The Karava Swords
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The article reproduced below has been taken from the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) Vol. XVIII of 1905, pages 388 - 391, and describes the inscriptions found in two swords of the Kotte period (AD 1374). These swords are important to the De Fonsekas, as this is the earliest known reference to the Kauravara Aditya Arasa Nilayitta clan ( meaning 'belonging to the race of the sun'). This is the clan name used by the De Fonsekas, and these words can be clearly read off the photograph of the swords included elsewhere in this page.

The recipients of the two swords who have been appointed as Generals to the King, had the clan name of Kauravara Aditya Arasa Nilayitta. This name is of considerable interest due to their resemblance to Karava names of later years The swords were the heirlooms of the Karava family of 'de Rowel' who in common with the de Fonsekas, Tamel, Lowe and d'andrados posses the proud clan name of Varunakula Aditiya Arasa Nilayitta. The point in history at which the word Varnakula was adopted (replacing kauravara) is not known. Varnakula is one of the three great Surya clans of the caste, and it can be presumed that the recipients belonged to the Varnakula clan, and in later years adopted that name.

The two swords are presently in the Colombo Museum. The descriptive plaque installed at the time of gifting these swords to the museum, giving the translation of the inscriptions, disappeared many years ago and has not been replaced to date. These inscribed swords in the Colombo Museum have been authenticated by no less a personality than H. C. P. Bell, the Archeological Commissioner. References to these swords are also found in the RAS Journals XVIII 56 of 1905 pages 447-449 and XVIII 1974 xxii - xxiii. 

The swords belonged to the family of Mudaliyár Ambrosius de Rowel, which formed part of the Varunakula Aditiya Arasa Nilayitta clan. The family details of Mudaliyar Rowel is included in the Genealogy table of the Varunakula clans given in the Ancestry page.

The photograph on the left shows these two swords as they are displayed in the Colombo Museum today. The swords are mounted horizontally so that the inscriptions are visible to the visitors. Inset shows the Decorative Ivory hilt of the second sword.

( Photographs were taken with the kind permission of the Curator of the Museum.)

Two Old Singhalese Swords
By C. M. FERNANDO, M.A., LL.M. (Cantab.).
Royal Asiatic Society (Ceylon Branch) Vol. XVIII of 1905

The two swords, which form the subject of this paper, were shown to Mr. H. C. P. Bell, when he was resident in Colombo about twenty years ago.

Hearing that they were in my possession he suggested that a "Note" on them would likely to be of interest to the Asiatic Society.

The swords came from the possession of the late Chevalier Jusey de Silva, who held them as family heirlooms.

On his death the swords passed into the hands of his only daughter, Lady de Soysa, from whom I received them.

The members of his family have always used the honorific names appearing on the swords, and claim to be descendants of the grantees. The names Aditya Arasa Nilayitta (which mean " belonging to the race of the sun") have also been used from time immemorial by the members of the family whose present head is Mudaliyár Ambrosius de Rowel of Pitigal Kórale South. They claim to be descendants of the chiefs of a military colony from Jeypore.

The Dutch Act of Appointment dated the 20th January, 1765, appointing the great grandfather of the present Mudaliyár to the office of Mudaliyár over Alutkuru Kórale describes him as "Anthony Rowell Waranakula Aditta Wirasuriya Arasa Nilayitta."

Both these swords bear on them marks of undoubted antiquity. The characters are archaic; the style and language are similar to those of other documents of the time. As inscribed swords of honour granted to distinguished generals five centuries ago they furnish unique memorials, of the past history of our Island.

I am indebted to Simon de Silva, Mudaliyár, Chief Translator to the Government, for the decipherment of the inscriptions on the two swords, and the translations.

Sword No 1 : *



Hail! At the palace of the Viceroy the Mighty. Victorious Lord of the Earth, Vijaya Raja. In the year of Buddha 1917 Kouravara Aditya Arasa Nilayitta Ile Nága, having been appointed General of the Viceroy, received this sword on Tuesday, the 15th day of the increasing moon of the month of Vesak, at the Palace of the Viceroy at Jayawardhanapura.

