The Portuguese, Dutch and British

Sri Lanka

Armed Forces



Air Force


Tamil Tigers





Some mentions of the country are found in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the books of Gautama Buddha's teachings. Buddhism was introduced in the 3rd century B.C. by Arhath Mahinda (son of the Indian emperor Ashoka the Great).

Sinhalese dynasties ruled the island in the following centuries, the kingdom of Kandy in the interior lasting from 1478 until 1818.

From the 16th century some coastal areas of the country were ruled by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. After 1815 the entire nation was under British colonial rule and armed uprisings against the British took place in the 1818 Uva Rebellion and the 1848 Matale Rebellion. Self-government was granted by constitution of 17 May 1946. Independence was finally attained on 04.02.1948 but the country remained a Dominion of the British Empire.

In 1972 Sri Lanka assumed the status of a Republic. A constitution was introduced in 1978 which made the Executive President the head of state. The Sri Lankan Civil War began in 1983, including an armed youth uprising in 1987–1989, with the 25 year-long civil war ending in 2009.




In the time of the sinhalese dynasties a heraldic system of hindu-buddhist origin was used on Ceylon. This was maintained and somewhat influenced by European heraldic traditions in 15th-16th century Kotte kingdom and in Kandy until 1818. In the time of Portuguese, Dutch and British rule in the coastal regions a heraldic system European style was used and this was continued when all of Ceylon was under British rule. The emblem of Ceylon in that time was an elephant, the sinhalese symbol of the commander of the army.


Kingdom of Ceylon



When self-government was granted in 1946 the new government reached back to the sinhalese lion of the former kingdom of Kandy. Sinhalese emblems had been revived earlier in 1916 in a study of Edward W. Perera about Sinhalese Banners and Standards.[1]

The first flag which appeared in 1946 was officially adopted on 4 February 1948. It shows the sinhalese lion of the last king of Kandy on a brown field and leaves of the bodhi-tree in the corners, the whole surrounded by a yellow bordure. On 27 February 1951 the colors of Muslims and Tamils, green and orange, were added at the mast end.

In April 1953 it was decided to change the coat of arms. A new one was adopted on 30 July 1954. It is:


Arms: A lotus-flower Or, charged with a disc brown, the sinhalese lion, in his dexter paw a sword upright, Or, surrounded by a bordure parted Orange and Vert.

Crown: The Crown of Kandy Or

Motto: Sri Lanka in Tamil and Sinhalese script and Ceylon in latin script on a ribbon Vert, Brown and Orange. 


In these arms the lotus-flower (palapeti vitaya) is and ancient hindu-buddhist symbol of administrative authority. It can be found on an ancient astamangala and on so-called moon-stones in Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa (see: Kandy)


The crown appeared in 1737 in Kandy and is exposed in the National Museum in Colombo. Pictures of Kandy kings show that the crown has had several different shapes, the crown on the arms having more or less the shape of the crown of the last king of Kandy



In 1958 the arms where slightly modified. The name in sinhalese was changed into ,xld (Lanka instead of Sri Lanka) and the crown was rotated 45°.


Republic of Sri Lanka



In 1972, when the kingdom became a republic the name in english was changed into Sri Lanka instead of Ceylon. In both other languages the name remained unchanged.


At the same time the national emblem was changed. It is:


Arms: A lotus-flower Or, charged with a disc Gules, the sinhalese lion with a sword Or.

Crest: A disc Or, charged with a cakra or wheel of law Azure

Garland: Ears of rice rising from a rice-vessel between a sun and a moon in base, Or.


The cakra replaces the crown

The rice-vessel (punkalasa) is a symbol of happiness and wealth

The ears of rice symbolize the prosperity of the people

The sun and moon, usually symbols of the empire and the state, are symbolizing eternal life here.


Æ See illustration in the head of this essay.


The President’s Flag


The President’s flag is the successor of the flag of the Governor General, after 1978 of the sovereign of the United Kingdom. Every President has his own flag.


