Military Parades of the Past 




Amoung those of the higher grade officers of the state, the highest position after that of the Mahapa [Heir apparent ] was held by Senapati, Senevi or Senernvirad, the commander In Chief of the army, which that an official could aspire to be during this period.  None of our inscriptions at the Museum ,mentions the names of any Senapati, who had held that office during the Anurddhapura period. However, the Anuradhapura Pillar edict[Inscription no 35] of Queen Lilavati [ The Chief Queen of Parakramahu I reigned thrice( 1197-1200,1209-1210 and 1211-1212AD)of line Polonnaruva    kingdom ]has mentioned the name of that Queen’s Senapati; as Lag Vijayasingu Kit Senevi who had also been her Prime Minister. This covers three sides of the Pillar,on side A

line 8     Ge Agrama 

Line 9        tya  Lag Vi 

Line 10     Jaya singu

Line11      Kit Se    

Line 12    neviyan.


The names of three Commanders of the Bodyguard  (Mekappar- vadarum) occur in three of our inscriptions (Nos 9, 17, 22), These officers and their subordinate officers designated Mekappar (Body- Guard) had performed their duties directly under the Senapati who was the head of all the armed forces; they were, in addition to their normal duties, -entrusted with partial  responsibility for proclamation and enforcement of royal edicts[ Vadarmen=by the command].


So the of the Commanders of Body- Guard who figure in our records had also borne other titles  such as  , Demel- Adhikara , Pallavarad[ King of Pallava], Pandirad [King of Pandya], Mangalrad [King of Province]and Varad  [sub King or provincial Governor] in Inscription Nos.13,15, 17. Perhaps they commanded division known by the name Pallava Division, Pandya Division etc, or was conferred by the King on their Military chiefs?. Similarly the South India Pandya and Cola Kings conferred titles such as Kilinga-rayer[ King of Kalinga] and Ilattaraiyan[ Kings of Ilam i.e Sri Lanka].


Inscription 14 was set up by Mangalarad Senu and Meykappar Bendva Vilakka  of the above Kasayapa IV  , it also has reference that Dunuva Balatun or soldiers from the archery Division and Security Guards is forbidden from entering the village Siporvatu-gama in Anuradhapura.

Inscription no 15. of  Kasayapa IV   and placed by a high dignitary of the army named as Pallavarad Sangu and he had sent five persons to commission this regulation on stone, two of these were Meykappars  Nila from Namuda and Nima from Kelagama. It mentions that Elephants shall not enter the Mihindaratan-watte in Valpaluvatota.

Inscription no 17. Of King Udaya[887-898 AD] elder brother  of Kasayapa IV, here too Meykappar Vilakka  from Bendva who set up the pillar. Vilakka was body guard to both brother kings. This proclamation forbids the appropriation of of Carts, buffaloes and domesticated Elephants. It also forbids the entry of the soldiers of the Archery Division of the Army.

Inscription no 19-of Kasayapa IV[898-914 AD], two persons Meykappar Sena who was ordered by commander of the royal body guard and Kolpatri[ Lance bearer] Sangu accompanied the party to set up the proclamation in respect of Gitalgamu-gama. This proclamation forbids the appropriation of of Carts, buffaloes and domesticated Elephants. It also forbids the entry of the soldiers of the Archery Division of the Army.

Inscription no 22 This was set up by Mekappar Pahadi of Tisa and Kit of Mivagama or orders of Sulugulu Udana the commander of the body guard of king Sena III[938=946 AD]

Inscription no  26. Of a unidentifiedKing Sirisangabo Abaya which states that soldiers bearing Bows, Lances and Iron Rods or clubs shall not enter Valahambugama. Elephants, Buffaloes, Cart Oxen –shall not be appropriated for service.

Inscription no  34 of King Nissankamalle’s two invasions to South India where he received from Pandya king tribute including Queens, elephants, horses etc and presents from the Cola Country.


