“The Burmese High Priest Wajirarama, and Pilgrims about 1200 in number, arrived at Colombo by the S.S. “Derbyshire” of the Bibby Line on 10th of January, 1899 bringing with them the Gold Jewelled Casket and the Silver Jewelled Canopy, as offerings to the Dalada Maligawa at the Mountain Capital for the enshrinement of the Tooth [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

1899- The Casket comes to Lanka

“The Golden Casket from Burmah” – A Short History, from its landing at the Colombo Customs to its delivery into the Dalada Maligawa or Temple of the Tooth at Kandy - is the title of T.G. Harrison’s booklet published by the Clifton Press, Colombo in 1899.Writing to the Sunday Times from the UK, Dr. R.P. Fernando says, “I recently came across this booklet which I think may be of interest to your readers. It was probably a supplement to a newspaper which recounts the fascinating, but little-known, story of how the Golden Casket which enshrines the Tooth Relic in Kandy arrived from Burma in 1899…..It is written by an English Buddhist, resident in Sri Lanka, and it is enriched in detail possible only with a first-hand account. The event is also mentioned on p 81 of the Twentieth Century Impressions book and on p 57 of Brooke Elliott’s book ‘Real Ceylon’.” Published here are extracts that tell the story:

The booklet that recounts the tale of the Casket

“The Burmese High Priest Wajirarama, and Pilgrims about 1200 in number, arrived at Colombo by the S.S. “Derbyshire” of the Bibby Line on 10th of January, 1899 bringing with them the Gold Jewelled Casket and the Silver Jewelled Canopy, as offerings to the Dalada Maligawa at the Mountain Capital for the enshrinement of the Tooth relic.

The Customs Authorities were fully alive to the occasion and deserve every praise for having the Prince of Wales Jetty placed at the disposal of the Priest and Pilgrims for landing, and one of their largest warehouses to accomodate the Pilgrims and for the safe keeping of their luggage.

The landing took place shortly after the vessel was moored and the Pilgrims and their luggage  were carefully located in the warehouse referred to above. At this juncture, many of the leading Buddhists in Colombo had collected at the door of the warehouse with bags of young coconuts and baskets of betel leaves and these refreshments came in at a time most needed. Every Pilgrim partook of the same with such delight that appreciation was depicted in every face.

The Dayakas of the Maligakande Temple had arranged for carts to convey the Pilgrims  and their luggage to Maligakande and the carts were waiting in readiness at the doors of the warehouse in question. Coolies were also engaged by the Dayakas  to unload the luggage out of the boats  and carry the same to the warehouse, and all charges for cart hire and cooly hire were paid out of the subscriptions collected by the Dayakas from the Colombo Buddhists.

Mr. Muttutantrigey Siman Fernando, familiarly known to his friends as Sinhappo Baas of Horatudewa  who was present there from early morning and active as ever, was asked by Mr. Horace de Kretser our energetic Assistant Collector, to undertake the payment of all duties payable on the goods belonging to the Pilgrims that were liable to duty, which Mr. Siman Fernando very kindly consented to do and left a blank cheque in Mr. de Kretser’s hands. This done, the doors of the warehouse were thrown open and the combined work of the Customs Officers examination of goods on which duty was liable, and the loading into carts commenced and it was not till a late hour in the evening that the Customs premises had seen the last of the Pilgrims.

About the middle of the day Mr de Kretser informed me while I was engaged in attending to the landing of the Pilgrims and their luggage that duty had to be paid on the Casket and its belongings, and if it was not attended to at once the Casket would not leave the Customs premises that evening. I went on board to see the Burmese High Priest on the subject but found he had come ashore; I returned and proceeded to the Maligakanda Temple, where I was informed he was at Dubash Mathew’s premises in the Fort. I proceeded there and met him and conveyed this message, which took him by surprise inasmuch as he was under the belief that such a demand would not be made after the steps he had taken  to have the Ceylon Government notified on the subject through the Rangoon and Indian authorities.

However he accompanied me to the Passenger Jetty where the Casket and its belongings had been landed, and asked me to see Mr Lee the Principal Collector of Customs. I did so twice  and I was informed that he had received no orders from the Government on the subject, nor was there any law to exempt such articles from duty; and he added that when other religionists had to pay he saw no reason why the Buddhists should be exempted. This intimation did in no way improve the state of things. Then Mr. Siman Fernando who had also been on the same mission, returned but with no better result, except that Mr. Lee was prepared to accept Rs 5500 as duty on Rs. 100,000 value of the Casket and its belongings.

