The Origin Of Caste

These letters written by Mohotti Mudaliyar F. E. Gooneratna to the Ceylon Independent in 1921, gives us an interesting insight into the origins of the castes and their flags.

The Origin of Caste
Mohotti Mudaliyar F. E. Gooneratne

From the ‘Ceylon Independent’ of 6th April, 1921

Dear Sir,

In the Ceylon Independent of the 31st ultimo is a very interesting letter with the above heading from the pen of the learned Mr. Walter de Soyza of the “Walauwa”, Moratuwa, which I say is interesting, for it concerns one of the prominent Sinhalese communities. In a subject of this nature, we must be guided by authentic history, and not by the opinion of every intelligent writer:

In the invaluable book “The Historian’s History of the World” is the following: – B. C.: 1200 – 1000, is approximately the period of the formation of the castes.

These were;

  • The priests or Brahmins – families who had kept to themselves knowledge of the prayers, rites and sacrifices of the religion since the old days.
  • The Kshattriyas – or warriors (the Rajputs of the present day) among whom were the rulers of the kingdoms.
  • The Vaisyas – or husbandmen.
  • The Suddras – a non-Aryan servile class (the Dasas of the Rig-Veda) the remnant of the aboriginal tribes.

These castes gradually became separate and distinct. Intermarriage ceases and each keeps to its hereditary employments. As yet the Kshattriyas are the most important, but the priests are slowly influencing the people to the idea that the relations of men to the gods transcend all other relations of life, thereby pushing themselves into the first place.

B. C. 1,400. Kuru evidently the first dynastic king of the Barathas – The name of the Royal Family passes over to the people and they are henceforth known as the “Kurus”.

According to Dharma Kirthi the great historian, “from the beginning of the VI, to almost the beginning of the VII century is fought a great civil war between the Okkhaka dynasty and two other royal houses each claiming the kingship. Great bitterness prevailed between the parties each of whom bring down from India large armies of Tamils to fight on their respective sides.”

“When the civil war was ended in 689 A. D. the victorious Okkhakas are face to face with a new and greater enemy the Tamils, whom they had brought over for military services, now demanding high positions in the state. They are the stronger party and the Singhalese have not large enough armies to oppose them”.

The warrior origins of the Karawe community is supported by the fact that in the old ola Thombos (from the Portuguese word ‘tombo’, a register) of Galle (which were in my official charge for 30 years), I find the following “warige” names entered of the prominent Karawe families of the time (c. 1680).

  • Tota Hewage – descendents of soldiers guarding the Tota (apparently ‘Padawtota’, in Magalla, Galle.
  • Guardiya Hewage – Soldiers of the Captain General or Governor.
  • Hewa Marakkalage or more correctly, Marakkala Hewage – Soldiers of the vessel or dhony.
  • Hewa Patabendige – family of a soldier who had been invested with a rank.
  • Hewa Kodikkarage – descendent of a soldier flag-bearer.
  • Hewa Alensuge or more correctly Alensu Hewage – a descendent of the soldier Alenso.

Coming in to the Portuguese period, according to history, we find the Portuguese General de Olivera in 1618 A. D. organizing into regiments the Karawe people. Consequently the descendents of these families who had been enlisted were fully entitled to the ‘warige’ name ‘hewage’.

The following account is given in a Singhalese Manuscript: – During the reign of King Parakramabahu at Kotte the Mukkara made an invasion and captured the Fort at Puttalam, and the king got down 7740 warriors from India and re-captured the Fort.

The chiefs who came from India with the army were the following, namely;

  • Wachcha Natha Dewa Rirdha.
  • Kurukula Natha Dewa Rirdha.
  • Maanikku Talawendha.
  • Adhi Arasa Adappam.
  • Waranasuri Adappan.
  • Kurukulasuri Mudali.
  • Arasakulasuri Mudali.
  • Arasa Nilayitta Mudali.

The victory was gained by the renowned Commander Manikku Talawendha, who fell in the engagement. For the distinguished services rendered by the above mentioned Chiefs the King was pleased to grant them upon a copper “sannas” parts of certain villages and whole streets (apparently in Meegomuwa Negombo), namely; Madinoruwa, Appolandawa, Munneswaram, Kammala, Tambarawila, Hunupitiya Weediya, Periyamulle Weediya, Colompiti Maha Weediya, Wella Weediya, Karno Weediya etc.

The King also gave them three flags, the Ravana Kodiya, Ira Sandha Kodiya and Makara Kodiya.

It is worthy of remark that some of the above-mentioned names were and up to this day used by prominent Karawe families. Some have held Mudaliyarships under the latter part of the Dutch Government.

