Karava (pronounced Karaava) and also known as Karawa, Karawe, Karave, Kaurava, Kshatriya,Khatriya, Kuru, Kuru Kula, Kurukulam, Kurukulum, Kurukulather or Kurukulathar was the traditional military (warrior) race of Sri Lanka. The Karavas are the Kshatriyas, the royal race, of Sri Lanka's history. Karava royal families were connected to the ruling families and dynasties of the Indian region. Royal succession in Sri Lanka passed on to Karava rulers in the 13th century and the many kingdoms of Sri Lanka were thereafter ruled by Karava Kings until the last three kingdoms passed over from Karava royal families to Europeans : Kotte and Jaffna in the 16th century to the Portuguese and Kandy in the 19th century to the British - see Timeline of the Karava
The non-mainstream Origin story of the Karawe community, their distinctive martial and other traditions, customs, clans and martial demeanor differentiates the Karave as a distinct Race rather than a Caste.
True to their royal ancestry, the Karawas are the only Sri Lankan community to bear ancestral family names that signify royal ancestry, possess an array of ancient flags and use royal insignia at family ceremonies.
The fortunes of the Karawas have seen ups and downs over the centuries dependent on Karava royal families and their victories, defeats and alliances with South Indian royal dynasties. European colonization ended all native dynasties and rulers of the region and was therefore disastrous for the Karawas as well as the Kshatriya Rajputs of India. (see Timeline of KingsI) The post-independence period too has been particularly disastrous for the Karavas. Whatever lost wealth and power the Karavas had regained during the British period were taken away by Govigama dominated post-independence governments of Sri Lanka. (see Timeline of the Karava) and state sponsored propaganda over the past half a century has attempted to falsely portray the Karawas as the "Fisher caste" of Sri Lanka (see Govi supremacy myth)
Karawe communities are scattered throughout Sri Lanka including the interior of the island but they are now predominantly resident on the southern, western and northern districts of Sri Lanka. The Karavas are a very diverse community and includes speakers of Sinhala, Tamil and English and practitioners of Buddhism, Hinduism, Roman Catholicism and Protestant Christianity. Occupationally its members now include the foremost professionals, capitalists and politicians as well as wage earners, fishermen and farmers.
Mismanagement of Sri Lanka by post-independence Govigama dominated governments and successive discriminatory attacks against the Karawe community (see Timeline of The Karava ) from 1940s) has compelled large numbers of Karavas to migrate to western countries. However as a result of that, there is now a large global diaspora of Karavas.
Kshatriya ( Hindi क्षत्रिय from sanskrit क्षत्र) is one of the four varnas (social orders) of ancient Hinduism. It comprised of the military and ruling order of the traditional Vedic-Hindu social system as outlined by the Vedas and the Laws of manu. Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Lord Buddha (see Buddha's visits to the ancient Kaurava kingdom) and Lord Mahavira all belonged to the Kshatriya varna / caste.
Karava lore as well as historical manuscripts such as the Mukkkara Hatana and royal grants from the mediaeval period indicate that the most recent steams of Karavas migrated to Sri Lanka from the area previously known as Kuru Mandalam (Coromandal coast) of South India. Related communities in India are found north of Tanjore in Tamil Nadu well into the Andhra Pradesh coastal areas.
And according to Sri Lankan history (as recorded in the Janawamsa and Kadaim Poth) Karavas lived in large numbers even prior to King Gajbahu's reign. This Kuru (Karava) king brought even more Karavas and settled them in the Aluth Kuru Rata (aluth = new) in the north-west of Sri Lanka and distinguished it from the former settlement - the Parana (old) Kuru Rata (Parana Kuruwa).
Other Karava clans have, according to their respective traditions, arrived with the sacred Bodhi tree, with prince Vijaya or with king Arya Chakavarthi.
Nevertheless all Karava communities throughout Sri Lanka and elsewhere share a common story of origin that claims an ultimate origin from the Kuru (kingdom) and the Kauravas of the great Mahabharata. epic.