Mr. Siman Fernando then proposed to the Burmese High Priest that he would pay half of the duty on the Casket ( Rs. 2,750) if the Burmese would pay the other half. This proposal was agreed to, and Mr. Siman Fernando demanded security from the Burmese for their half to enable him to give a cheque for the full amount and expedite matters. Then one of the Burmese produced a Draft for Rs 3640 and we all proceeded  to Mr. Siman Fernando’s Office at Vauxhall Street, Slave Island where the Draft was endorsed by the owner and handed to Mr. Siman Fernando. Mr. Siman Fernando got his chequebook and we all drove to the Collector of Customs office where Mr. Siman Fernando’s cheque was filled in for Rs. 5,500, and a letter was given to the Collector for delivery of the Casket and its belongings.

Preparations for the Perahera being in readiness by the Dayakas of the Maligakanda Temple, the procession started from the Passengers’ Jetty at 4.33 p.m. with banners and music  followed by thousands of Buddhists and  a number of Pilgrims, and arrived at the Maligakanda Temple where the boxes containing the Casket and its belongings were safely located in one of the rooms in the temple (which was tastefully decorated by the Dayakas of the Temple) and left in charge of Burmese.

The large garden adjoining the Maligakanda Temple which is leased by Mr. Campbell, our energetic Superintendent of the Water Works, was very kindly given to him to afford a camping ground for the Pilgrims, and the Dayakas and several leading Buddhists  of Colombo had also engaged several houses within as close a proximity to the Temple as could be got  to make the Pilgrims as comfortable as possible, but with the exception of a few, the Pilgrims would not leave the camping ground on any account: they preferred undergoing any discomfort than leave their High Priest and the Temple………

The Casket the folowing day was fixed up and exhibited to public view in the room that was specially prepared and decorated for its reception. In the meantime further additions and embelishments to the Cassket and Canopy had to be made in consquence of the offerings that had come in late at Rangoon , and Burmese Jewellers from among the Pilgrims were set to work at this, and some of our Sinhalese Jewellers were called in to expedite the work. The Canopy was also set up and exhibited in the preaching hall and work progressed and was in completion by the 20thJanuary. During the time the Casket and Canopy were exhibited they were under the direct charge of our energetic Mohandiram Mr. S.P. Dharmagoonawedena.

A few days after the Casket and its belongings were brought to the Maligakanda Temple, the Burmese High Priest sent for Mr. Siman Fernando and in the presence of the High Priest H. Sumangala and several Priests and laymen asked him if he meant to stand by the promise he made at the jetty to pay half of the duty on the Casket, to which Mr. Siman Fernando replied that he would prefer to give Rs. 5 or Rs 10 or any sum within Rs. 100 and become a Dayaka of the funds given towards the Casket, for it would be hard for him to give anything more, he having undertaken to pay duty on all goods of the Pilgrims on which duty was liable and that amounted to Rs 2500. But on the Customs schedule being produced it was clear that the Rs 2500 referred to by Mr. Siman Fernando was not the duty but value of the goods on which duty was liable and the duty paid was only Rs 137.50. This may have been quite unintentionally mentioned in the hurry of the moment with no intention to misrepresent  matters. But the fact remains that he said so. When this remark of Mr Siman Fernando was conveyed to the Burmese High Priest he directed his Dayakas to pay Mr. Siman Fernando, and this was accordingly done thus; by the Draft of Rs. 3640 which had already been endorsed and handed to him …and in cash Rs. 1860. In this manner Mr. Siman Fernando was repaid for Rs. 5500, in the Visitors’ hall of H. Sumangala High Priests’s Dwelling House or pansala at  Maligakanda…..

Siman Fernando

After everything was in readiness, it was decided that the Casket and its belongings should be removed to the Mountain Capital on the 21st of January by the 1.50 p.m. train. Accordingly the Casket was removed during the early part of the day and safely located in one of the trucks and secured with a lock and key. The casket was removed in procession at 12 npoon to the Maradana Station and placed in a first class carriage  under the charge of two Burmese, Mr. Dharmagoonewardena Mohandiram and myself. The Burmese High Priest, several Priests and Pilgrims travelled in the same train. Every Station along the line was thronged with people to have a sight of the Casket and particularly at Henerettegodde and Veyengodde the crowds were immense, and all kinds of offerings to the Priests and the Pilgrims in shape of young coconuts , betel leaves, tea, oranges and were given to them and a sight of this kind was both rare and magnificent and was a treat to those who witnesssed it.

