ancient 'Kaurava Pavilion' at Anuradhapura
by Raaj de Silva

Although much is known about the Kaurava clans who migrated to Sri Lanka during the Gampola and Kotte periods, the Kauravas of ancient Sri Lanka remain relatively unknown. However certain Inscriptions found in and around Anuradhapura, dates their arrival to a much earlier period. The inscriptions have been taken from the book 'Inscriptions of Ceylon' by Paranavithana (1970), and this article has been compiled by Raj de Silva.
Plate XI #94 - Inscriptions of Ceylon, Paranavithana

Sri Lanka's pre Christian Brahmi inscriptions are a good source for researching this period and they shed much light on this aspect. An important inscription in this regard is the comparatively long inscription in Anuradhapura known as the 'Tamil householders' terrace inscription . This inscription is inscribed on the vertical rock face of a terrace to the north west of the ancient Abhayagiriya Dágöba and the inscription reads:

1. Ilubarathi Dameda Samane karite Dameda Gahapatikana pásáde
2. Sagasa ásane
Nasatasa ásane
Ka _ _ _ Tisaha ásane
_ _ _ ásane
Kubira Sujathaha
7. Návika Káravaha ásane
( The blanks indicate characters which are too worn to be deciphered)

It translates as:

1. The pavilion of the Dameda householders, caused to be made by the Dameda Samana Ila Baratha
2. The seat of Sagasa
The seat of Nasata
The seat of _ _ _ Tissa
The seat of _ _ _
of Kuruvira Sujátha
7. The seat of Kárava, the mariner

This terrace appears to have been the floor of an assembly hall where council meetings were held by a group of Kauravas during the Anuradhapura period. The terrace floor is of different levels and the inscription engraved in parts below each level of the terrace indicates the seating order. Kárava the mariner had occupied the highest seat. His name is evidently a very early local derivation from Kaurava. The name on line 5 is totally lost and line 4 which is only partly legible as Ka _ _ _ may also have been Kárava. Kubira Sujátha on line 6 can easily be identified as Kuruvira which is a name used by the Kauravas to date.

On line 1 the inscription also mentions Ila Barata and according to the Mahabarata, Barata was the ancient royal family of India from which the Kauravas and the Pandavas originated. Arjuna a hero of the Mahabharata is also known as Bharata and Barathakulasuriya is a Karáva family name. It is suggested by Paranavithana that the personages who met at this pavilion had belonged to an ancient trade guild engaged in international maritime trade. They appear to have belonged to a distinct clan.

Dameda in ancient time may not have conveyed the same meaning as it does today. Although Sinhala / Tamil identities as distinct races did not prevail in ancient Sri Lanka, those arriving from the Kurumandala region of India appear to have been called Dameda, Damila etc. In later times even Kalinga Kings are some times referred to as Damilas.

There are dozens of pre Christian Brahmi inscriptions scattered in many parts of Sri Lanka where donors of caves have described themselves as being from the 'Barata clan'. A few such examples are:

1. "Barata Tisaha lene sagasa" (The cave of Barata Tissa is gifted to the Sangha)
2. "Barata Sagarakitasa lene" ( The cave of Barata Sagarakitasa - Brave seafarer ? )
3. "Gahapati Barata Utara..........." ( Householder Baratha from the north ? )

Names such as Tissa and titles such as Gahapathi in all such inscriptions suggest that the Baratas in the first mentioned inscription also belonged to the same clan. In addition, inscription # 270 from Polonnaruwa, the second inscription listed above, has the symbol of a ship engraved on it, possibly indicating that the donor was a mariner as much as Kárava of our pavilion inscription. The ship symbol was the brand mark used by the Karávas of the southern province for branding their cattle .

Another Barata inscription, inscription # 368 from Periyapuliyankulam carries the ship symbol as well as the fish symbol while some others carry only the fish symbol . The fish symbol is also found in all contemporary inscriptions of the Kataragama Kshatriyas found at Kottademuhela in the Hambantota district and Bowategala in the Ampara district . The fish symbol is also found on King Nissankamalla's stone lion and many of his other inscriptions and on most of the extant Karáva flags. The fish symbol was also used on ancient Sri Lankan coins, sometimes with the royal parasol and at other times with the very words Barata . It is undoubtedly an ancient Sri Lankan royal dynastic emblem.

Names such as Barata Jotiya in inscription # 1073 have been interpreted by Paraavithana to mean Lord Jotiya and Saddhamangala Karunaratne has interpreted Barata in Barata Tisa as an honorific title .

As such it appears that scions from the royal house of Barata from whom the Kauravas descend were prominent in ancient Sri Lanka as mariners, merchants, princes and patrons of Buddhism.

The Kaurava Barata connection of Sri Lankan royalty had continued up to the Kotte period as well. We find Parakramabahu VI of Kotte (AD 1411 - 1466) describing himself as " descended from King Bharatha" in his Padákada sannasa.

Therefore this site should properly be called the 'Kaurava pavilion' rather than be referred to by the lackluster name ' Tamil householders' terrace'.

This Article was contributed by Raj de Silva of the Kshastriya Maha Sabha.

  1. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, plate XI, # 94
  2. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, plate XI, # 94
  3. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, insription # 43, Mihintale
  4. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscription # 270, Dúregala, Polonnaruwa
  5. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscription # 643, Situlpahuva
  6. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscription # 368, Periyapuliyankulam
  7. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscription # 537
  8. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscriptions 549 to 551 & 556 to 569 and pages lix, 42 & 43
  9. Inscriptions of Ceylon, Vol I, Paranavithana, 1970, inscription # 1073. Page 84
  10. Epigraphia Zeylanica VII, page 62
  11. Jounal of the Royal Asiatic Society CB Vol XXXVI page 132