See Migration for some of the surviving migration traditions of the various Karava clans.
The Karavas were the traditional Royal race of Sri Lanka . They were the kings, rulers, sub-kings, army, navy and mercenaries of Sri Lanka and the Kuru Mandala coast of India (See Karava Kings). From the mediaeval period until the Portuguese colonization of Sri Lanka in the 16th century, the kings of Sri Lanka have been Kshatriyas from the Karava race.
All major Karava settlements traditionally had service castes (such as cultivators, jewelers, barbers, drummers, potters, washermen, etc )settled in satellite communities around the main Karava settlements. The presence of such service caste villages is still evident in previously predominantly Karava townships such Ambalangoda, Beliatta, Chilaw, Galle, Kalutara, Matara, Moratuwa, Negombo, Tangalle, Udappu, Weligama etc. Despite social changes brought about by 500 years of European occupation, and 50 years of independence, traces of such service caste villages are still quite evident.
The Ambattaya caste was a caste that served only the Karavas. They were attached by bonds of service to the Karava, Their ancestors had arrived from India with the retinues of the Karavas. The Ambattayas were the village Barbers and Physicians and their wives were the midwives. At Karava weddings of the past, the Ambattaya ceremonially trimmed a few hairs of the groom's beard. At Karava funerals he followed the procession to the cemetery and sprinkled holy water on the grave. (M. D. Raghavan Professor Emeritus in Times of Ceylon 27/07/1953)
When Sri Lanka was ruled by kings and queens, the Karavas were the only Sri Lankan community entitled to use flags. In the 19th century, British Government Agents studying Sri Lankan flags had noted that not a single flag could be found even in the residences of Kandyan chiefs. The chiefs of the Kandyan kingdom were not from the Kshatriya caste and as such none of them were entitled to use flags or other royal insignia. (see Radala)
A large number of Karava flags have survived the ravages of time and many are illustrated in E. W. Perera’s monumental book ‘Sinhalese Banners and Standards’. However despite the stunning extent of the collection Perera has scattered the Karava flags throughout the book and chosen not to have them in a special chapter. As such, the significance of the mass of Karava flags is missed by most readers. The recurrent symbols on Karava flags are the sun, moon, stars, elephant, fish, holy tree, white shield, pearl umbrella, ship etc. all of which were symbols of the ruling dynasties of Sri Lanka and India. See Royal symbols of Sri Lanka.
Karava Vs. Karava
As with all royal dynasties the Karavas too have been fighting with their own from the beginning of history. Starting with the Mahabharata Kuru Pandava war among cousins; to the inter dynastic and inter-kingdom wars in south India and Sri Lanka.
During the European period some Karavas fought against the invaders whilst other Karavas fought with the invaders against their own local rulers. In modern times they fell victim to plots that cleverly targeted their fissure lines (linguistic, religious, economic, westernized, political etc).
From the late 19th century leading Karava families have been pitched against each other on Religion (Buddhist / Christian ), temperance and politics (which meant nothing more than loyalty to one or two upstart Govigama political families). These conflicts were cleverly engineered by new rich Govigama families aspiring for political power. (See Timeline of the Karava ) Their plans have been extremely successful and the Karavas were edged out of the political power equation and kept down there ever since.
In addition to the above, from the 20th century the Karavas are divided as privileged and under-privileged (rural / urban ; rich /poor) and on linguistic differences as Tamils and Sinhalese. The Karavas now fight and die on both sides of the ethnic divide, and thereby strengthen the Govigama caste dominance over Sri Lanka..
Apart from the use of Flags, the Karavas were the only community in Sri Lanka entitled to use royal insignia.
Insignia such as the White (pearl) umbrella, flags, swords, trident, yak tail whisks, lighted flame torches and drums were previously widely used by the Karavas at their weddings, funerals and other family ceremonies. Such usage is now on the decline and greatly reduced, but even now it is not unusual to see these royal symbols used throughtout the country, even at funerals of extremely impoverished Karavas.
