Sri Lanka Army

Defenders of the Nation

Sri Lanka Army History

Sri Lanka Army - ශ්‍රී ලංකා යුද්ධ හමුදාව

Active - 1 April 1881 – Present

Role - Foreign and Domestic Defence

Part of - Ministry of Defence

Military Headquarters - Army Headquarters, Colombo

Motto(s) - "For the Fatherland"

Anniversary - October 10

Commander of the Sri Lanka Army -
Lieutenant General HLVM Liyanage RWP RSP ndu

Sri Lanka Army Flag -

Presidential Colour -

The settlers on the East Coast would have moved inland along the Mahavali Ganga. Somewhat later there was perhaps an independent band of immigrants who settled in Rohana in the southeast, on the mouth of the Valave Ganga, with Magama as their chief seat of government. The settlers came in numerous clans and tribes; the most powerful of whom were the Sinhalese.

By 250 BC there is evidence of a recognizably literate culture in the main areas of settlement - a contribution, no doubt, of the early Aryan settlers - even though the outlying communities may have remained pre-literate. "We have at present no archaeological evidence with regard to the early Indo-Aryan settlers. No sites have yet revealed date which could help us identify some of the other influences which may have played upon the Island from 650 BC. In particular we have no archaeological finds that could be traced back to either the west of east coasts of India

While the Island's proximity to India brought it within easy reach of a diversity of influences from there over much of its history, the narrow stretch of sea which separates it from the subcontinent ensured that the civilization which evolved in Sri Lanka was not a mere variant of an Indian prototype but something distinctive or autonomous though the Indian element was never totally obliterated. Nothing contributed to this more than Buddhism.

Less obvious than the Indian influence, but over the centuries just as important, was the influence from South-East Asia resulting from Sri Lanka's strategic location athwart the main sea-routes of the Indian Ocean. Exciting archaeological discoveries in South-East Asia over the last decade suggest the possibility that the influence of this region on Sri Lanka may have begun in pre-historic times." ( From 'A History of SRI LANKA' by K.M. de Silva, published by the Oxford University Press, 1981).

Thus, a unique and distinctive hydraulic civilization found nowhere else in the world, developed on this Island. It was tempered by a vibrant and dynamic Buddhist religio-culture that permeated all aspects of life. Notable within this value system was the near-total absence of greed for material possessions (tanha), non-violence (ahimsa), giving (dana), kindness (karuna), loving-kindness (metta), and so on that shaped the people's world-view. These factors gave rise to a distinctive ethos, which created and shaped a unique milieu that subsists to this day. They were, therefore, (and still are), friendly, hospitable, warm-hearted, tolerant, easy-going and, by and large, peaceable.

All of this is a time-honoured legacy of remarkable qualities distilled over the ages in the vat of time. It has so distinguished this people that numerous foreign commentators and observers, have, over the centuries, been impelled to leave behind their favourable comments.

The Ancient Time

eveal the history of Sri Lanka from about 500 B.C. The Sinhalas originally migrated from North India. The King owned all land in practice. But the land was held by many who owed services to the King. Although there were Sinhalas and Tamils, Sri Lanka was multi-racial, and harmony existed. From about the 5th and 6th centuries A.D. Pandyas, Pallawas, Cheras and Cholas of South Indian states were tempted to invade Sri Lanka.

The first military engagement in Sri Lanka's history is marked with the advent of Vijaya, a prince of North India who landed with his followers on the beaches of northwestern Sri Lanka around 543 B.C. Vijaya forced Kuveni, the Queen of the Rakshas on pain of death, to restore his men who had been spirited away by her, and overcame his adversaries.>

Repeated incursions into Sri Lankan territory by South Indians, particularly the Cholas, led to the engagement of rival forces in battle. King Dutugemunu (200 B.C.) is reported to have raised an army of eleven thousand inhabitants in his battle against King Elara, a Chola. King Dutugemunu's organisational skills, bravery and chivalry are famous and his battles have gone down in history as outstanding offensive operations against a foreign enemy. Rulers such as King Gajabahu (113 A.D.) who sailed to India to bring back his captured soldiers stand out. King Dhatusena (433 A.D.) is credited with having repulsed Indian invasions and particularly for organising a naval build-up to deter seaborne attacks. He also had the foresight to cover these defences with artillery. Vijayabahu (1001 A.D.) was another warrior king who dislodged invaders. Parakrama Bahu the Great (1153 A.D.) as his title implies was outstanding in the Polonnaruwa period of Sri Lanka's history and his accomplishments as a military leader and a great administrator are noteworthy. His reign included a military expedition to Burma (Mayanmar) in retaliation for certain indignities inflicted on his envoys and interference in the elephant trade. It is also reported that Parakrama Bahu's fame was such, that this assistance was sought by South Indian rulers who were involved in internecine struggles. Another strong ruler in the pre-colonial era was Parakrama Bahu VI, who ruled the entire Island from Sri Jayawardhanapura, Kotte.

