A Helmet perhaps of an Cavalry Officer excavated from Pollonnaruva.

Ancient Cavalry.

The ancient inscriptions mentions a few details on horses and those who fought on horse back and its organisation.

Cavalry Officers.Painting in Ajantha Cave- Some attribute these  to be the coming of the Sinhalese.

Two type or names for those who fought on horse back. What different duties each type  performed need be evaluated.The Cavalry carries short Lances and they are seated on some sort of Saddle and the horses has stirrups etc in the above picture of the coming of the Sinhalese as depicted in paintings at Ajanta Cave in India..

a. Anikata is the name of Cavalry Officers in Inscription no 77 and 1099 of the Inscriptions Of Ceylon Volume I.

b.Asruya  is the name of Cavalry Officers in the same volume in inscriptions numbers 606 and 931a.Asvin from Anuradhpura.

The above sculpture of Asvin found at Anuradhapura. He carries a Sword and Circular shield, has chains and amulets etc around his body, perhaps as protection. The horse too has a limited protections.


The only text book available to us,and according to the Mahavamsa that had to be mastered by all Sinhala Ancient Kings and Commanders was the Arthasastra of Kautilla, Perhaps this may give some clue to what the organisations and Role of Cavalry in the ancient sinhala armies. The historians belive that Horse role was limited due to the type of Battles and Terrain. Unfortunately the battles has not been, or that done by any military historian is not availble to me. But this does nor prevent any speculations to be made based on an appreciation  of any factor that may be availble to us in the ancient texts.The functions or Role of the ancient Indian Cavalry during the time King Asoka was is defined in Arthasastra as

a.Used to obtain intelligence ,During Selection of suitable ground for fighting; Invsestigating of the ground, halting places and forests, securing land without unevenness, water, ford, wind and sun rays.

b.Destruction of enemy and protection of own Supplies and Reserves.

c. Cleansing and steadying the Army.

d.Extension of Raids,Repelling as with Arms, making first attack, Penetration, setting free, causing a change in the  Path of Pursuit, carrying off Treasury or the Prince.

e. Assault on the rear and tips, pursuit of weak, accompanying, and the work of Rallying.

This seems to be transalation of the ancient text by perhaps a historian. What is knowledge of Military tactics to appreciate the actual meaning of what was said ?.


Arthasasatra describes the mode of fighting in the following words.

Rushing forth, rushing about, rushing beyond, rushing back, holding together after pounding, enclasping, moving zigzag, encircling, scattering, turning back after fleeing, guarding broken ranks along the line,in front and in the rear, pursuing broken ranks- these are the modes of fighting for horses“.


Cavalry was not generally deployed with out Foot Soldiers depending on the Terrian

Cavalry was not generally deployed with out Foot Soldiers depending on the Terrain

The Arthasastra states that for Horses there are three Soldiers as fighters in Front. Fifteen for an Elephant, for a Chariot as well as five horses.

Does it mean that a troop of Cavalry meant Five horses with fifteen Foot guards???. Did our Kings follow this advice in the deployment of Horse. Even the Present Armored car troops need supporting troops. They perhaps used these principal , but modified this to suit the situation.

The Pay of Cavalrymen given in the Arthsastra may give a probable clue to the various grade of officers and sodiers, perhaps this may give some sort of idea to make a guess or to speculate various levels in the organisation.

The Commander of the armywas paid 48,000 panas,

Chief of Palace Guard was paid 24,000 Panas

The Commander of Districts were paid 8,000 Panas.

The Superintendent Infantry/Cavalry/Chariots and Elephnat     paid 4,000 Panas

The Trainers of Chariot Fighters/Elephant Trainers/Horse tamers and breeders of animals were paid 2000 Panas

The Foot-Soldiers trained in the art fighting were paid 500 Panas.

  Did the Kings and Commander who studied this text, adhere to this system, perhaps the modified to siut the local situation. Why did King Devanampiyatisssa send a delegation of four to court of Asoka, and why did King Asoka confer on  Price Arritha   [ who was his elder sister son of Devanampiyatissa- usually the post of commander was given to such relations],  the rank of Senpathi?.[ Mhv Chapter XI para 25.].