The armed forces, which were under these Senavirad are referred to in the chronicle as comprising the traditional four-fold division of elephant corps, cavalry, chariots, and infantry, but some beleive that elephants, horses and chariots were rarely made use of in actual warfare during the late Anuradhapura period. The bulk of the army comprised of foot soldiers, who were generally referred to as bhata or yodha in the chronicle; the meaning of these two terms is similar to that of sennin and balatun which occur in some of our records (Nos 13, 1 4, 17, 26) , The occurrence of the term balatun invariably along with that of archers as dunuva balatun suggests that. they were soldiers. The state officials who were referred to as balat, a term which is equivalent to balattha in Pali, had been employed as military or security officers, also had been applied to a ,but of officials, who were Dovarikas (Officers of the Palace) Gate. According to the Mahavansa, King Subha (59-65 AD) who, before he ascended the throne, was a balatun of King Yasalalaka Tissa, and he had been appointed as a Dovarika (the officer of the Palace Gate) of that King. The soldiers, it appears, had been armed with bows and arrows, swords and spears. Those who were armed with bows and arrows are referred to in our records (No. 12) as Dunuva and the military division to which they have been attached to as Dunu-mandula und those who bore spears as Kolapatun.

Although the use of elephants, horses and chariots in actual warfare had been very rare, we notice that some of our inscriptions (Nos.10, 17,1 9,21,22,26, 34) have forbidden the entry of elephants, horses and chariots into the villages and land, in respect of which immunities had been granted by the Inscriptions. but it is known whether those animals and chariots had been owned by private individuals or by the state.


marching to battle

The Commanders could use Horses , Elephants and Chariots as and when the need arises in battle The suggested options that was available to our ancient Commanders were according to the books the Mahavansa refers to, these books were condensed by  Kotilla[ Kautiliya]. Some aspects available is discussed here and could be used by students of Military History of Sri lanka, if considered necessary or important.


Shall be used to rush forward, around, beyond and in from rear of enemy

Hold enemy forces at bay after an attack.

Surround enemy forces by a pincer movement.

Moving zigzag like cows Urine.

Encircle  enemy forces after cutting them off.

Scatter enemy forces

First retreat and then renew the attack.

Protect one own broken ranks in the front, rear  or flanks

Pursue the enemy’s broken army


The elephant hide was thick and had some protections to arrows , swords and spears. The elephant was amphibious and was used for river crossings and attacks. The major battle that took place along the common border of Rajarata and Ruhuna was the Mahaveli ganga.

The employment of elephants in battle was the same as cavalry  as shown above except for scattering of enemy troops.

Standing still, rising, bending and jumping over obstacles.

Movement stopping lying down and jumping over obstacles on command,

Advancing, marching straight, traverse, Zigzag or circular motions

To destroy the 4 constituents of enemy forces by trampling and killing of horses, chariots or Men . Fighting with other elephants

Assaulting forts

Fighting with infantry, cavalry or chariots in war.

Main surprise attacks when troops are a sleep.

CHARIOTS can be used like elephants except for holding of enemy forces at ay and in addition, for fighting on land suitable to them, while going forward, going back wards or remain stationary.

4 x wheeled Chariot


1 Cent BC

When the King heard of his[ Bhalluka] coming, he [ Dutugemunu] marched forth to battle in full panoply of war, mounted on Elephants Kandula, with warriors mounted on elephants, horses and chariots and with foot soldiers in great number. Mhv chapter  XXV v.81

11 Cent AD

Thus swollen with pride, in Gajabahu ordered the dignitaries of his immediate retinue to put the army in battle trim. After they had placed in readiness well armored elephants and horses proved in battle and large masses of troops of capable warriors, armed with the five weapons, Mhv Pt II Ch v.229.

15 Cent AD

First attack on the Portuguese.The battle formations that attacked the Portuguese stockade in Colombo from an eye witness description of a Historian was 2000 Infantry, 150 horses and 25 Elephants.However the Cannon fire of the Portuguese from ships place on the flanks disrupted this attack.

