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Kataragama, Sri Lanka


God Skanda’s servants in legal tussle

Chief Kapurala Somipala Ratnayake sees summons being issued on him despite seeking the assistance of the law to block  kapurala Padmasiri Ranjith Adikaram from performing duties at the Kataragama Devale


Acting Basnayake Nilame and the Chief Kapurala of the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya are to face charges on contempt of court for attempting to block the effect of a court order which had been given by the District Court and the Supreme Court on multiple occasions.   

Padmasiri Ranjith Adikaram, who possesses hereditary rights, was duly inducted as a kapurala in 1960. His hereditary right through his grandfather Manisappu, who was the Chief Kapurala of the devalaya, hasn’t been bestowed upon him by respective Basnayake Nilames since then.   


Finally, the DC Mount Lavinia issued writ of execution on 07/06/2017 on the request of the present acting Basnayake Nilame


As he wasn’t given a ‘thewawa’ (service) month to perform devala rituals, he had to seek legal action (case no: 258/97/SPL) against the Basnayake Nilame, who was vested with the powers to allocate thewawa months to kapuralas. After more than two decades of multiple legal battles, the District Court (DC) of Mt. Lavinia in May this year ordered the acting Basnayake Nilame to allocate a ‘thewawa’ month for the plaintiff- Adikaram- and hand over the keys to him.   

Despite the court directives, the acting Basnayake Nilame deliberately failed to take over the keys from self-proclaimed Chief Kapurala, Somipala Ratnayake, when Padmasiri Adikaram went to the official residence Basnayake Nilame on August 12 to take over duties for the month of August (Nikini) as per the judgement. DC Mt. Lavinia also ordered the Government Agent of Monaragala, Deputy Inspector General of Police and Superintendent of Police Monaragala to facilitate the handing over of the functions of kapurala to Adikaram.   

Although allegations have been made by Somipala Ratnayake against Adikaram, for not being eligible to perform rituals as a kapurala, which was the reason for him (Ratnayake) not to hand over the keys, it is known that the latter has received proper training by going through the sacred ritual ceremony known as ‘gewadduma’ by his grandfather Manisappu, the then Chief Kapurala. Although he has performed the rituals together with his grandfather, he has not been given a separate ‘thewawa’ month to perform his duties and rituals of his own from the time he was inducted nor after his grandfather’s demise despite many requests being made to the respective Basnayake Nilames.   

This led Adikaram to seek legal action against the Basnayake Nilame and the other parties involved. The case was filed in October 1997 (No: 258/97/SPL) in the District Court of Mt. Lavinia against the then Basnayake Nilame Yasasiri Kasturiarachchi. The case concluded on December 13, 2005, as the plaintiff, Adikaram, and the respondent (by which time Nilanga Dela was the Basnayake Nilame) entered into a settlement.   

“My father too was a kapurala, but resigned from office in 1955 to contest for the post of Basnayaka Nilame with W.A. Ratwatte, but was unsuccessful. As my grandfather was the chief kapurala during this time, many requests were made thereafter to re-instate my father as a kapurala which was never allowed by Ratwatte and his successors with the influence of few other kapuralas till his demise in 1994. Although I have the hereditary rights to perform the rituals alone, the respective Basnayake Nilames never allocated a ‘thewawa’ month for me citing varied reasons which led me to file legal action in 1997 against the then Basnayake Nilame Yasasiri Kasturiarachchi at District Court, Mt. Lavinia,” Adikaram told the Daily Mirror.   

Following the settlement, Nilanga Dela was replaced by Shashendra Rajapaksa as the Basnayake Nilame of the Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya. After taking over the custodianship of the devalaya, Rajapaksa together with Somipala Ratnayake reportedly made futile attempts in the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to block Adikaram taking over as a kapurala for one month.   

Since then, several legal actions had been instituted by subsequent Basnayake Nilames and kapuralas in collusion with each other in order to prevent the execution of writ. Adikaram had to face lawsuits to obtain his lawful hereditary rights which had been denied of over the years, and which he claims are lawfully his.   

