The Mutukuda (Royal Pearl Umbrella)
The white umbrella was a symbol of royal rank and a vital component of the pancha kakudha bhanda or the five exclusive insignia of royalty . The white umbrella was used by Kings and other royalty including royal army commanders and also used in wars and royal ceremonies . It is usually referred to as Svetacchatra and sometimes also as Dhavala chatra .
The white pearl umbrella or the Mutukuda has been used by the Kauravas from time immemorial. The Mahabharata relates that these were even taken on to the battle field by the Kauravas. The Kauravas of Sri Lanka use the pearl umbrella to date at funerals, along with other royal insignia such as swords, trident, Sun & Moon flag, Makara flag, whisks and lamps.
No other community in Sri Lanka uses such royal symbols at their funerals. In the past, these symbols were also used at Karáva weddings and other family functions, but these customs are almost lost now.
Many traditional Kaurava families previously had their own set of insignia for use at family gatherings. They were stored in a box called ábharana pettiya or sésath pettiya and usually the box contained a list giving the order in which they should be carried and the kin-relationships of the persons designated to carry them. Until recently a Mutukuda of the Kotte period was with the Hindu Kaurava family of Tamankaduva, Anuradhapura. It had been preserved by this family for centuries, along with many Kaurava flags and historical documents. This heirloom Mutukuda had been borrowed by a powerful family from Horowpothana in the recent past and never returned. Similarly an ola record documenting Prince Sapumal’s Kaurava ancestry had also been with this family. It had been removed by an early Prime Minister with assurances of publication. It was never published and cannot be traced any more.
The Mukkara Hatana an ola manuscript from the Kotte period documents that King Parakramabahu VI ( AD 1411 - 1466 ) presented a Mutukuda along with other royal honours to Kaurava warriors who fought and defeated the Mukkaras occupying the west coast of Sri Lanka. It is interesting to note that Kandyan Nilames including the highest Adigars were not permitted to use ceremonial umbrellas right up to the end of the monarchy. However it is now a common sight to see Nilames in perahäras boldly walking under ceremonial umbrellas which were traditionally meant to honour the relic or the god in whose honour the perahära was being held. The abuse of such ceremonial umbrellas by Nilames is a sacrilege, but it is now passed off to the gullible public as a Sinhala tradition. (See Radala for illustrations of the abuse)
Paintings and illustrations from Knox (AD 1681), Heydt (AD 1736), Jan Brandes (AD 1785), Johnville (AD 1800), Littleton(AD 1819), Davy (AD 1821), Forbes (AD 1841),Van Dort (AD 1885), Patterson (AD 1919) and other Europeans show that the Nilames of the Kandyan kingdom went barefoot and never dared to use ceremonial umbrellas. The 1828 description of the first Kandy perahära held after the British conquest shows that all Basnáyaka Nilames, Dehigama, Dunuvila, Madugalle, Nugawela, Unambuve and others carried umbrellas in the perahära and did not dare walk under them. .
The Nilames were not even permitted to keep royal insignia such as ceremonial umbrellas and flags in their homes . If a Nilame did dare to walk under an umbrella in royal times he would certainly have been beheaded for the audacity. However , the Karávas, including those of humble means, were entitled to use their caste insignia which were ensigns of royalty, at family ceremonies.
The monarchy of Sri Lanka was the monitoring authority of traditions, and the end of the monarchy in 1815 had emboldened the Nilames to adopt various royal symbols for themselves. Upon noting this tendency the Sri Lankan government was forced to put a stop to such abuses by Gazette notification of 17/04/1935. This notification states that the privileges and honours of the Nilames were limited to the Kandyan costume only. They were not permitted to wear a sword or a sword belt or to have whip crackers, dancers or tom tom beaters before them.
The white umbrella had special significance in Sri Lankan history as a symbol of royalty. Uniting the country by a monarch is referred to as bringing the country under one umbrella signifying one ruling monarch  and the accession of kings is referred to in inscriptions as raising of the royal parasol, cata nanvá and cata lagitaka . There was also a belief that goddesses resided in royal parasols. During the Anuradhapura period the post of chattagáhaka (Royal parasol bearer) was as important a position as the post of asiggáhaka (Royal sword bearer). There was also a 2nd century king by the name of Chattagáhaka.
As much as the white umbrella, using white cloth as a canopy in place of the umbrella was also reserved only for royalty. The 17th century Portuguese historian Queyroz recognised that only certain persons were entitled by custom to such use. “Neither banners nor ornaments of white cloth shall be set up for the Vidánes of the villages or of Corale, but only for those persons to whom this honour is due” . He also notes that white cloth was reserved for royalty . Therefore it is no surprise that Karávas of the past used both the mutukuda and white cloth at their ceremonies.
Father Manuel Barrados the Portuguese historian records that he witnessed a Moratuwa Karáva wedding in 1613 where white cloth and other Royal insignia were used to honour the couple .
To quote Father Manuel Barrados: .