Although the known epigraphical records do not indicate that our rulers had a full-time Standing Army, at their disposal, there is evidence supported by legend, designation, name, place and tradition that prove, that there were 'stand by' equestrian, elephant and Infantry cadres to ensure the Royal Authority at all times. Militias were raised as necessity arose, and the soldiers returned to their pursuits mainly for farming after their spell of military duty.

The Colonial Era

The capacity to sail enabled European powers to conquer nations which had not developed their sea powers. Two significant developments in the military sphere occurred during the Portuguese occupation. Firstly, military commanders such as Vidiya Bandara, Mayadunne, Rajasinghe and Vimaladharma organised resistance by raising a fighting element of the public into lascoreens and militias.

They built up fierce resistance to the foreign power, and to do so, developed strong espirit de corps which gave the Sinhala soldier a commendable fighting spirit.

It is also reported that the manufacture of arms commenced during this period. So much so, that the weapons used by lascoreens included not only the traditional bows and arrows, swords, spears but also muskets made for them locally.

Artillery, in the form of 'Jingals' capable of throwing a ball four to twelve ounces in weight were also locally manufactured and used against fortifications. The sophistication of the weaponry was remarkable for those times and was a sign of the maturity of the Sinhala Armies which fought the foreign rulers.

The Portuguese must also be credited with the introduction of fortresses to Sri Lanka. During this era, whilst Sri Lanka's own forces developed in defence of their Motherland, there is no indication of the employment of local inhabitants in the Portuguese forces.

Like the Portuguese, the Dutch were confined to the maritime regions of the country. Their entry was regarded by the locals as a merciful alternative to the Portuguese occupation, but as time moved on and with Court intrigues amongst the rulers, discontent grew.

Local rulers made overtures to the British for assistance against the Dutch. The Dutch did not employ locals in their forces and preferred to live in isolation pursuing their interests in trade and commerce and defending their Forts with their own forces, which included Swiss and Malay mercenaries. The Dutch Forts in Jaffna, Galle, Matara, Batticaloa and Trincomalee were sturdily built and are a tribute to their Military engineering skills. The Colombo Fort was destroyed in British times.

During the first half century of British occupation there were uprisings and palace intrigues particularly after the adventure into the Kandyan Kingdom. The Kandyan forces resorted to guerrilla warfare and were quite successful in their conflict against a better armed force of the British. Initially the British had their own troops for the defence of the Island which included naval vessels, artillery troops and infantry. Their headquarters was in Trincomalee. In 1796, troops in the Dutch service who were Swiss and Malay were mercenaries transferred to the British East India Company. The Malays formed initially as a Malay Corps and later in 1802 as the 1st Ceylon Regiment under a British Commanding Officer. In the same year, a 'Sinhalese' unit was raised and called the 2nd Ceylon Regiment, also known as the 'Sepoy' corps. In 1803 a 3rd Ceylon Regiment was raised with Moluccans and recruits from Penang. All these regiments fought in the Kandyan wars of 1803. More Sinhalese and Malays were recruited to these regiments and in 1814 a 4th regiment was raised comprising African troops. In 1817 the name of the regiment was changed to the Ceylon Rifle Regiment. After the Matale rebellion led by Puran Appu in 1848, the recruitment of Sinhalese was stopped. The history of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment marks the first phase of the employment of non-British personnel in Ceylon for service in the British Military establishment.

The Volunteer Corps of the Colony

The second phase in the employment of non-British personnel commenced in 1861 with the enactment of an Ordinance designed to authorise a Volunteer Corps in the Colony. The Corps so formed was designated the Ceylon Light Infantry Volunteers (CLIV) and marked the commencement of the Volunteer movement in Ceylon. Formation of such a corps compensated for the void created by the disbandment of the Ceylon Rifle Regiment in 1874.

The Volunteer movement in Sri Lanka received great support from the mercantile community. The CLIV was originally administered as a single unit. With the passing of the years various sections of the volunteers grew large enough to have a separate existence of their own, away from the parent unit. So there came into existence the different units of the Volunteer Force namely, Ceylon Artillery Volunteers, Ceylon Mounted Infantry (CMI), Ceylon Volunteer Medical Corps, the Cadet Battalion Ceylon Light Infantry, the Ceylon Engineers, Ceylon Supply & Transport Corps and, the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps (CPRC).