Subsequent to the settlement entered in 258/97/SPL, Somipala Ratnayake filed an application in terms of section 18 of the civil procedure code seeking an order to intervene in the settlement case which was dismissed by the DC Mt. Lavinia on July 28, 2006.   


On July 26, 2018 the district court of Colombo refused to grant an interim injunction sought by the petitioners


Failing to thwart Adikaram being given a thewawa month, the chief kapurala, without any hesitation filed an appeal against the said order in Court of Appeal (case no: CA/ LA/ 318/ 2006). The Court of Appeal by order dated January 12, 2007 too, dismissed Ratnayake’s application claiming that once a judgement is pronounced and the decree is entered, the Court no longer has the power to adjust an order given.   

However, before the Appeal Court order was delivered, in August 2006, a writ had been issued by the District Judge Mt. Lavinia (258/ 97/ SPL) to which Somipala Ratnayake filed objections. As a result, the DC recalled the writ on September 11, 2006.   

As it was a surprising turn, Adikaram had no other option, but to file a revision application (WP/HCCA/MT/13/2007) in Civil Appellate High Court, Mt. Lavinia, and the application had been allowed by the order dated July 15, 2009 and the writ re-issued on September 2009.   

Meanwhile the former Basnayake Nilame Yasasiri Kasturiarachchi, against whom Adikaram first filed the case, which was later entered into a settlement during Nilanga Dela’s tenure, filed another application in terms of Sections 839 and 344 of the civil procedure code to recall the writ claiming that Shasheendra Rajapaksa, who was the Basnayake Nilame at that time, was not bound by the settlement that was entered on December 13, 2005. But that application too was dismissed by the District Judge of Mt. Lavinia on March 31, 2010. Hence, by letter dated July 29, 2010, Shasheendra Rajapaksa allocated the month of March (2011) for Adikaram to discharge his rituals.   

Despite the allocation made by him, Rajapaksa once again filed an appeal (WP/HCCA/MT/14/2010) in the Civil Appellate High Court Mt. Lavinia, but that too was dismissed on February 9, 2011.   

This made Rajapaksa to file an appeal in the Supreme Court (SC/Appeal/ 116/2011) and the SC too dismissed the same with cost on April 4, 2014 claiming the appeal had no merit.   

Before Adikaram started performing the rituals in the allocated thewawa month, a third party to the dispute, Mahabethme Secreatary of Ruhunu Maha Kataragama Devalaya- Dayananda Dissanayake- in an agreement with some of the kapuralas, made an application (SC/ FR/ 189/ 2014) against Basnayaka Nilame Shashendra Rajapaksa and others seeking to sidestep the Judgement delivered in SC/ Appeal/ 116/ 2011. Ironically SC 189/2014 was a Fundamental Rights application. This application changed the landscape of Hulftsdorp by a bench presided by Hon. Mohan Peiris with an interim order preventing Adikaram from taking over as kapurala. However this interim order too was dissolved by the Supreme Court by a bench presided over by then Chief Justice K Sripavan on October 28, 2016. Upul Jayasuriya PC appeared for Adikaram and was opposed by several President’s counsels.   

It was Shasheendra Rajapaksa, through other kapuralas, who got Dayananda Dissanayake to file the lawsuit seeking to circumvent the SC judgement given in October 2016,” Adikaram claimed.   


Never allowed to rest 

The Basnayake Nilame of Kataragama Devalaya was never allowed to rest. Interested parties got him to file another matter in the Court of Appeal and obtain an order preventing Adikaram from taking over as kapurala for a period of one month as per the order of the District Court of Mt. Lavinia.   

Meanwhile Adikaram sought a writ naming the then Basnayake Nilame D.P. Kumarage (Shasheendra Rajapaksa’s successor) as a party by application dated December 14, 2016 made by way of a motion to which the DC Mt. Lavinia issued on January 17, 2017.   

As a result, D.P. Kumarage filed an application in the DC Mt Lavinia seeking to recall the writ issued by the DC on 17th January 2017. The application was dismissed by the DC Mt. Lavinia on June 5, 2017.   

Kumarage thereafter filed a revision application and an Appeal against the order given in case No. WP/ HCCA/ MT/ 10/ 2017 (RA) and WP/ HCCA/ MT/ 25/ 2017 (LA), and the Court issued a stay order upon hearing both parties.   