President Gopallawa 1972-1978


President Jayawardene, head of state 1978-1989


President Ranasinhe Premadasa 1989-1993


President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga 1994-2005


President Mahinda Rajapaksa 2005-


Armed Forces


General Sir John Kotelawala Defence Academy

Showing the emblems of the army, the navy and the air force






Moonstone from Anaradhapura (10 -11th century)


The emblems used in the sinhalese armed forces are known at least from the 10th or 11th century but they seem to have a very ancient origin in the Middle East and India. The weapons of that army at first were represented by an elephant, a horse, a lion and a bull but no battle array can be deduced from the stones on which they are carved. Ancient examples suggest that the elephants were in the first line and the lions in the centre as a royal guard (see also: Kandy Lion).


Moonstone from Pollonnaruwa, 12th century


Somewhat later the line of the (defensive) bulls seems to have been abandoned, there only remaining the offensive cavalry and elephant phalanx, together with the royal guard. Elephant and horse were the emblems of the elephant phalanx and the cavalry in modern times, the lion apparently being reserved for the royal guard and its commander.  


The Sinhala Army during the Portuguese, Dutch and British

(1505-1815) [2]



Of the commanders of these divisions the following flags are known:


Commanders and their Flags


1. Commander of the Army.


The Commander of the Army  was called Gajanayake Nilame. He was also Commander of the Royal Elephant Phalanx (Ath Pntiya). Previous to Kandyan times this chief was merely called Gajanayake or Gajanayake Mudali. His flag was called the Hasti Maha- Kodiya


The Flag of the Gajanayaka Nilame, the Commander of Elephant Corps

Huduhumpola, Kandy


The Gajanáyaka nilame (Chief over the elephants (an officer of the palace)) carried the hastiya maha kodiya (great elephant banner). Plate VIII., figure 15 has been identified as the flag of the ‘elephant chief,’ whose banner bore the figure of an elephant (vide also Plate IX., fig. 18). (I., 23)


2. Guards


The Commander of the Guards was the Attapattuve Lekam. (Attapata, Sinhalese: Attapattu, from Sanskrit hasta ‘hand’ and pratpta ‘presence’.  Hence: ‘ready at hand’). Attapattuva was originally the title of the King’s body-guard.

Davunde kodiya (II.13; IV.3)


“On the bastion of Sao Sebastio the attack was greater because it was taken in hand by the Captain of the Attapata (Attapattu) or King’s guard, with all the troops under his Command, who were picked from Raju’s (King Rajasinghe I- (1581-1592)) banners”  (Couto)

The flag of the attapattu Lekam was the Davunde Kodiya [Drum Flag].


3.Cavalry (As Pantiya).


The Commander of the Cavalry or Royal Horse (= Master of the Horse, Marshal), was the Aspantiya Lekam Mahatmaya. He bore the flag  of the Aspantiya Muhandiram.


Flag of the Commander of Cavalry.


4 Heavy Artillery (Kalatuuakhu).


The Commander of the Heavy Artillery was the Bondikula Lekam Mahataya. This weapon was created by Sri Wikrama Rajasinghe (1798-1815).

34 Bondikkula lekam mahatmaya


5 Light Artillery (Koddtuvakku).


The Commander of the Light Artillery was called Kodituwakku Nilame. His Flag was the Kodituwakku Sti kodiya (The flag having a Jingal or small cannon).

33 Kodituwakku lekam mahatmaya  kodituwakku kodiya (banner showing a gingal = two-men’s gun)  (II.7)


6 Musketeers (Wedikara).


The Commander of the Musketeers was the Wedikara Lekam. His flag was the Ratu Pata Kodiya (Red Silk Banner). (Shape and dimensions unknown)


7 Sharpshooters (Wadanatuvakku-kara)


The flag of the Commander of the Wadanatuvakku-kara Lekam was the Sudu Pata Kodiya (White  Silk Banner). (Shape and dimensions unknown)


8 Archers (Dhanukara)


This weapon was created by King Kirti Sri (1747-’82). His Commander was called....


