A 12 Cent Chariot painted on Tivanka Pilmige at Polonnaruva Sri Lanka

A 12 Cent Chariot painted on Tivanka Pilmige at Polonnaruva Sri Lanka

The Role of ancient Chariots

according to the ancient books were
” Guarding own troops, Repelling the four fold army of the enemy in battle, capturing enemy trasure, setting free, quickly reuniting broken ranks, breaking up unbroken ranks, Carry away treasures own and enemy , Causing Terror, showing magnificence, and making a frightening din.”


The [special] qualifications and duties of the Chief Commander of Chariot Corps, in addition to the general responsibilities similar to those of the Chief Commander of Cavalry, shall be as set out below. QUALIFICATIONS
The Chief Commander of Chariot Corps shall know the use, in war-fare, of bows and arrows, striking weapons [like maces and clubs],armour and other equipment. He shall also be conversant with the duties of charioteers, chariot attendants and chariot horses. {2.33.6}
The Chief Commander of Chariot Corps shall:
(i) establish factories for the manufacture of chariots of various sizes, including chariots for temples, and for special occasions such as coronations and royal weddings, battle chariots, travelling carriages, chariots used in storming an enemy fort and chariots used for training.
(ii) be responsible for the distribution of rations and wages to all those working under him, whether permanently or temporarily em-

Their functions are: protecting the army; repelling attacks by any of the four wings; capturing and liberating [battle positions]; reuniting [one’s own broken ranks and breaking up [the enemy’s] unbroken ranks; causing terror [in the enemy’s army] and adding magnificence [to one’s own]; and making an awesome noise.{}
A king who has few horses may use bullocks, as well as horses, in his chariots. {10.4.18}
The biggest chariot shall be ten purushas (7 1/2 feet) in height and twelve purushas (9 feet) long. There are successively smaller sizes, each one purusha (nine inches) less in length. {2.33.3,4}
[The lengths are: 9′, 8′ 3″ , 7′ 6″ , 6′ 9″, 5′ 3″ and 4′ 6″. It is to be assumed that the width of all chariots was the same.{ 2.33. 3,4}.
Chariots were in use in ancient Sri Lanka according to the Mahavamsa. But were they used in Battles, if so were they used in Offensive operations mentioned above or for Transport of Important Personalities or for logistics. Was the terrain where main battles described in ancient text suitable for the employment of Chariots ?. These are question that need be answered by Military Historians.
According to Indian Traditions available to our kings, the Chariots were in charge of the superintendent of chariots who were responsible for the manufacture of seven type of Chariots , perhaps accommodating 6- 12 persons. These included chariots for war and Chariots for marches against fortified cities. He had to be conversant with arrangements concerning Bows, Strike Weapons, Armour and Accoutrements and employment of Charioteers, attendents and Horse.
Pandukaabya raised 500 troops and moved in a Chariots [ Rathi] until he caught the Mare Cetiya,
Devanampiyatissa was called lord of Chariots, so was many kings. Vattagamini Abeya used a Chariot to get escape from the battle with the 6 Damilas.
Many temples painting have diagrams of Chariots.


Due to the wooded nature of the country, the use of Chariots and Cavalry in Battles would be restricted. Only painting of a chariot is seen at the Trivanka Pilmige at Pollonuruva. This seems to be Two wheeled type drawn by two horses. Each could have carried the driver and one or two combatants armed with Bows, Lancers and with Swords. As stated in Dhatuvansa,King Mahanaga of Tissa had presented a Chariot to a Mahakala the son of a wealthy man, which had seats for 4 persons. Vattagamini Abaya was fleeing Anuradhapura in his Chariot, he had his queen and his elder brother’s Queen Anula with a child and his son. But, to lighten the Chariot the King gave his Queen Soma his splendid diadem Jewels and let her at her own consent, descend from the Chariot[ Chapter XXXIII verse 46].

From Somasiri Devendra Collection

From Somasiri Devendra Collection

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].

DD Kosambi comments on the Eastern Armies battles with Macedonian troops” The Invading army wore bronze armour; a relative 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.


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