While proceedings were pending in the above revision and appeal applications, Kumarage also preferred a restore to the original application in CA/ RI/ 12/ 2017. The Court of Appeal issued a stay order on August 2, 2017 by Judge of the Court of Appeal Justice Nawaz which prevented Adikaram from taking over. This application was supported by Romesh De Silva PC and an array of juniors against Adikaram.   

Subsequent to these moves, Kumarage had issues with the rest of the kapuralas which led him to withdraw all the applications filed by him in September 2017.   
According to Adikaram, when the writ was still in force, Buddhist Affairs Minister Gamini Jayawikrema Perera and the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs Nimal Kotawalagedara in September 2017, allocated five months to five trainee kapuralas, contrary to law.   

Adikaram further claims that although the power to allocate thewawa months are vested with the Basnyake Nilame, on the request of the self-proclaimed chief kapurala and his supporters, the Minister and the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, allocated months to perform thewawa to these trainee kapuralas who are relatives of Somipala Ratnayake. “When we filed a case against the Minister and Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs on charges of contempt of court for having bypassed the court ruling, Buddhist Commissioner accepted in courts that he acted against the court ruling”. There again Upul Jayasuriya PC appeared for Adikaram.   


According to Adikaram, when the writ was still in force, Buddhist Affairs Minister Gamini Jayawikrema Perera and the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs Nimal Kotawalagedara in September 2017, allocated five months to five trainee kapuralas, contrary to law


Finally, the DC Mount Lavinia issued writ of execution on 07/06/2017 on the request of the present acting Basnayake Nilame and due to further delaying tactics adopted by the kapuralas, who sought to thwart the execution of writ, the District Judge Mt. Lavinia gave a subsequent order on May 23, 2018 instructing the acting Basnayake Nilame to allocate the thewawa month to Adikaram.   

It was at this time that four out of five trainee kapuralas- Saman Priyantha Munasinghe, Lalith Anuruddha Munasinghe, Sanath Premakumara Ratnayake and Anura Thimbalath Ratnayake, who were allegedly illegally bestowed with thewawa months by Minister Gamini Jayawickrema Perera and Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs, filed a case in the DC Colombo (SPL/106/2018) supported by the chief kapurala seeking an order to prevent the execution of writ which would hamper the operation of lawful orders given by the DC Mt. Lavinia in case 258/97/ SPL. This application too was supported by Romesh De Silva PC.   


Interim injunction refused

However on July 26, 2018 the district court of Colombo refused to grant an interim injunction sought by the petitioners. Romesh de Silva PC appeared for the plaintiffs while Upul Jayasuriya PC appeared for Adikaram.   

Being aggrieved by the said order, the four petitioners then filed a leave to appeal application in the High Court of Civil Appeal the same day which was supported on July 30, 2018 and the two Judges Justices Manilal Waidyasekera and D.M.R. Samarakoon issued an interim order to prevent Adikaram from being allowed to perform his functioning as a kapurala.   

Adikaram said that the order given on August 1, 2018 has not analysed the reasons given by the District Judge for having refused the Interim Injunction which was based on issues of legality having considered the order of the District Judge Mt Lavinia and the order made by the High Court of Civil Appeal Mt Lavinia.   

“As the judgement given was not acceptable, I made an appeal to the Supreme Court a few days later. The three-member bench that comprised Justices Eva Wanasundare PC, Prasanna Jayawardena PC and Nalin Perera annulled the order on August 10, 2018 which was given by the High Court of Civil Appeal on August 1, 2018.   

Manohara De Silva, appearing for the respondents opposing Adikaram, told the court that there were many reasons why the Civil Appeal judges issued the stay order preventing Adikaram from taking over for one month. It was at this stage that Justice Nalin Perera asked as to why the Civil Appeal judges failed to state the reasons behind issuing the stay order if there were so many reasons for it rather than giving the judgement in one paragraph.   