In 1910, the name of the Force was changed to Ceylon Defence Force (CDF). Throughout the years between two world wars, the CDF continued to flourish and went on training against the day when it would be called upon to fulfill its purpose. The CDF saw active service when a contingent of CMI in 1900, and a contingent of CPRC in 1902, took part in the Boer War in South Africa. Their valuable services were recognised by presentation, in 1902 of a colour to the CMI, and a presentation in 1904, of a Banner to the CPRC. In 1922, the CDF was once again honoured by the presentation of the King's and Regimental colours to the Ceylon Light Infantry.

During the 1914-18 war, many volunteers from the Defence Force found their way to England and joined the British Army, and many of them laid down their lives. In 1939, the CDF was mobilized on the outbreak of World War II and an enormous expansion took place which included the raising of new units such as the Post and Telegraph Signals, the Ceylon Railway Engineer Corps, the Ceylon Electrical and Mechanical Engineer Corps, the Auxiliary Territorial Service (Ceylon), the Ceylon Corps of Military Police, and the Ceylon Signals Corps and the Colombo Town Guard Unit, which had been disbanded earlier, was once again raised.<

When the War ended, the task of returning the enormously swollen wartime CDF to its normal proportions began and by 1948 came independence and in 1949, the Army Act was passed by Parliament raising the Ceylon Army, composed of Regular and Volunteer Forces. With the wheel now turning a full circle, the Volunteers took once again their title - that grand old name - Volunteers.

Many of the old units of the Volunteer Force still exist in the Army except a few which were disbanded from time to time. The Volunteer Force has since then grown and it is this Force that supplements the Regular Force when the requirement arises. Since the outbreak of hostilities in Northern Sri Lanka, the Volunteer Force, has been working shoulder to shoulder with the Regular Units engaged in counter insurgency operations.

With a view to raising our own Regular Force to the country, Sir Kanthiah Vaithianathan C.E.B., the first Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and External Affairs, the island of Ceylon was endowed with a Regular Force under the Command of Brigadier Roderick Sinclair, the Earl of Caithness D.S.O. on 10th October 1949 under the Army Act No. 17 of 1949.

The extraordinary gazette (No 10,028) in this connection, signed by Mr. Don Stephen Senanayake, then Minister of Defence and Foreign Affairs, was published the same day, announcing the Commissioning and Promotion of a few Ceylonese Army Officers to function at the newly established Army Headquarters.

The Headquarters was formed initially with the basic minimum of Staff Officers required to set the machinery of the Army in motion. As time progressed and units began to form, the need for expanding the HQ set up was felt and various branches were added."-(Sri Lanka Army 50 Years On 1949-1999)

The first batch of Officer Cadets from our own citizenry was sent to the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in January 1950. A British Army Training Team was established in salubrious climes at Diyatalawa to give refresher training for Officers, Non Commissioned Officers and Recruits in the new Regular Force.

After Brigadier Reid, Commander Ceylon Army, retired in February 1955, Colonel Anton Muttukumaru, Chief of Staff Ceylon Army and the senior most Ceylonese Army Officer, was promoted to the rank of Brigadier and appointed the Commander Ceylon Army whilst he was following a course in London. He was the first Sri Lankan to become the Army Commander. Administration of the Ceylon Army Volunteer Force was afterwards separated from the Army Headquarters and its command was instead entrusted to Colonel H.W.G. Wijekoon, who was the acting Commander during the absence of Brigadier A. Muttukumaru.

The Ceylon Army, commanded by many able and eminent personnel has then onwards performed its duties not only in ceremonial form but also in other areas of state requirement. This situation compelled the expansion of the Army command strata islandwide which in turn resulted in emergence of Area Headquarters under command to respective Area Commanders. Palaly, Anuradhapura, Kandy, Boossa, Diyatalawa and Panagoda enveloped the security of the whole of the island operating from those Military Command bases.

The new government, headed by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1971 ushered a new era in the Ceylon Army when the 25-year old existing Soulbury Constitution was replaced by the Republican Constitution declaring the country an Independent Republic on 22 May 1972. Ceylon Army was renamed as Sri Lanka Army and Regiments and Units followed the same.

All officers and soldiers of the Army took their oaths of allegiance to the new republic of Sri Lanka. This was invariably done at parades held in respective units. Later a medal was issued to all those in service on the newly declared Republic Day.

Introduction of the new regimental insignia with the declaration of the Republic of Sri Lanka, all units of the Army had perforce to sever their connections with the previous era. Since it was in the various regimental badges and crests that these connections were most manifest. Army Headquarters in due course issued a circular inviting units to submit designs of new cap badges and other insignia for approval." -(Sri Lanka Army 50 Years On 1949-1999)