The Sun & Moon Flag (Ira Handa Kodiya)
Ancient flags of a community are excellent indicators of a group's traditional status, beliefs, symbolism and culture. The Karavas are fortunate to have a rich flag heritage encompassing the traditional usage of a large number of ancient flags, banners and standards. These flags, which corroborate and confirm the clan's traditions of royal and warrior ancestry, are the heirlooms of Kaurava families scattered in various parts of the country.
Right: The royal flag of Sri Lanka, the Sun and Moon flag.
This is one of the main flags of the Karavas . The Sun and Moon flag is used to-date at family ceremonies such as weddings and funerals of the Karavas.
The Karava Sun and Moon Flag symbolising the Solar and Lunar Dynasty origins of the community. This flag is also one of the main flags still used by the Karavas at their ceremonies and is another flag referred to in the Mukkara Hatana as granted to the Karavas by King Parakramabahu IV. However, the ancient epic, Mahabharata states that the Kauravas - from whom the Karavas claim decent - used flags with the sun, moon and stars in the great Mahabharata war.
The Kurukula Ira Handa Kodiya, the Sun and Moon flag, illustrated above has a stylised sun and moon as its central theme on a background of 21 stars. It is bordered by an intricate floral design. The significance of the 21 stars has yet to be interpreted but it is presumed that the number 21 either represented ancient divisions in the Kuru kingdom or that it was a mark of honour. Curiously the royal gun salute of the western world is a 21 gun salute.
The Sun and Moon flag itself takes many forms and several examples are illustrated in E. W. Perera's Sinhalese Banners and Standards (Figures 19, 21 & 22 on Plates IX and X, Memoirs of the Colombo Museum, Government Printer, 1916). Although the Karavas have a large number of flags, Perera, unfortunately makes only brief references to them. Several important Karava flags such as the Chilaw flag, Maggona flag, Tamankaduwa Sun and Moon flag, Sudu Etha Bendi flag etc. have been left out from his apparently biased 'attempt at a complete classification of Sinhalese flags'.
The inattention seems obvious when one compares them with the full page colour illustrations devoted to two flags of other castes (Plates I & II) ; and the inclusion of a newly created cultivator caste flag in a paragraph dealing with royal flags. This “Cultivator flag" is not validated by an ancient original. (page 23). Some Karava flags, such as the Tamankaduwa flags are illustrated but not acknowledged as Karava flags. However as Perera's monograph was published soon after the ‘Kara-Goi contest’ caste controversy of the late 19th century, such indifference possibly reflects the sentiments that prevailed.
The Sun and Moon flag is one of the most important of Kaurava flags, and the sun and moon emblems therein are reckoned to represent the Solar and the Lunar races, the two royal clans, from which, according to tradition, the Kauravas descend. This is perhaps the reason for the presence of the Solar and Lunar emblems in most of the Karava flags and banners.
E. W. Perera too notes that "Symbols of heavenly bodies were peculiarly the insignia of royalty" (Appendix A, page 38) and that "The monarchs of Ceylon bore on their tribal banner the orb of the sun on a sesat as a token of their descent from the Suriyavansa, ' race of the sun' " (page 23 ). The Karavas of the North Central province have traditionally used the Sun and Moon emblems for branding their cattle and continue to do so to date. (Personal communication by Mr. Somasuriya of Inamaluwa, Dambulla)
The Mahavamsa records that King Dutugemunu (161-137 B.C.) adorned the ivory throne at the Brazen Palace with symbols of the Sun, Moon and Stars in gold, silver and pearls (Mhv. XXVII 33 & 34). These symbols are yet evident on the tee of the Abhayagiri (1st c. B.C.) and the later Jetavana (3rd c. A.D.) Dagabas (Parker, Ancient Ceylon , pgs. 306 & 309) Perera's quotation from the Golden book of India states that "The Rajas of Udaipur (or Mewar ) and the other Rajputs Princes who claim descent from the sun, blazon a sun in splendour on their banners" (page 23 foot note 5)
From the ancient period onwards, Sri Lankan kings have claimed descent from the Solar and Lunar races. A few references from the large number of such references to this tradition are:
The above representative references prove the chronological continuity of the royal Solar / Lunar caste tradition right up to the end of the island's monarchy. The Senkadagala throne now in the Colombo Museum has the moon and stars with an irradiated sun, prominently displayed on it.
Percival writing in 1805 refers to flags with the sun emblem being carried before Sri Vikrama Rajasinha (AD 1798 - 1815), the last king of Kandy (Percival, Account of the Island of Ceylon, pp 267, 268). It is interesting to note that the lion flag which is now believed to have been the personal banner of the king is not mentioned by Percival. Writing in 1821, John Davy too says that the monarchs of Ceylon bore their the orb of the Sun on their flags as a token of their descent from the Suriyawamsa, 'race of the sun'.