            The date as read on the sword -1917 of the Buddhist era - corresponds to A.D. 1374. At that time Bhuwaneka Báhu V was reigning at Gampola. Vijaya Bahu, his step-brother, was Viceroy at Kótté. He is called Vira Bahu in the Maha-wansa, and Vijaya Bahu in the Răjavaliya. From about A.D. 1399 he appears to have reigned in Kótté as an independent sovereign, until, on the invasion of the city by the Chinese in A.D. 1411, he was captured and taken away to China. On being released, he returned to Ceylon in A.D. 1412, and crushed by defeat and misfortune sought a hermit's cell on Adam's Peak, where tradition says he died a mendicant.

Sword No. 2 :*



In the year of Buddha 1959, at Jayawardhanapura, the Lord of Lanka, Sri Sangabodi Sri Parakrama Báhu Maha Raja, decreed and granted to Kouravara Aditya Kuravira Arasa Nilayitta Maha Naga the office of general and this sword, on Tuesday the 10th day of the increasing moon in the month of Vesak, at the auspicious Palace.


Sword No 1* Length of blade, 2 ft. 7 ž in.; breadth, 1 1/8 in. hilt, 4 in black ivory
Sword No 2* Length of blade. 2 ft. 10 ž in.; breadth. 1 ź in. hilt. 5 in ornamental ivory.

The year of Buddha 1959 equals 1416 of the Christian era, a year subsequent to that of the Beligala sannasa of Parakrama Báhu VI. The grantor is the son of Vijayu Báhu, the grantor of the first sword. It is probable that Mahä Nága, the grantee, was the son of Ile Nága, the general of Vijaya Bŕhu. King Parákrama Báhu VI. reigned at Kótté from A.D. 1415 to 1467; and was the last great monarch of a united Lanka.

[ NOTE - Mr. Fernando added the text and translation of an ola document (not produced) relating to the family from whose possession the swords came. In the absence of the ola itself as a test of age and genuineness, it has been deemed advisable to omit the text and translation furnished. - B., Ed. Sec.]

Mr. BATUWANTUDAWA (Advocate) pointed out what he considered anachronisms in the language. He was inclined to hesitate before accepting the ola and the inscriptions as genuine.

Mr. P. E. PIERIS congratulated Mr. Fernando on his Paper, and said that the ola was of interest as illustrating the existence of high caste families absorbed amongst the Sinhalese. A parallel case was that of the 10,000 Brahmins whom Ibn Batuta found residing at the Deni Nuwara. He had himself come across olas of a similar nature in Sabaragamuwa, and hoped that some day their contents would be made -accessible to the public. Turning to the swords, he said that it was impossible to doubt their genuineness. He was quite satisfied that they bore a genuine old Sinhalese inscription, probably written by order of a king. At the same time, comparing them with some Dutch swords of the eighteenth century, and from his own knowledge of ancient swords, he was of opinion that the swords were of European origin, and probably not more than 300 years old. He also pointed out that the writing painted in white on the swords did not correspond with the inscribed letters underneath. Could Mr. Fernando tell him under whose supervision the photographer had painted the letters?

Mr. FERNANDO explained that the photographer had followed the manuscript of Simon de Silva, Mudaliyar, who had deciphered the inscriptions.

Mr. PIERIS could not accept the decipherment as correct, and wished to know whether the Society had referred the matter to any expert.

Mr. G. A. JOSEPH explained that Mr. H. C. P. Bell had seen and handled the swords; but that was many years ago and before he was appointed Archaeological Commissioner.

Mr. PIERIS said that it was most essential that the correctness of the reading of the inscriptions should be settled beyond any possibility of doubt. He had omitted one matter: the inscription on these two swords had already been quoted in full by Mr. Dharmaratna in a pamphlet called "The Kara-Goi Contest" published about fifteen years ago which he (Mr. Pieris ) now produced.

The CHAIRMAN said that the question of obtaining another decipherment of the inscription would be referred to the Council.

Mr W. F. GUNAWARDHANA inquired whether Mr. Pieris's doubts had reference to the genuineness of the inscriptions, or to the correctness of their reading.

Mr PIERIS replied that he had no doubt whatever as to the genuineness of the swords and of the inscriptions on them, he only doubted the accuracy of the reading.

Mr FERNANDO remarked that with regard to the irregularity of the words and letters on the inscription, at the time of King Parakrama Báhu VI. of Kotte, Sinhalese inscriptions on metal were produced in an illiterate and unskillful manner.

Mr. HAR WARD proposed a vote of thanks to the authors of the two Papers.