Arrived at Kandy the crowd was immense but orderly. Mr. Ratwatte, the Shroff of the Mercantile Bank who is also the Basnaike Nilame of Maha dewale  and Mr. Kobbekadua R.M. both in Kandyan Costume attended by a large retinue  of Tom Tom Beaters, Dancers &c came to covey the Casket and Canopy to the Maligaswa. The Casket was put in a glass case and carried on the shoulders of the Burmese and Mr. Ratwatte’s men, and the Canopy was lifted, on the shoulders of Mr. Ratwatte’s men, and a torchlight  procession started headed by elephants, Tom Tom beaters, dancers etc  and moved slowly to the Dalada Maligawa. The Casket was taken in and placed in one of the rooms in the Maligawa in charge of the Burmese, and the Canopy was placed in one of the Verandhas  at the entrance into the Maligawa in charge of the Burmese and the Police.

Mr. Ratwatte, the Deva Nilame, had in time secured the Band Stand in the green opposite the Dalada Maligawa for the exhibition of the Casket and Canopy and the following day, Sunday the 22ndJanuary, the Canopy and Casket were taken over there under the protection of the Burmese, the Police and myself and exhibited. The exhibition of the Casket and Canopy  was daily carried on from 12 noon to 5 p.m. up to the 26thJanuary, thousands calling daily to have a sight of the jewelled Casket and Canopy before they were handed back to the Deva Nilame on behalf of the Temple. At the back of the Band Stand a shed was erected by some low country Singhalese  who had several stalls containing young coconuts by the hundred, sweetmeats of variety, and they were distributing them gratis to all the Burmese pilgrims; and this act of kindness and generosity lasted for days and every Buddhist ought to be proud that such generous and genuine hearts do exist in their midst.

On the evening of the 26thJanuary at the Band stand the Casket, Canopy and a pair of elephant tusks most elegantly carved  were offered to the Dalada Maligawa, and the ceremony in connection with the offering was gone through by the Burmese High Priest  and the Burmese Pilgrims who had collected there in time. The High Priests of Malwatte, Asgiriya nd Maligakanda , responded and the offering ceremony came to a close.

The 27thJanuary was the day fixed for the exhibition of  the Tooth relic and by 10 a.m. thousands had collected inside and outside the Maligawa to have a sight and worship the Relic which every Buddhist holds most sacred.

At 12 noon the Relic was brought out and the Burmese first given the privilege of worshipping it and at a late hour in the evening the Singhalese, but only a part of them, had a chance of worshipping the Relic; so the 28th of January, the following day was also fixed and both the Burmese and the Singhalese  had every opportunity for worshipping the Relic and satisfying their religious desires in every aspect.

On the afternoon of the 28thJanuary the Casket, Canopy, Tusks and several accessories were handed over to the Deva Nillama at the place where the Tooth relic was exhibited; and at 4.30 p,m., the Tooth relic and the Casket were taken upstairs  and in the presence of the Burmese High Priest and his principal Dayakas, the enshrinement of the Tooth Relic took place. The Tooth Relic was first enshrined in a small gold Jewelled Casket and in order and succession it was covered by casket after casket; each Casket and its respective Jewels were freely exhibited to the Burmese High Priest and his dayakas aand several other Jewelled articles belonging to the Maligawa were shown to them, and among all these valuable treasures which were intact, was also exhibited an image of Buddha cut in emerald which was 4 inches in height.

….the jewelled casket presented by the Burmese was then placed over all the rest as a cover but being about an inch or more short at the pinnacle, the top of the Burmese casket was taken off  and laid inside the Silver-gilt Casket. The Burmese casket covers the Casket presented by the last King of Kandy the pinnacle of which passes through the top opening in the Burmese Casket.

These treasures with the Relic in them, were covered by the top of the Silver-gilt Casket which takes the place of an iron safe, locked and sealed, and then the door of the iron-barred room in which all these treasures are lodged was locked and thus ended, without a hitch, complaint or murmur, after 20 days of hard work the landing of the Casket and the Burmese pilgrims, their offering of the Casket and its belongings, and the receiving of the same into the Dalada Maligawa at Kandy.


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