However, wWithout quoting authority or evidence E. W. Perera states "….and there is scarcely any doubt that the Royal Standard of Ceylon bore the devise of a lion". As there seems to be no evidence that a lion flag was used as the royal banner of our kings, it would be more reasonable to assume that they used flags with the sun and moon symbols emblematic of the Suriyavansa and Chandravansa lineage, which they emphasised with evident pride in their inscriptions.
Some modern writers have called the sun and moon emblems on attani inscriptions as 'symbols of perpetuity' by mere conjecture and without adducing any evidence.
However, as pointed out by Professor Abhaya Aryasinghe, the format of these inscriptions are almost identical to the large number of similar inscriptions found in India; and the issuing the King's dynastic symbol is an essential component of the inscriptions’ format. Further, the Kings and Queens of this period were all from similar dynasties (Shilaa Lipi Sangrahaya, Dept. of Archaeology, Vol.II, pgs. 43 & 44).
Therefore, it seems to be reasonable to interpret the sun and moon symbols on our inscriptions as royal dynastic symbols, signifying as in India, royal authority for the grant. Other interpretations appear to be merely speculative. As such “.....as long as the Sun and Moon lasts” may be interpreted as the perpetual succession of the Solar and Lunar races.
The Sun and Moon flag in its various forms has been used by the Kauravas from the earliest historical times. The Mahabharata quotes Krishna as follows:
"Behold Arjuna, the battlefield is strewn with flags and banners of the Kauravas, bearing emblems of the sun, moon and stars in colours black, white, yellow and amber and their pearl umbrellas"
(Mahabharata, Karna Parva)
Tradition has it that the Karavas displayed the Sun and Moon flag together with their other flags and royal insignia at weddings and other family gatherings. In the more recent past, the Ceylon Observer of 6th July 1940 , reported such a Karava wedding procession in Kalutara. These customs have now gone into disuse. However, the Kauravas living throughout the country still display their traditional flags and other insignia at their funerals. The Sun and Moon flag is one of the flags used for this purpose.
An ancient inscribed sword of a Karava Sub-King, now displayed in the Colombo Museum, has a Sun flag and a Moon flag engraved on it. (RAS CB, XVIII, No. 56, pgs.388-391) See illustration below
The ola manuscripts Mukkara Hatana, Raja Simha Kale Pravrti and Vanni Upatha (Hugh Nevill collection, British Museum, catalogue number Or.6606(53), (54) & (139) ) list the Sun and Moon flag together with the Makara flag and the Ravana flag among the honours granted by King Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (A.D.1410-1468), to the Kauravas after their victories at Puttalam and Nagapattanam.
As these flags are traditional Kaurava flags of great antiquity, and which are also used by their kinsmen in India ( Madras District Gazetteer, Tinnevelly, Vol.I, Chapter 3, page 123, Govt. press, Madras 1917), the grant is possibly the royal confirmation of the Kauravas’s right to use such banners in Sri Lanka .
E. W. Perera also quotes from an ola manuscript called the Chandrakula Malawa of the Pitigal Korale (page 34). Twenty one flags are enumerated therein, among which are the Surya kodiya (The Sun flag), Chandrabendi kodiya (The Moon flag), the Makaraya flag and the Hanuman flag. Although the original ola manuscript says that these are Kurukula flags, Perera has omitted it in his description (Kurukula Charithaya, Vol. 2, page 26).
Following E. W. Perera, the Sun and Moon flag is now often referred to as the flag of the Hatara Korale, without any mention of its Kaurava origin. Presently it is also referred to as the flag of the Hatara Korale Disava in matters connected with the Kandy Perahera. This obviously is a misappropriation that has crept in when the perahara was revived after the fall of the Kandyan kingdom.
Another similar corruption seems to be the present practice where the Diyawadana Nilame and other Nilames walk under the ceremonial umbrellas carried in peraharas.
The flags, umbrellas and other insignia are carried in processions to honour the relic or the respective god and not in honour of the nilames. Paintings of Sri Lanka done by European artists in the 18th and 19th centuries as well as the Gazette notification of 17/04/1935 and the Chief Secretary’s letter Ref: N.60/34 of 10/05/1935 clarifying it further, show that Kandyan Nilames were not entitled to such symbols of honour in the past.
An explanation as to how the flag came to the Hatara Korale is found in the following extract from the Hi Lekam Mitiya, quoted in Bell 's Kegalle report. It describes the procession carrying the image of Vishnu to the devale constructed by Parakramabahu II in 1303 A.D. at Aluth Nuwara. (Perera has given the references as Mhv. Chap 88, Bell page 46 ) Kurukula Charithaya (A. S. F. Weerasuriya, 1948) quotes it from the Hatara Korale Lekam Mitiya.