Mr. TOMALIN seconded, and the motion was carried.

Dr. W. H.DE SILVA proposed a vote of thanks to the Chairman for presiding, which was seconded by Dr. Chalmers and carried.

THE CHAIRMAN thanked the Meeting for their vote of thanks. He had hoped that His Excellency the Governor would take the Chair at this Meeting, but sterner duties had taken him away from Colombo.

The close up photographs above and below shows the inscriptions found in the second  sword. While most of the text is not clear, the text 'Kauravara Adittiya Kuruweera Arasanilayitta Mahanagata' found at the end of the first line and the text 'Siriwadana Waasaladiya'  found at the end of the second line can be deciphered.


Notes on "Two old Singhalese Swords".
From the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society XVIII 1974, xxii - xxiii
Notes on the swords and when and to whom they were submitted.

These 3 swords were taken from Mudaliyar A. de Roivel for the purpose of Mr. G. A. Dharmaratne's book, The Kara-Goi Contest (1890). A translation of the inscription is given in the Book (PP. 58-59) and inspection of the swords was invited (p. 59). The swords wore therefore kept back and were not returned. In 1905, the late Mr. C. M. Fernando, Crown Counsel read a paper before the RAS, Sri Lanka Branch, on the first and second swords and made an attempt to connect the swords with another family that of the late Lady Catherine de Soysa, Mr. Fernando's mother-in-law (RAS XIII p.388). The only evidence he adduced in support was a transcript and a translation of an ola which was not accepted by the society and is not published in its journal. The original ola. though it was said to have been Shown to Mudaliyar Simon de Silva, Governrnent Chief Translator was not submitted to the Society for examination (RAS XVIII P. 390 note) and Mr. H. C. P. Bell, the Government Archaeologist in a letter to the Times of Ceylon of 10th March 1905 condemns this ola and says that despite special request to examine the ola it was not shown to him though it was said to have been shown to Mudaliyar Simon de Silva.

These 2 swords as well as the third were submitted for report to Mr. Bell by the Committee of the RAS. Mr. Bell in his report mentions seeing them at the time of the publication of the Kara-Goi Contest and accepted the genuineness of the swords and the Inscriptions (RAS XVIII p. 417). Dr. Paul Pieris too commenting on these swords and the inscriptions accepted their genuineness (RAS XXIII pp. 390 to 391). Mr. Dharmaratne in his book (p. 59) indicates that these swords belong to the Varnakula Additiya Arsanillaite families of the Negombo-Chilaw District and Mohotti Mudaliyar F. E. Gooneratne in a letter to the Ceylon Independent recognised the authenticity of these swords and referred to them as the heirlooms of the Varnakula Additiya families of the Negombo-Chilaw District. The late Mr. C. M. Fernando himself in his lecture admitted that the names' Additya Arsanillaite, have been used by the members of the family whose their head was Mudaliyar Abrosius de Rowel of Pitigal Korale South and that The Dutch Act of Appointment dated 20th January 1765 appointing the great-grandfather of the present Mudaliyar to the office of Mudaliyar of Alut Kuru Korale describes him as Anthony Rowel Varnakula Additya Weerasooriya Arsanillaite (RAS XVIII p. 388).

The date on the first sword corresponds to AD 1416. The recipient to whom the Patabendi name of Maha Nagate Rajasinghe seems to have been given would be the Arsanillaite Mudali of the old Sinhala Chronicle. The Janavamsa (Tr. Neville's Taprobanian 1886) says that the Court of Parakrama Bahu VI was full of Indians.

On the second sword along with the Royal sign manuel are incised some of the insignia of the Karava Community (Bell's Report on the swords RAS XVIII p. 448 note). All these insignia appear on the Karava Flag (Sinhalese Banners & Standards and The Karawe Flag). The grantor was either Parakrama Bahu VI's second son Kuda Cumara or his grandson, the son of his daughter Oeha Kuda Devi, both of whom administered the Kingdom during Parakrama Bahu VI's lifetime and ascended the Throne later (RAS XXII & Bell's Kegalle Reports p. 42).

The grantor of the third sword is either Pandita Parakrama Bahu (AD. 1471 to 1485) or Weera Parakrama Bahu (AD. 1485-1505). The dates on the second and third swords are incorrectly deciphered.

Sunil Goonewardene.