The counter troops with elephants, machines and carts in the centre equipped stones, clubs, armours, hooks and hair seizers used against Cavalry and Mailed Horses.Is there any eveidence that this type of warfare is recorded in our folk lore and texts etc?

Horses  mentioned in the description of battles in the Mahawamsa or any other text has any connections to above statements????.

Sri Lankan Inscriptions.


Were known as As/ Asa in Inscriptions of the same volume in nos 72 and 806. The earliest horse well known to the Sinhalese was that of Kanthaka of  Prince  Sidharta who later became the Buddha. Buddha was versed in all forms of warfare as well as use of horse in battle.The next horse known to the Sri Lankan was Mara Cetiya of King Pandukabaya[ read below]. Prior to the birth of the Hero King Dutugemunu[  ], Warrior Velasumana who was was sent on a special mission to King Elara’s stables to satisfy the longings of Queen Viharamahadevi after the conception . Velusumana mounted the best horse in the Elara’s stable named Vaha and rode off towards Ruhuna. Elara sent his Cavalry Commander Nandasarathi in pursuit  on the second best horse named Sirigutta and Velusumana sitting on his horse back, hid himself in the jungle, drew the sword and stretched it towards the pursuer and severed Nandasarathi head. Velusumana took both the horses, Vaha and Sirigutta back to Ruhuna Kingdom. This can also be interpreted as part of the war preperation of King Kavantissa, to imporve the breed of horses in the stable of the Sinhala King.

According to the Rasavahini[ Rsv, II page 98], Veulsumana rode a Saindarava horse.H Ellawala suggest that this word Saindarava suggests that they were a breed originally brought from Sindhu or Indus Valley. He goes on to say horses were also imported from Persia were highly prized and the traders who bought them were at one time exempted from usual taxes.

Trainer of Horses.

Asajiriya– Th trainer of horses in No 1158.

Horse Keepers,

Asvaoha/ Asagoya etc Horse Keepers.-in  Many ancient inscriptions.

Corp of Cavalry.

Asa-mandalaya is mentioned in 16 Cent Inscription deployed against the Portuguese.

The Most Famous Image of a Cavalry Officer.

This is at the Monastery now known as the Isurumuniya at Anuradhapura. I like to share what Kalakeerthi Edwin Ariyadasa view’s on this famous figure.

” Here a well built Man wearing a Helmet, ornaments adorn his body and his ears. The garment that  decks his  lower body cover his lower tigh The garment reflex, high military attire. His total dress magnificently befits a Senpathi or Commander in chief.He is seated in highly dignified ease, in iconograhic posture of Royal style and guise[Rajalilasana]. The crowning touch is presented by the horse’s head. This dignified man has the horses rein tied to his upper arm- as is clearly depicted in the sculpture. He is sculptured on highest rock over looking the city of Anuradhapura. This unique iconographic feature was closely observed by Dr Chandra Wickrema Gamage. And according to Kalakeerthi Ariyadasa  this can be none other than the greatest Commander  and the first Cavalryman mentioned in the Mahawansa- King Pandukabaya and his mare Mara Cetiya.

How was the  Cavalry employed according to text avilable to ancient Sri Lankan Commanders ?.

To quote from  Kautiliya’s Arthasastra on employment during war.

Sec 148; MARCH FROM CAMP. Cavalry as employed on the flanks in order to repel an attack from those quarters. Similary, the Recce Regt is employed in present warfare.

In case the ford is seized by the enemy, he the Senpathi should get the Army across at another place with the help of Elephants and Horses and lie in Ambush.

Use of Horse in Battle from Mahavansa.

Click on  and read Chapter 25 Verse 81,

a. Prince Dutugemunu fought on horse back against his brother Prince Sadatissa ,who rode an Elephant. Suranimala captures the two best horses, raed  his para about riding of horses.

b. Parakramabahu battles  Chap 75. Verse 100, 298, 331.

Horse used in Sinhala Military Parades


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