The Amarapura Nikaya is a Sri Lankan monastic fraternity (a lineage of ordained monks) founded in 1800.
It is named after the city of Amarapura, Myanmar (then Burma), the former capital of the Burmese kingdom.
Amarapura Nikaya monks are followers of the Theravada tradition.
The general practice of the major monastic nikayas in Sri Lanka in the 18th Century was to ordain only members of the highest caste. The establishment in Kandy, which because of its origin in Thailand (Siam) was known as the Siam Nikaya (Siamese sect), was unwilling to to grant higher (upasampada) ordination to those monks who had non-Goyigama social origins. This practice was increasingly being challenged in coastal areas, where a growing middle class was rising among lower-caste Sinhalese. Therefore, those in the low country of other caste groups, without the patronage of the King or of the British, held the first non-Govigama upasampada ceremony at Totagamuwa Vihara in 1772. Another was held at Tangalle in 1798. Neither of these ceremonies were approved by the Siam Nikaya.
The lower-caste Buddhists lacked an organised ordination lineage that wasn’t dependent on the majority higher-caste monks for ordinations. Hoping to rectify this situation, middle class Sinhalese laymen funded an expedition to Burma to found a new monastic lineage. In 1799, Ambagahapitiye Gnanavimala Thera a monk of the Salagama caste, from Balapitiya on the coast, departed for Burma with a group of novices to seek a new ordination. The first bhikkhu was ordained in Burma in 1800 by the sangharaja of Burma, his party having been welcomed to Burma by King Bodawpaya.
The initial mission returned to Sri Lanka in 1803. Soon after their return to the island they established a udakhupkhepa sima (a flotilla of boats moved together to form a platform on the water) at the Maduganga river, Balapitiya and, under the most senior Myanmar bhikkhu who accompanied them, held an upasampada ceremony on Vesak Full Moon Day. The new fraternity came to be known as the Amarapura Nikaya, from the then capital of Burma .
Several return trips to Sri Lanka conducted in 1807 created a core group of ordained monks that provided a quorum for the ordination of new Amarapura Nikaya monks in Sri Lanka. They were soon granted recognition by the colonial British government.
The establishment of the Amarapura Nikaya was significant because it signled a change in the social dyanmic of Buddhism in Sri Lanka. For the first time, a monastic lineage had been created not through royal patronage of a Buddhist king, but through the collective action of a dedicated group of Buddhist laymen. The Amarapura Nikaya was thus both independent of government and royal power, and more closely tied to its patrons in the growing middle class. This presaged both the growing power of the middle class in Sri Lanka during the 19th and 18th Centuries, and the rise of so-called Protestant Buddhism among the Sinhalese middle class- a modernized form of Buddhism in which increasing power and authority were vested in the laity, rather than monastic authorities.
- Gombrich, Richard. Theravada Buddhism: A Social History from Ancient Benares to Modern Colombo. Oxon, England: Routledge and Kegan Paul, Ltd., 2004.
- accessed 16 December 2005.