Yours, &c.,
Mohotti Mudaliyar of the Galle Atapattu,
Thombuwe Walauwe,

2nd April 1921

The Origin of Caste
Mohotti Mudaliyar F. E. Gooneratne

From the ‘Ceylon Independent’ of 12th April, 1921

Dear Sir

In continuation of my letter of the 2nd instant with the above heading, courteously published in your esteemed journal of the 6th instant, I may be permitted to state that all information regarding the ancient Singhalese people should be gleaned from old Sinhalese books, records etc., in preference to the writings of foreigners.

The Sinhalese Kings according to history very judiciously assigned flags with devices on it to individuals who had done a valorous deed and to Generals who had gained a victory over enemies. As an instance “When the god-king Rama proceeded from Dewundara (Dondra) to Alut Nuwara in great state, with a four fold army, like unto a festival of gods,” the flag emblazoned with emblems of Sun and Moon (soma rivi runa pihiti kodiya) was borne in front. Since then the Four Korles have held chief rank, “Kadaim Potha of Four Korales.”

Under the Singhalese Government, the four Great (or Maha) Dissavas ere, Hathara Korale Maha Dissava, Sath korale, Uva and Matale. The respective flags assigned to the four Maha Dissavas were; Ira Handa Kodiya, Sinhaya Maha Kodiya, Hanseya Maha Kodiya and Sudu Maha Kodiya.

The flags assigned to the eight Dissavas (or provinces) were;

  • Sabaragamuwe Dissava;      Pata rathe maha kodiya.
  • Thun Korale Dissava;           Berunda maha Kodiya.
  • Walapane Dissava;                Mayura maha Kodiya.
  • Uda Palata Dissava;               Nelun Mal maha Kodiya.
  • Nuwara Kalaviya Dissave;   Gajasinghe maha Kodiya.
  • Wellasse Dissava;                  Kotiya maha Kodiya.
  • Bintenne Dissava;                  Girawa maha Kodiya.
  • Tamankada Dissava;             Walaha maha Kodiya.

The Singhalese Kings very properly assigned to very thickly populated and flourishing Dissavas superior animals as insignia on the flag, such as the Lion, Hansaya (sacred goose), berunda etc. To thinly populated and wild districts wild animals such as a bear, a cheetah a gajasinghaya (a fabulous animal) etc.

Under the Dutch Government it appears that a flag and a gold medal and chain given to a Mudaliyar of the Hapitigam Korale for assistance rendered to the army on their return from Kandy in 1755 or 1756 A. D. The Mudaliyars son who succeeded him having made a bad name of it, the Government either took it back or restricted its being carried on every private occasion except in times of war.

The devices on all the flags of the Kandyan Kingdom, each has a meaning. Even the Singhalese State Flag has a meaning. The Singhalese Government is to last till the sun and moon exist, and most of the Sinhalese Kings are descended from the Solar and Lunar race of Kings of India.

With reference to the Sun and Moon Flag of the Four Korales, it is well known that the majority of men recruited for the Singhalese army were from the Four Korales. On account of their bravery in war, it is given in history, “That in war and in every other State ceremonial, the Maha Dissava (or Governor) of the Four Korales took precedence. Added to this unique distinction; “the maana-paha” (five special insignia of honor) fell to the ancient principality.” In support of the above statement is the appointment of a lady (Kumarihami) of noble birth for her excellence over wrestling over “Mallarvaya” the famous wrestler from India, to the high office of Dissava of the Four Korales, as given in history.

To return to the subject the Makara Kodiya according to the learned writer F. J., in his letter to the Independent of the 7th instance writes, “The chief component part of the representation of the body, the kavaiya is a fish and ergo a flag with a kavaiya depicted on it is the Makara Kodiya.”

Before we come to “Makara kodiya it is indispensable to know, (1) Wo are the Karawe section of the Singhalese? (2) Their ancestral home? (3) The prominent men who figured in history? (4) What became of the warriors who were brought down from India, when the King who got them down in the 6th century failed to pay them their hire?

From all available accounts and the recent letters on the subject published in the papers, it is apparent that the emblem “makara” was originally a “State Insignia” and given to men or communities as a mark of honor for distinguished services rendered to the State, like the “Order of Garter” of the present day.

With reference to the emblem itself it is a combination of parts of different animals, made in to one whole. The ancient mural mode of depicting a figure intended to convey to others the different good qualities of an individual. As an illustration, the flag assigned to Nuwara-Kalaviye Dissava by the Singhalese Government was “Gajasingha Maha kodiya”; the great elephant trunk flag. The only explanation we can offer is “that the original Dissava to have been a chivalrous, giant like chief.

According to tradition the oldest Karawe family in the south is that of “Range” family Dewundara, whose original ancestors is said to have been the caretaker of the ornament house of the Dewundara-dewale.

Yours, &c.,
Mohotti Mudaliyar of the Galle Atapattu,
Thombuwe Walauwe,

7th April, 1921