Battle of Mulleriyava. Elephants and Horses were used extensively in this battle by Rajasinghe of Sitawaka. The Rajavaliya mentions the names of Divisions that fought the Portuguese as men and elephants from Jayasundara and Vijayasundara divisions. The Elephants are them self named as Viridudassaya and Airavana.This battle demonstrated the value of a trained War Elephant Corp against the Portuguese muskets in open battle. Although the use of war elephants against fortified cities defended by Cannons was less successful, the formidable corpof 200 war elephnats developed by Rajasimha soon after,made his army very difficult to match on level ground[History of Sri lanka Vol II KM De Silva page 91]. Was horses and infantry used to protect the elephants to close in is not mentioned.


There is no mentions of the exploits of Chariots in the over 1200 battles described briefly in the Mahavmansa , but in India the Taxilian Chariots  were helpless against the 21 foot lances[ Sarissa] of Alexander Cavalry. They were used at times to show  Senior Commanders Rank. However Devanampiyatissa and King Illanaga was  known as ” Lord of Chariots “.


There is none mentioned in any text book, we may only speculate from the scanty titbits available

In addition to the Composition of a battle Group mentioned earlier during the Portuguese Period, the Compositions of the Sinhala army as given as as 1,1110 strong during Dutugemunu time, composed of 10 Division commanded by the ten Yodayas. In Social History of Early Ceylon , H Ellawalla speculate that Velusummana was a famous Horseman and probable was the Commander of the Cavalry and Labhiya- Vasabha was famous fighter of Elephants and was probably the Commander of the Elephant Corp.

That given in Dambedeiya Asana,  a book written during that period [ 13 Cent AD], the composition of the whole army was 24 Divisions of 25,000  Sinhalese, 12,000 Tamils, and also 900 special archers, also had 990 Elephants and 890 Horsemen. and in addition to Technicians and Workmen etc[ given in great detail].

The Kotte army that advanced to Kandy along with Portuguese.

The Combined strenghts of King of Kotte and Portuguese Army To kanday.

DD Kosambi comments on the Eastern Armies  battles with Macedonian troops” The Invading army wore bronze armour; a reletive shortage  of metal led Indians to fight  with no other protection  than a shield  and leather Cuirass with perhaps a metal helmet. The Indian Elephant could break through any infantry mass, if properly handled. The qualification was essential, for a wounded elephant in panic would trample down men on his own side as easily as on the enemy’s; the charging elephant had to be protected  by a good screen of Cavalry, Archers  and foot till he closes in. The one clear Superiority was the Indian Archers which could drive an arrow through a Shield and breast-plate of a Greek Hoplite. Alexander’s most serious wound was an example. The Greeks soon gave up their mission and retreated.

The suggested organization according to Kautilliya Arthasastra of a Basic Elephant Unit was 5 horseman and 25 Foot to protect an Elephant. THE BASIC CALVALRY UNIT IS ALSO SHOWN,in diagram shown below. The ratio of 1: 5: 25  was not blindly followed, but depended on the enemy strenght, fromations and weapons etc, the terrain or place and the time factors were considered by the ancient Sinhala Kings. The ratio used in the last battle described above was 25: 150: 2000 . Which was for every elephant there were Six  Horsemen and 40 foot soldiers. The terrain was perhaps the Present Army HQ and Defense Ministry area against the Portuguese garrison which composed of Portuguese Armed with cannon on the ground as well on ships in present Colombo harbour and Galle Face seafront backed with many Nairs [ best fighters from India assisting the Portuguese].

An Basic Elephant Unit suggested by Arthasastra one of Standard Texts used by the Sinhala Kings. Keeping these principles in mind, they organised their battle formations according to the three Basic Principles of Might, Place and Time.

An Basic Elephant Unit suggested by Arthasastra.One of Standard Texts available to the Sinhala Kings after Devanampiyatissa. Keeping these principles in mind, they organised their battle formations according to the three Basic Principles of Might, Place and Time.



  1. Pingback: Ancient Sri Lankan coins | CAVALRY IN ANCIENT SRI LANKA

  2. very poor………………..
    no logic…………………

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