Across the Palk Strait , the kinsmen of the Karavas too used similar insignia in the past. In 1917, H. R. Pate describes a wedding as follows: "A peculiar feature of the wedding is the procession to the bride’s house with virudus or banners supposed to be the insignia of the Kingly ancestors of the race. The emblems consist of 21 flags embroidered with representations of various objects, animate and inanimate, such as a Snake, a Peacock, a Palmyra , a Chank, the Sun and Moon an Elephant. A Fish and so on. In addition to these a large Umbrella, a Shield and other trappings are carried. The bridegroom wears a costume called KAPA resembling the state robes of Jathi Thalavi More and white cloths are spread before him in his path". (Madras District Gazetteer 123 & 124)
With the fall of Sri Lankan dynasties and kingdoms under Dutch and British colonialism, the Karavas lost their royal relevance and power. They took to other occupations such as carpentry, deep sea fishing, farming, and trading for survival. See Timeline of the Karavas
All Sri Lankan communities, except the Malays and the Burghers, have origin myths that claim migration from India at various times in the past. South of Colombo, along with other Sri Lankan communities such as the Durava, Govigama and Salagama who now call themselves Sinhalese, the Karavas too now speak Sinhalese and have become devout Catholics and Buddhists with no memory of their former languages or religions. (See Timeline of the Karavas). Karavas north of Chilaw, in Jaffna and the east of the country (referred to as Kurukulathar, Kurukulather, Karaiyar, Karaiar, Karaiyer, Karaier, Kurukulum or Kurukulam) speak Tamil.
The pseudo democratic system of Sri Lanka, where the main political parties are run as family organizations, has prevented Karave and other minority community politicians from reaching the top or gaining political influence. Young leaders rising up against this system have been continually eliminated by the Sri Lankan state since the 1970s.
Non –Govigama representation in Parliament has steadily declined since independence and representation of non-Govigama castes are now well below their population percentages. Minority caste representation in the Sri Lankan Cabinet is limited to a few very visible, but unconcerned and disconnected members from a few selected castes. However none of these representatives are known to have ever spoken on behalf of their respective communities or done anything constructive for the progress of these communities.
The leadership of the JVP, the Sinhala rebel group of the 1970s was mostly Karave. Tamil speaking Karavas of Sri Lanka were overwhelmingly represented in the Tamil militant group LTTE, and many Sinhala speaking Karavas are very vocal about their Sinhala Buddhist identity.
The Kshatriya Maha Sabha
The Kshatriya Maha Sabha was inaugurated in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 3rd March 1946 in succession to the Kaurava Association (Maha Sabha) established in the latter part of the 19th century.
The Kshatriya Maha Sabha is non-political and non-religious. It strives to record, preserve, research and disseminate information on the history and culture of the Karave people and restore the self respect lost by them during the last 200 years, due to colonial and Govigama rule.
Right : F. B. de Silva Abhayawickrama Jagath Wijayanayaka (Berty) - Long time President of the Kshatriya Maha Sabha and long time office bearer of the Royal Asiatic Society of Sri Lanka. Historian and author
Asiff Husain attended one of the Kshatriya Maha Sabha AGMs and published the following report in the Sunday Observer - Karava – the blue-blooded Kshatriyas
Right: The Anthem of the Kshatriya Maha Sabha
Karawe history in Sri Lanka has been deliberately obliterated from the 18th century Dutch period by the new class of leaders ( See - the new elite created by Dutch and the British colonial administrators) Possibly because the political leaders of the post independence period too were connected to the same families, distortion of caste history has continued in Sri Lanka well into the present. (See promotion of the ‘Govi Supremacy Myth’ by Sri Lankan governments).
