minister of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the Japanese Government donated a bullet-proof glass chamber for the safety of the Sacred Tooth Relic. The first ever gift of an elephant was made by Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. This elephant 'Jayaraja' died in the recent past.

Maligawa had only two elephants at that time and Mr. Udurawana owned ten elephants. The tallest elephant in Asia, "Neela", was in the possession of the Udurawana family. He made arrangements for the Buddhist monks to view the perahera in a special enclosure. He built the 'Multhenge' out of private funds.

He was a humanist, a patriot, statesman and democrat who dedicated is life in the service of the people and propagation of Buddhism. During Mr. Udurawana's political career he set a good example to others in public life. He had no enemies and maintained an untarnished reputation for honesty, integrity and public service. He must be measured by the strength of his character, his devotion to the democratic ideal, and his sincere love for the people.

"Rupan Jeerathi Machchanam, Nama Gotham Najeerathi" (The mortal body decays but the good qualities stand firm forever)

May he attain "Nibbana" in his journey in "Sansara'.