"The wedded pair come walking on white cloths, with which the ground is successively carpeted, and are covered above with others of the same kind, which the nearest relatives hold in their extended hands after the fashion of a canopy. The symbols that they carry are white discs, and candles lighted in the day-time, and certain shells which they keep playing on in place of bag-pipes. All these are Royal Symbols which the former kings conceded to this race of people, that being strangers they should inhabit the coasts of Ceilao, and none but they or those to whom they give leave can use them. …, what causes wonder in this and in other people of this kind, is, that although so wretched, miserable, and poor, they have so many points of honour, that they would rather die than go contrary to it." (Monthly Literary Register 4, 1896 page 134)
Despite over 200 years of European rule in Sri Lanka, even as late as the 19th century the use of umbrellas appears to have been jealously guarded by the Karavas who saw to it that no other caste was allowed to use umbrellas. The use of umbrellas to protect oneself from the sun and rain appear to have gained popularity during the British period. The missionaries appear to have encouraged Christian converts to use umbrellas in defiance of tradition. Gordon Cumming writing in the late 1800s narrates as follows how even impoverished Karavas resisted the misappropriation of the Karava symbols of honour by others. “......... these wretched petty caste privileges and the determination of the Fishers that no lower caste should rise in the social ladder or presume to encroach on their prerogatives. Of these, none is so jealously guarded as that of carrying an umbrella in scorching sun or pitiless rain ! A few years ago some men of the Barber caste presumed thus to offend on the grand occasion of a wedding. The Fishers took umbrage, smashed the umbrellas and a melee ensued in which several of the ‘higher caste’ were stabbed. This led to a riot in which sundry houses were burnt, and all Barbers punished for becoming proud. Natives of good position declared it ‘served them right’. A member of Fishers was sent to prison, but to this day the Barbers dare not carry umbrellas. (Cumming pages 363 & 364 )  .
Sesatha which originally meant Svetacchatra (white umbrella) has now degenerated in common parlance to mean ordinary palm leaf ornaments carried in non Kshatriya processions. The white pearl umbrella, the real Sweta Chatra (sesatha) is however still used only by the Karavas.
 Mahavamsa XIX.59, page 133 n.1
 The other four insignia are listed as válavíjani, unhísa, khagga and cámara (yak tail whisk, diadem, sword and fan) in Pali literature. The Pújávaliya , chapter 7, page 115, Rev. Gnanananda edition, lists them as valvidunáva, nalalpata, magul kaduva, ran mirivädi sangala and dalapundu sesatha (yak tail whisk, forehead plate, royal sword, golden footwear and pearl umbrella). According to Ehelepola, the five royal insignia of the Kandyan period had comprised: sak paliha, mutukuda, ran kaduwa, chámara, mirivedi sangala (white shield with the devise of a chank, pearl umbrella, golden sword, fan and foot wear). Davy’s list, page 164, replaces the sak paliha with nalalpata / pata tahaduva of the patabëndás. Therefore, although the various lists differ, it is clear that the sword and the Mutukuda which appear in all these lists were integral parts of the pancha kakudha bhanda.
 Culavamsa (Cv) 66.50
 Cv. 76.113
 Mukkara Hatana, British Museum collection of ola manuscripts, Or 6606 (53)
 Purávrutta, D. D. Ranasinghe, Gnánártha Prakásana Press, Colombo , 1928.
 Evidence led during the inquiry into the Uva Rebellion of 1817, Silumina Historical and lliterary supplement 04/03/1934
 Ekacchatra, from which the modern word for unite eksat was derived.
 Epigraphia Zeylanica IV pages 221, 227 etc.
 Ummagga Jataka, Dondra Inscription etc.
 The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylaö, Fr. Queyroz, Book VI, page 1087
 The Temporal and Spiritual Conquest of Ceylaö, Fr. Queyroz, Book VI, page 1011
 Monthly Literary Register, 4, 1896, page 134
 Cumming C. F. Gordon – Two Happy years in Ceylon, Chatto & Windus, Piccadilly London 1893
The ancestral royal insignia of the Karava community from a 19th century illustration.
An ancient flag of the Karava showing the Mutukuda (royal pearl umbrellas) along with the other royal symbols of the Karavas: Sun & Moon symbols, Sword, White shield, Lamps (torches -pandam), ceremonial shades (alavattam), Yak tail whisks (valviduna) etc. together with Indra, the god of the Kshatriyas.
An old etching of King Rajasinghe and his court.
Note the similarity of the royal symbols carried by the courtiers with those on the flag above. Of particular interest are the two pearl umbrellas, the sun and moon symbols, Aalavattam ceremonial sun shades and the white (conch) shield.
Below: an old painting from Sri Lanka showing similar symbols of royalty carried in honour of the king.
Karava weddings with traditional royal insignia.
Above from the early 20th century and
below from late 20th century.
Above: a southern Karava wedding as seen by a western artist in 1885. White canopy of royalty used in place of the white umbrella. Click for larger image
The funeral procession below shows the contemporary adaptation of the Karawa white pearl umbrella (Mutukuda), swords, spears, flags and other royal insignia in rural Sri Lanka.
Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka