The establishment of Sri Lanka Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya can be understood to be the outcome of a requirement of revival of the order of monks with the aim of espousing the ideals of Buddhism during the 19th century Sri Lanka. It is currently one of the three major fraternities of the Sangha in the country. During the past 145 years of its existence, it has functioned as a unitary organization and has been recognized for scholarship and discipline. The number of monasteries associated with the Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya counts to 1548 and the estimated number of monks is 6570 according to the 2007 census. Among the characteristics of the fraternity, using an umbrella made of palm leaf, taking a begging bowl while traveling implying the dependency over laymen for requisites and wearing saffron colour robes, which was considered to be revolutionary are noteworthy. The Nikāya has made a profound impression on the lay Buddhist public resulting in the establishment of large number of monasteries throughout the country.
The vision in accordance with the wishes of the founder of the Sri Lanka Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya based on the sublime message of the Buddha is to establish an order of monks respected for their learning, piety and discipline with a view to elevate the attitudes of the people in and outside of Sri Lanka.
The Mahanayaka Maha Thero is the supreme authority of the Sri Lanka Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya. The Mahānāyaka Mahā Thero is bound by the Katikāvata, which confers approval to his decisions regarding the activities of the Nikāya. Once elected by the Sanghasabhā, he holds office for the rest of his lifetime.
|Most Ven. Ambagahawatte Indasabhavara Gnanasami||1862-1886|
|Most Ven. Deepegoda Seelakkhanda||1887-1916|
|Most Ven. Obadakande Sri Wimalananda Tissa||1916-1924|
|Most Ven. Matara Siri Gnanindasabha||1924-1937|
|Most Ven. Kodagoda Upasena||1937-1940|
|Most Ven. Matale Siri Dhammasiddhi||1940-1940|
|Most Ven. Karatota Siri Indasara Tissa||1941-1954|
|Most Ven. Hisselle Sri Gnanodaya||1954-1966|
|Most Ven. Deepegoda Siri Chandawimala||1966-1976|
|Most Ven. Induruwe Uttarananda||1976-1986|
|Most Ven. Pottewela Pannasara||1986-1997|
|Most Ven. Weweldeniye Medhalankara||1998-2013|
|Most Ven. Napana Pemasiri||2013 to date|
Vijayanananda temple, which was built in 1851, was the site from which Ambagahawatte Mahānāyaka Mahā Thero set out to travel to Galle Fort with a view to set sail for Rangoon. It was at this temple that the Mahā Thero was received on his return from Burma (currently Myanmar) after receiving upasampadā or the Higher Ordination. The first ever Higher Ordination Ceremony conducted by the Nikaya after its establishment was also held at Vijayananda Temple. This temple also started the first ever Sunday Dhamma school of Sri Lanka in 1895 as a result of the visit of Colonel Henry Steel Olcott and Madam Helena Petrovna Blavatsky who visited the temple on 19th May, 1880. These two became Buddhists on their arrival in Galle after formally observing the five precepts under Akmeemana Dhammarama Thero, who was a pupil of Indasabhavara Gnanasami Maha Thero. These two eminent visitors who took the initiative in establishing The Theosophical Society with its branches in many countries were also responsible for rendering a great service to Buddhism and its culture in Sri Lanka particularly by establishing a number of Buddhist schools.
Mula Maha Viharaya, which later came to be known as the Dharmagupta Pirivena, Payagala, situated 29 miles south of Colombo was associated with the life of the Most Ven. Ambagahawatte Mahānāyaka Mahā Thero not only because he mostly lived there but also because the Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya spread centering that temple. The first Mahānāyaka Mahā Thero passed away while living at this temple to which he was invited to live during his sāmanera days by the devotees led by Davith Weerakoon Appuhamy, an ardent Buddhist of Payagala. After his passing away, the appointment of the second Mahānāyaka Mahā Thero was made at this temple. It has become customary to confirm all the newly appointed positions of the Mahānāyaka Mahā Theros of the Sri Lanka Rāmanna Nikāya at this monastery.
The very first document that we come across describing the organizational structure and activities of the Sri Lanka Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya is said to be the one that was issued in 1881 as the First Convention, which states the objectives of the Nikāya and the course of action for its adherent bhikkhus. Subsequently in 1925, this document was re-issued accompanied with a supplement. A compendium of rules and conventions relating to the Nikāya known as Sri Lanka Rāmanna Nikāya Pālaka Sanghasabhā Vyvasthā Sangrahaya was adopted in 1945 and was published in 1950. This was revised in 1964 and published in 1973 as Sri Lanka Rāmanna Nikāya Pālana Vyavasthā Sangrahaya. Basing on this, there were discussions from the year 1982 onwards, and later the Karaka Sangha Sabhā decided to publish the Sri Lanka Rāmanna Mahā Nikāya Katikāvata in 1989. The recent most amendment was published in 2003 which was a result of discussions that started as early as in 1996.