The Ceylon Antiquary
and
Literary Register

Published Quarterly                                             Volume VIIJuly 1921                                                              Part I.


THE KARAVE FLAG.
By Lionel De Fonseka.

The Karave Flag

            The Karave Flag (see note at bottom) is a document well worthy of antiquarian attention, Its provenance has already been indicated by Mr. E. W. Perera in his monograph on Sinhalese Banners and Standards.

            The flag holds within its borders a unique collection of antique emblems, many of which were highly expressive not only to the Sinhalese but to all the civilized peoples of the ancient world. Some of these symbols are now obsolete, while a few have remained current to our day. The following is an essay to trace the import of each of the symbols on the Karave flag, and to render their collective significance as the emblems of the Kaurava Vanse.

(1) The Sun, Moon and Stars.

The Rajput clans of India adopted the emblems of the sun and the moon, according to their descent from the Solar or Lunar race. The sun and moon were in a special manner the emblems of the Royal house in Ceylon indicating its Kshatriya descent from the Solar and Lunar races. The Ivory Throne in the Brazen Palace at Anuradhapura was adorned with the sun in gold, the moon in silver, and the stars in pearls. The façade of the Old Palace at Kandy was adorned with the same emblems in plaster relief. The sun and moon as emblems in the Royal house of Ceylon figure almost invariably on royal inscriptions and grants. These emblems were not depicted on grants, as is sometimes supposed, as "symbols of perpetuity" - the phrase so common in grants " as long as the sun and moon endure," being derived from the royal emblems, not the emblems from the phrase.

The sun-and-moon flag (ira-handa kodiya) has long been specially associated with the Kaurava Vanse. According to one tradition, the Ira-handa kodiya, the Makara kodiya, and the Ravana kodiya were presented by the king to certain Karave chieftains who defeated a body of Mukkuuvars on the coast of Puttalam.

            "When Sri Prákrama Bahu Maha Raja," says an old Sinhalese account, was reigning at Cotta, a hostile people of the name of Mukkara landed in Ceylon and got possession of Puttalam. The King Parákrama Báhu wrote to the three towns Kanchipura, Kaveri-pattanum, and Kilikare, and getting down 7,740 men defeated the Mukkara and snatched the fort of Puttalam from their hands. The names of those who led this army were Vaccha-nattu-dhevarir, Kurukula-nattu-dhevarir, Manikka.Thalaven, Adhi-arasa adappan, Warnesuriya adappan, Kurukulasüriya mudali," Arsa-Nilaitte Mudali, etc. (See letter by Mudaliyar F. E. Gunaratne, in the "Ceylon Independent," 11th April, 1921.)

            The king on the same occasion granted them certain villages and domains, including Maha-vidiya, and Velle-vidiya in Negombo.

            The sun-and-moon flag was also the flag of the Four Kórales. According to tradition, "when the god-king Rama proceeded from Devundara to Alutnuwara in great state, with a four-fold army like unto a festival of the gods, the flag emblazoned with the sun and moon was borne in front. Since then the Four Kórales held chief rank."

            This explanation is intelligent, but hardly goes far enough. According to Dr. Paul Pieris, the people of the Four Kórales "were considered the most noble of all in Ceylon . . . Some of the families, for instance the Kiravelli, were recognized as representing the true royal stock. The martial prowess of the men of the Four Kórales was always recognized, and their maha kodiya, emblazoned with the sun and moon, was allotted the place of honour in the van of the army." ( Portuguese Era I. 316.)

            We are led to suspect from this that the sun and moon emblems in the case of the Four Kórales were primarily associated with the noble birth of the inhabitants, and, if we turn to the Kadaim-pot, this suspicion will be confirmed. There we find that there was a district in Ceylon known as the Kuru-rata, conterminous more or less with the region of the Four Korales, and the inhabitants of the Kuru-rata in Ceylon were believed to have come from the Kuru-rata (Delhi district) in India.

            According to the Kadaim-pot (see Bell, Kegalla Report, p 2) "in ancient times. . there came to this island from the Kuru-rata a queen, a royal prince, a rich nobleman and a learned prime minister with their retinue, and by order of King Rama dwelt in that place called on that account Kuru-rata. In the year of our great Lord Gautama Buddha, Gaja Bahu who came from Kuru-rata settled people in that district, calling it Paranakururata . . ."

            Paranakuru is one of the divisions of the Four Korales, and, according to Dr. Pieris, Siyane Kórale was also in former times a division of the Four Kórales. It is, to say the least, a remarkable coincidence that the Royal family, the men of the Four Kórales, and the Kaurava Vanse, all of whom, and who alone, authentically used the Ira-handa-kodiya, should be reputed to be of Khattriya descent.

            Kuru-rata is the district in India whence the Kaurava Vanse claims its ultimate origin, and, if we turn to the list of Karáve chieftains who rescued the fort of Puttalam, the names of some are sufficiently indicative of their origin. Kuru-Kula-nattu-dhevarir is one chief Vaccha-nattu-dhevarir is another. Now Vaccha was a town in N. India, called also Kausambi the capital of Nemi-.Sakkaram, King of Hastinapura, who transferred his capital to Vaccha. Vaccha-nattu-thevagay is still the name borne by certain Karave families of Siyane Korale, where some of the oldest Karave families are resident.

      If we turn to those flags where the sun and moon occur in conjunction with other emblems, in Mr. E. W. Perera's exhaustive monograph on flags, we find that the Sun and Moon figure on the banners of the kings Dutu-gemunu and Mahasena, on the flags of certain ancient temples of royal faoundation, such as Kataragama, on the flags of certain dissavanis which were at one time ruled by members of the royal family, such as the Seven Kórales (ruled by Prince Vidiye Bandara), and Uva, which in Portuguese times at any rate, was always a royal principality, the only Prince of Uva who was not a member of the reigning house being Antonio Barretto, or Kuruvita-Rala who was apparently of the Kaurava Vanse, De Queiroz describing him as a pescador or fisher.

            The sun and moon seem therefore to have been the most jealously guarded emblems in ancient Ceylon, those privileged to use these emblems being privileged apparently on the ground of descent rather than merit.

Back to Karava Page | Next Page


Note: The original article published in 1921 did not contain any photographs or drawings, but an extract available with the family contained a Black & White photograph of the above flag.  A Colour photograph taken from the book ''Sri Lanka Flags' - unique Memorials of Heraldry, 1980, Edited and Published by Edith M. G. Fernando has been inserted to make the composition of the flag more clearer to the reader, and to indicate the different components of the flag. The flag analyzed by the author in this article is based on one found in Mr. E. W. Perera's monograph on Sinhalese Banners and Standards.