Such distortions and obliterations are not limited to government publications in Sri Lanka. A perusal of the edit and deletion logs of the Sri Lankan Caste pages on Wikipedia (mid 2007 to 2008) will show the extent of hate against the Karavas and the prevalence of attempts to distort Caste history. (It is extremely interesting to note that the principal vandals of the Karawa pages were at the same time prolific contributors of pro-Sinhala and anti-other community material on Wikipedia. Clicking the talk/contribs links next to their names on the Wiki-edits page here will show their modus operandi on Wikipedia) Hence the need for this web site with authentic information on the royal heritage of the Karavas - fully referenced to facilitate verification and further research by scholars..
The views expressed on this web site are the views of the original researchers and authors of the articles and are not necessarily the views of the editors or of the Ksahtriya Maha Sabha. The Sabha believes in integration and peaceful co-existence of communities and It does not promote divisions among communities. However it recognizes that society has always been and is stratified and that the history and heritage of different communities are different. The Sabha celebrates these differences and firmly believes that each community is entitled to preserve and celebrate their culture, history and traditions.
The Sabha deplores action by governments or individuals to distort or obliterate the history and heritage of the Karavas and other communities. The Sabha is strongly opposed to any form of discrimination based on caste, race, colour, religion, language, gender, political views or economic circumstances.
• RAGHAVAN, M. D., The Karava of Ceylon - Society and Culture, K. V. G. de Silva, 1961.
• Caste Conflict and Elite Formation, The Rise of the Karava Elite in Sri Lanka 1500 - 1931. Michael Roberts 1982, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. ISBN 81-7013-139-1
• Madras District Gazetteer – Tinnevelly Volume I 1917 H. R. Pate
• Social Change in Nineteenth Century Ceylon. Patrick Peebles. 1995, Navrang ISBN 81-7013-141-3.
Below: the cover of the Kurukshetra journal, published quarterly, by the Sabha in the latter part of the last century.
Above: The Sun and Moon flag of the Karavas. This was also the royal flag of ancient Sri Lanka. It symbolised the Solar and Lunar dynasty descent of the ancient Kings and Queens of India and Sri Lanka.
Above:Royal Insignia used by the Karava community of Sri Lanka in the past,
from a 19th century illustration. Several of the royal insignia customarily, and to date, are used only by the Karavas of Sri Lanka. The use of these traditional insignia at Karava weddings, funerals and other family ceremonies has drastically declined over the last 50 years. The lowered self esteem of the Karavas resulting from the disinformation campaigns carried on by Sri Lankan governments for almost half a century appears to be the main reason for the decline.
Above: Another ancient flag of the Karava race of Sri Lanka, showing the Mutukuda (royal pearl umbrellas) along with the other royal symbols of the Karavas: Sun & Moon symbols, Sword, White shield, Lamps (torches -pandam), ceremonial shades (alavattam), Yak tail whisks (valviduna) etc. together with Indra, the god of the Kshatriyas.
Above: An old etching of King Rajasinghe and his court. Note the similarity of the royal symbols carried by the courtiers with those on the flag above. Of particular interest are the two pearl umbrellas, the sun and moon symbols, Aalavattam ceremonial sun shades and the white (conch) shield.
Below: an old painting from Sri Lanka showing similar symbols of royalty carried in honour of the king.
Below: early and late 20th century Karava caste weddings fwith traditional royal insignia: the traditional Sun/Moon and other royal insignia of the Karava community.
Above: the notice convening the inaugural meeting of the Kshatriya Maha Sabha in succession to the Kaurava Association.
Below : a letter from the All Ceylon Maritime welfare Association, A Kaurava society from Kuru-Chandra Inbam, Mannar
As laws had been brought in making it mandatory for all Societies to register themselves with the Registrar of Companies, the Sabha applied for registration in 2000. But the Registrar of Companies refused to register the Kshatriya Maha Sabha. See letter below. However a few years later the Registrar of Companies allowed a local company, Central Securities, to change its name to 'Kshatriya Holdings'
Kshatriya Maha Sabha, Sri Lanka