Meanwhile Adikaram affirmed that he would not take the money the devotees place in the pooja wattiya (offering basket), but will use that for the development of the sacred Kataragama Devalaya. “Neither my grandfather nor my father took a cent from what the devotees kept in the pooja wattiya, although there is no rule that the kapuralas should hand over the daily collection towards the development of the devalaya. The reason why the present kapuralas are obstructing my path from taking over during the Nikini month to perform my rituals, is in fear of losing their daily collection which exceeds more than Rs.2 million a day. It’s a colossal amount of money. If I am given the thewawa this month, they are losing their ‘income’ from this month’s puja watttiya which would be in the region of Rs 60 million.   

“When I went to take over the keys of the devalaya to perform my rituals on August 12 as per the court order, the acting Basnayake Nilame handed over the letter of appointment to me and the salary (Two rupees and eighty two cents) allocated to perform the rituals. But he failed to handover the keys to me. When asked why he did not hand over the keys, I was told that they are with Somipala Ratnayake. Ratnayake who came to Basnayake Nilame’s official residence said that he cannot hand over the keys as he was not a party named in the case nor was he aware of any court order.

Astonishingly when he was showed the respective court orders, particularly the order issued by the District court of Colombo- where Somipala Ratnayake the self-proclaimed chief kapurala was a party to it- he was numb. He did not wish to look at it, but simply ignored our requests. The OIC Kataragama Police, who was present at the scene, refused to intervene to facilitate us to obtain the keys although the court had directed Monaragala DIG and SP to facilitate the handing over of duties to me through the Basnayake Nilame,” Adikaram further claimed.   

Although a police complaint had been lodged by Adikaram, he alleges that the Kataragama Police has so far failed to conduct an inquiry.   

When the OIC of Kataragama Police was contacted as to why the police has so far failed to conduct an inquiry and the reasons for why he could not intervene when acting Basnayake Nilame and Somipala Ratnayake did not hand over devalaya keys, despite there being a court order, the OIC said that the police did not have any authority to intervene in issues of the devalaya and can only provide security.   

“The power to hand over the keys is vested with the Basnayake Nilame and the police has to provide security to him. According to devalaya traditions we cannot enter the devalaya nor take the keys. We will inquire into this and report to the court. If the court sends the fiscal to implement the court order, then we will support him, till then we do not have any authority to intervene,” the OIC said.   

When contacted Somipala Ratnayake said that he was not a respondent to any law suit and was unaware of the fact that the court had given an order. Adikaram has not performed the sacred rituals – gewadduma. So how can I hand over the keys to such a person? Once undergoing the gewadduma ritual, that person is given a letter of appointment by the Basnayake Nilame or the Commissioner of Buddhist Affairs. The Supreme Court order which is with me clearly states that I (Somipala Ratnayake) am not a party in the case and that I cannot hand over the keys to any person other than one who has undergone the gewadduma rituals. Whatever I have to say, I will tell in courts,” Ratnayake said. He did not comment on whether the handing over the key was the traditional responsibility of the Basnayake Nilame as stated by the Commissioner of Buddhist affairs.   

Although Ratnayake says that he is not a party to the case, this newspaper is in possession of court documents in the DC Colombo case (SPL/106/2018) to show that Somipala Ratnayake offered support to the four trainee kapuralas.   

When contacted acting Basnayake Nilame, Dilruwan Rajapaksa said that he had lodged a complaint with the Kataragama Police regarding this issue and added that he has no power to take the keys forcefully from Ratnayake. “I am the acting Basnayake Nilame and there is a limit to discharging my duties. If the court hands over the keys to me I can give them to Adikaram, if not I do not have the power to take them from Ratnayake forcefully. Since this matter is in court, I cannot make further comments. Whatever information I have, I will present it in courts,” Rajapaksa claimed.   

In the order issued by Justice Buvenaka Aluvihare in the fundamental Rights application filed, seeking to stop Adikaram from taking over for one month, he has opined that if there is no finality to legal proceedings there will be chaos in the administration of Justice. What he said regarding this matter has been repeated many times and is a cardinal principle in legal parlance.   

Meanwhile District Judge of Mt. Lavinia last week issued summons on Chief Kapurala Somipala Ratnayake on contempt of court and the case will be taken up on August 30 at the Mt. Lavinia District Court.   

Courtesy: The Daily Mirror (Colombo) of August 29, 2018