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Flags of temples and chieftains

Walapone                    Flag of Vavuniya
Disawa flag

Last week we learnt about the different flags used by different kingdoms, provinces and major and minor disawas. Today we will tell you more about these flags as well as those used by temples and chieftains.

Although most ratas (districts) didn't have banners of their own, Udunuwara had the Kinduru flag depicting a figure blowing a conch shell. It is human above the waist with human arms, and a bird or fish below waist with small wings. This flag can be seen at the Colombo Museum and the Embekka Devale.

The flags of different provinces are as follows:

Hathara Korale - the sun and the moon (was presented by King Rajasinghe 1 (1581-1592) to a chieftain for his bravery.)

Matara - a small elephant (Matara was the headquarters of the chieftain in charge of the royal elephant during the Gampola and Kotte eras.)

Denewaka Adhikaraya - a yellow silk flag as yellow is sacred to God Saman of Sabaragamuwa which also comes under this province (two flags are preserved at Kundasale Vihara). Sabaragamuwa also had a red silk banner, depicting a cock and the Ravana Kodiya.

A flag depicting a cock (savul kodiya) was also used by King Mahasen (277-304). It is said that his temple flew this flag on a solid gold flagstaff. Similar flags symbolising the cock had been found at several Kandyan temples. The Kataragama Devale flag, bearing the image of the six-faced, 12-armed God Skanda on a peacock, was the flag for the Ruhuna district as well as for the Devale. Meanwhile, the flag of the Kataragama Devale in Kandy shows God Kataragama on a peacock, the sun and the moon on top and two small elephants below.

Devinuwara (the city of gods) had in its flag a mythical image known as garuda (half man, half eagle). A seated Siva Natha with his weapon, the trident (thrishula) and a snake or discus in hand is the emblem of the Natha Devale flag.

Two crescent moons are on the top portion of the flag while there are antelopes and dancers at the bottom. The various chieftains such as nilames, lekams and muhandirams handling various administrative functions also had their own flags and banners.

The flags of the various chiefs of departments are as follows:

Maha Lekam (chief secretary) - a palm leaf register and pen

Gajanayake Nilame (in charge of the elephants) - an elephant

Kodithuwakku Nilame - a small cannon

Maha Lekam Department - a giant bird known as athkandalihiniya

Nanayakkara Lekam - a plain light blue silk banner

Atapattuwa Lekam - a bow, an unsheathed blade, scabbard (a sword-like weapon), disc, battle axe and drum

Wedikkara Lekam (in charge of the musketeers) - a plain red silk banner

Wadanatuwakkukara Lekam (in charge of military equipment) - a white silk flag Paidakkara/Panividakara Lekam - a red silk banner.

Not only districts, chieftains and temples, but also communities and castes had their own flags and banners. Castes were then decided by the various trades people were engaged in. One of the oldest such flags is the Salagama weavers' flag, also known as 'Namediri' which dates to the 14th century.

Namediri was the name of the first chief of this caste. This flag, which we showed you last week, depicts various scenes of the arrival of the caste members from South India. The Karawe caste (fisherfolk) had several banners of which one, known as 'Makara flag' was white with an image of a fish in the centre.

Another showed a man (probably the chief of the caste) riding an elephant surrounded by the sun, moon, stars, fish, pearl umbrellas, ceremonial fans, conch shells, water snake, lotus flowers and a shield.

The Portuguese period saw symbols such as the cross being added to this flag. This caste had another religious banner which depicted a cross, stars and flowers.

Facts and pix: Ancient Flags of Sri Lanka by T.M.G.S. Silva

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