It translates as "When god-king Rama proceeded from Devundara to Alut Nuwara in great state….........….the flag emblazoned with the Sun and the Moon was borne in front. Since then the Hatara Korale is held in high esteem".
As the Hatara Korale is said to have become the premier division of the kingdom after the arrival of the flag, it appears that the Sun and Moon flag was a very important flag.
The above verse infers that the Sun and Moon flag taken to the Hatara Korale originated in Devundara. This inference seems to be confirmed by Karava traditions which claim that it was the property of Thenuvara Perumal, son of Veda Viyasara, who descended from an ancestor who had arrived with the flag in ancient times, from Hastinapura, the capital of the original Kuru rata.
The flag had been claimed by fellow Kauravas settled in the Hatara Korale when it was taken there. This is narrated in Kurukula Charithaya (Vol. I page 84) which also reproduces the sannasa given to a Veda Viyasara Nilame of Devundara Devale by King Sirisangabo Vijayabahu of Kotte in the 16th century.
Gods Kataragama and Vishnu may possibly be the traditional deities of the Karavas. Several Devales have traditions associating Karavas with their founding and maintenance. It is an area which needs to be researched before the traditions fade out.
The Kuru Rata in Sri Lanka is a division of the Hatara Korale and after the establishment of the Aluth (new) Kururata on the west coast, it was renamed as the Parana (old) Kururata.
Legends connected with the settlement of Kauravas in Hatara Korale are found in ola manuscripts such as Sri Lankadwyeepaye Kadayim potha and Hatara Korale vitthi potha. They narrate that in ancient times a prince, a queen, a merchant and a Brahmin came, together with their retinue, from Kururata in India and settled in Hatara Korale by order of the God King Rama. Hence it was known as Kururata. (A critical study of Kadayim poth, H. A. P. Abeyawardena, Dept of Cultural Affairs, 1978) Kadayim kavi state that the sun and moon symbols and the sesatha were the boundary markers of the Hatara Korale (pg.239). One such boundary marker is illustrated on Plate xii of the same book.
The foregoing illustrates the importance of the Sun and Moon symbols both in terms of Kaurava history and of Sri Lankan history.
Above: The Sun, Moon and boat symbols as displayed by medieval Sri Lankan kings on their Kahavanu gold coins. These are royal symbols of the Karava race and these were also the real royal symbols of ancient Sri Lanka. The Lion was not such a royal symbol although it too was used by the Karavas on exclusively Karava flags. The Lion is now being promoted by interested parties so as to displace these true royal symbols. - see creation of Lion myth.
Above: The ancestral royal insignia of the Karava community from a 19th century illustration.
Above: Another flag of the Karavas with the Sun and Moon symbols
Above: The Elephant and cross flag of the Karavas with the Sun and Moon symbols
Above and below: Wedding of Loius Pieris and Cecilia de Fonseka of the Karawe community, with family and Lascorin guards. circa 1870
The Sun symbol displayed as the central symbol on the royal throne of Sri Lanka. The Moon is on the opposite side.
Inscribed swords of Karava kings from the Colombo Museum displaying the Sun and Moon symbols.
The owners of these swords gifted them to the Colombo museum in the mid 20th century. The descriptive plaque with the translation of the inscriptions installed at the time of gifting disappeared soon after and was never replaced. The swords are still on display but without a translation plaque and as such viewers are kept unaware of their Karava connection.
Whilst the swords of Karava kings languish in the Colombo museum without a descriptive plaque, it is extremely interesting to also note that a sword presented to Nugawela Rate Mahattaya by the British in 1932 has been purchased by the Colombo Museum on 21st June 1977 and is exhibited with the names of the original owner and the son who sold it. This sword is displayed very prominently along with the royal regalia of the last king who was deposed in 1815. The purchase appears to be one of the final acts of British Radala Sirima Bandaranayike’s government. The display of this modern sword misleads the public into believing that such Kandyans could wear swords during the time of Kandyan kings. They could not. Even the highest Adigars could only wear a short knife as part of their ceremonial dress.
Be they rich or poor, the Karavas are the only community in Sri Lanka that uses royal insignia (Pearl umbrella known as the Mutu kuda, sword, trident, alawattam emblazoned with the sun and moon, sun & moon flag, makara flag, white foot cloths and lighted candles or traditional flame torches) at their funerals. The above funeral procession shows the contemporary adaptation of the Karawa royal insignia in rural Sri Lanka.
Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka