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



The Emblems of Royalty of Sri Lanka.


‘The Duties of a Monarch propounded by the Buddha stated that the root of all Social Evil was Poverty and Unemployment. A King who merely collected taxes had the duty to supply Seed and Food for those who lived by Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. Those who lived by Trade should be provided with the necessary capital. The Government Servant were properly paid or compensated so that they don’t squeeze the people. New wealth had to be generated, the Citizens was free from Robbers and Cheats, could bring up Children in comfort and happiness, free from Want and Fear. The best way to spend surplus accumulation, whether from the Treasury or from Private donations would be in Public Works such as Tanks, Hospitals, and Monasteries that provided Education, Health care, Banks etc along the Trade Routes maintained by the King.”

The Raja Anka or the heraldic Emblems of rulers of the Brihadhartha dynasty of Maghadha  was the Bull mentioned in the Mahabaratha. But the Bull symbol is a universal symbols used by other nations on the coins and art.Most  states of India too had their own Royal emblems that signifies the Royal authority of the King when placed on official documents and on coins. In fact in the text book Arthasastra of the Maghdan Empire ,the Master of the Mint was called Laksanaadhayasaka, Laksana in this name apparantly  refers to the Emblem of the King and State stamped on the coin.

Closer home, the independent states of the Southern India the Pandayan’s had the stylised fish, the Chola’s the tiger[ This Animal looks very much like a Lion, than a Tiger] , Cera’s the Bow etc. These heraldic marks was also placed on seals on copper grants etc. After about the 2 Cent AD, most  of these nations stopped using their  Emblems. The Sri Lankan used the Four Dots with a circle emblem or the Purangantha or the Vase Symbol after 2 Cent AD.After about the 6 Cent AD, they opted to inscribe on the face of the coin ,the the name of the Country and the Value  alongside the other traditional symbols. The gradual changes that took place , and why these changes took place over the last 2500 year of the  coins is a very interesting study.

The Elephant was a prominent symbol placed on coins of all different ancient Empires/Nations  in India and Sri Lanka. Most of these  different nations had their own Raja-anka on the other side of the coin.The Emblem on the reverse of their coins was a means by which   the people with in the area of Kings influence to identify  and accept  coins as money  or reject those with other emblems. A few examples of elephant and many Buddhist symbols on the obverse of the  coins with different reverse heraldic emblems is shown below.


The Swastika was the most popular symbol of the Indus civilisations , the later Aryan of India soon made this a religious good luck symbol. The ancient people of Sri Lanka too followed the suit and used the Swastika as a religious  or a good luck symbol .Some historian is of view this smbol also represented the Buddha or his taechings. But in ancient Sri Lanka  an emblem using swastika as the main component , standing on a central staff attended to by two short pillars on either side.This was called the Railed Swastika.

Two Important Factors is respect of the Railed Swastika.

a. Which is the most popular symbol  on ancient coins found in Sri Lanka?.  With out doubt it is this Railed Swastika, perhaps next to the Lotus- A rough estimate is that  over 10,000  ancient coins[ some of them dated to 3 cent BC]  with this symbols on them.  I have seen over 4000 of them at Museums,with Collectors and Dealers. A fair number  of ancient inscriptions of royalty has this symbol. A fair number of  seals inscribed with names and titles  of Royalty around the railed swastika has been published.

b. The Railed swastika is unique to the Island of Sri Lanka.


i.An unread inscribed Intaglio with a Railed Swastika, the mirror image of seal and this may read Ma Ha Sa[Se?] Na  Pa Tha…… an untrained eye. This needs be read by experts. Dr Paranavitane identifies Mahasenpathi as King Dutugemunu on an inscription at              .

ii. Many Seals and sealing’ s with Railed swastika was discovered , most of them  are inscribed.The two below are legible.

    1. A clay seals with railed swastika with letters Maharaja[ Great King] is visible.
    2. A sealing with railed swastika inscribed .. [Ma Ha Ra ] Jha Ga Mi Ni Ti Sa ha de Va Na pi Ya[The Great King Gamini Tisa Devanampiya.Perhaps of King Sadatissa [ Bopeatachchi and Wickremasinghe ] . The German excavation team has published many sealing found in the same location as above sealing. The rear of these sealing was affixed on to Ola leaf’s as  the outline  of the grain of the Ola is  still visible.
  1. Cave inscriptions In Inscription of Ceylon Volume I – S Paranavitane.
    1. N0 835 :-This is found on Rock Inscriptions of kings identified as King Sada-tissa at Dambulla Inscription.
    2. No 406 :- On Gamini-Tissa and Mijhi- Maharaja at Henannegala.
    3. No 563:On Inscription of Royal Prince and Princess at Kottadamuhela identified with Queen Viharamaha devi. Ms Chandrika Jayasinghe published a coins from the British Museum of a lady Standing on a Boat of the Obverse with a Railed Swastika on the reverse.In our history a lady on  a boat can only be connected to Vihare Maha Devi , the mother of our hero King Dutugemunu.

    1. No 1018:-1027 – of a Maharaja-Gamani Abayasa– at Gallena Vihare.

    A similar coins was found by PE Pieris at Kantarodi in the North of Sri Lanka.

    British Museum Coin.

    This symbols was good enough for the ancient Maharaja to place next to their rock inscriptions and on their  Royal Seals. Henry Parker suggest that the central vertical cross bar represents the royal Standard while the four lateral lines symbolize the four fold army of ancient kings ,ie the Corp of elephants, the  Chariots, the Cavalry and the foot soldiers, He admits it is far fetched. From the above data this is quite possible and this had a strong connections with Royalty. This symbol is flanked by either the Standard, the Asana or throne and the Triratna which according to reputed writers had implicitly expressed an regal authority.

  2. The Railed swastika is usually found on the most early coins of the Island. It does not appear alone. In  good condition coins, two symbols are found on either side. In all the types of coins with the railed swastika, a few examples having the Caitiya or three arched hill appears under it.  The associations of these symbols with the railed swastika and their  placement around is a special characteristic of the Sri Lanka early coins. The significance of these symbols is quite relevant to Kingship as discussed by TB Karunaratne. This will be dealt with later.  

Of the Coins shown above, Dr DPE Hettiarchchi has speculated that the Multi symbol Elephant and Railed Swastika coin is that of Devanampiyatissa. C14 and Thermoluminance dating of layer of undisturbed layer of earth in which this type of coin was found , justify the credence of this statement. It is possible that this king had the Railed Swastika on his coin.

The Standard

In an RAS Journal Mr P Weerasinghe suggest that Mahatissa in the inscription shown above was King Devanpiyatissa. If this is so, then this suggest that  in addition to Railed Swastika , the monarch would have palced a personel monogram on thier coins , which was Dhajaya or a Standard which King Asoka used. So perhaps the Railed Swastika was the emblem of  of a particular Royal family which ruled during the issue of these coins, perhaps that  known as those of the Devanampiya Kula on inscriptions. Could it be that the Kings used the Railed Swastika symbol as the emblem that belonged to the Kula or as family emblem.Did they have their  own mongrams in addition to this??. But on coins more than one such symbol is placed around the Railed Swastika.

The Standard  suggested as used by Devanampiyatissa on coins is also found on Tree and Railed Swastika Coins, Lion and Railed Swastika Coin.

The Throne or Asana

.Mr MH Sirisoma in Inscriptions Vol II 1990 gave a number of symbols associated with inscriptions of Kings. One of them is of is from Minvila , and is of King Katakanna Tissa[ 41-19 BC].The symbol on the inscription is simalar to symbols on coins of Sri lanka with the Railed Swastika. This is found on the the King Devanampiyatissa coin on the reverse of the coin shown above to the right of the Railed Swastika. There are various forms of the Asana found on coins . The Asana is a auspicious  symbol of India and also of the Sinhalese. These Lucky symbols are used extensively of Sinhalese art and mentioned in our chronicles.those on coins are analysed on Symbols around the Railed Swastika.


The Swastika is found with the Inscriptions of Kings. The Swastika with out the Railing is found on our coins too.

One of the earliest inscriptions that can be historically dated from ancient text is thatof a daughter of the King Uti or Uttiya the brother of king Devanampiyatisa, and reigned after him. The cave donated to the Sanga for the benefit of her parents. This has two symbols , the first is a T on Railing and a Swastika. Therailing is similar o that of the Railed Swastika.

The First Three Lines

A Swastika –        “Success| King Abaya the eldest son of King Kuakanna and grandson of great king Tissa, the friend of Gods[ Devanampiya] dedicated the golden Vase channel at Galatataka to the Community of bhikhus in the Payelipavata monastery”.

Last Line

A Swastika-  “The great king Naga gave therefore said channel to the Sanga”.

The King Naga is identified as King Mahadathika Mahanaga [9-21 BC].

This king ‘s inscription at At Vehera  Minhintale  shown below has a Swastika below it.

The First part is of King Batiya Abaya[ 19 BC]. Great-Great-Great grand son of King Sadatissa, whose mother was Queen Vihare Mahadevi.

The second part is of King Mahadathika Mahanaga [ 9 -21 AD]- a brother of King Batiya Abaya.

The Swastika as a minor symbol on coins

This is a round Treein Railing and Railed Swastika Coin. To the right of the Tree is a Swastika symbol.

The Fish and Railed Triratna

The Fish and the Railed Triratna is found on inscription that is linked to the parent of King Dutugemunu. The Fish emblem is associated with the Kastriya of Kataragama , Dr Paravitane suggest they have connection to the Sakayan Group of Princess Baddhkacchana who came from India and some on them sttleed in the South[ Mahavansa].

Dr S paranavitane links Abi Savera as Princess Vihare mahadevi

The Fish and Triratna is popular symbols on Coins and is very common on ancient Sri lankan art.  The Railed  Triratne is not yet found on coins.


A symbol on Inscription of King Sabha[ 59-65 AD]. A Scythe like symbol is seen on an inscription of King Sabha. No such symbol is found on coins, but the Deity or Standing Figure and Railed Swastika coins there are many such symbol fixed at the end of the staff .

Pahala Kayinattama Of King Saba

For  Emblem of Kings of later period.

King Gajabahu II – Peace Treaty placed on a Rock Inscription

A few symbol on coins and similar symbol on Rock Inscriptions of Kings.