9 Infantry (Sudhaliye-Maruvalliye)


The Commander of the Dhanukara Lekam Mahataya.


Probably: Bull


10 Ordnance (Awudage)


The Commander of the Ordance was called Awudage Waddaku Nilame.


11 Signals & Courier (Panavidakara).


The Commander of the Signals & Courier (Panavidakara) was the Padikara Lekam Mahatmaya

“the duties of these Lekams were later nearly the same: carrying messages and the conveying of King’s orders to the people who were chiefly with in the mountains” (Codrington).

His flag was the Ratu Pata Kodiya (Red Silk Banner). (Shape and dimensions unknown


12 Trumpeters & Drummers


Thambowa Purampettukara Muhandiram Nilame was the  Commander of the Trumpeters & Drummers.


[30 Nanayakkara lekam mahatmaya nil pata kodiya (Blue banner)]


Sri Lanka Army



Emblem of the Sri Lanka army, 1972

The swords with golden hilts the banner in black lining, the coat of arms in full color.


The Army Flag and Crest

The Armorial Ensigns of the Republic of Sri lanka, Comprising the ‘Punkalasa’or the Filled Vessel, with the Heraldic Lion of Sri Lanka within the ‘Palapethi Vataya’ or the Lotus petal border, surmounted by the ‘Dhammachakka’or the Wheel of the Doctrine, the sun in Splendourand the moon on the right and left respectively and the Ear of Corn; Signifying Prosperity, Discipline, Righteousness, Eternity and Self Sufficientcy the whole super imposed upon crossed ‘Kastanas’ or Ornamental Swords, points uppermost, with golden hilts inlaid with diamonds and rubies, the pommel ornamentation of a Lion’s Head with the ‘Serapendiya’or mythical animals at the termination of the Guard and Lions at the base of the Quillon standing on a scroll inscribed with the words ‘Sri Lanka Army’in Sinhala characters.



(1) The Kastane is the national sword of Sri-Lanka. It is characterized by its short curved blade, usually of mediocre quality and highly decorative hilt and scabbard.

Here we have a good example with 18 inches steel blade and silver grip of great decorative values – A piece of art by itself. The monster styled quillons, the engraved D guard and grips, and above all the monster head pommel with all parts delicately chiseled and engraved with great care and fine details, and set with gold tongue red stone eyes. The grip is in excellent condition and the blade is in good. Just look at the photos and close-ups. An unusually decorative piece from the early 19-century




 The flag is of three stripes blue, orange and blue 1:2:1 and is charged in the middle with the emblem of the army: A lotus-flower charged with a Sinhalese shield, with and elephant passant for crest and with two spears in saltire for supporters. Motto: PRO PATRIA  (For the Fatherland).


Army Flag 1949-1966


Army Flag 1967-1972


Army Flag 1972-present


President’s Guard



The President's Guard is a newly formed unit of the Sri Lanka Army. It is responsible for the security of the President of Sri Lanka along with the President's Security Division which is the close protection agency of the President. It is made up of personnel from other regiments and units assigned for the President's protection.

Prior to the formation of the President's Guard, army personnel served as a squadron under the President's Security Division since 1996 and focused on key tasks including the perimeter security of Presidential residence, Temple Trees. 5th Regiment Sri Lanka Armoured Corps was the first army unit chosen to be in the dedicated security of the President of Sri Lanka during the presidency of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga. Lieutenant Kushan Perera spearheaded the close protection team of Kumaratunga during her visit to the United States and the United Kingdom. Later the strength of the unit was increased with personnel from the Sri Lanka Light Infantry, Sri Lanka Sinha Regiment and the Gajaba Regiment.

After the unit's formation in 2008 all army personnel came under the command of this unit independent from the President's Security Division which is primarily made up of and commanded by Police personnel.[1] This unit has participated in the Independence Day and victory day parades of 2009.


The emblem is:

Arms: Azure, the Sinhalese Lion Or.

Supporter: Two spears in saltire Argent, charged with an eagle Or standing on a banner with the name of the service.


Sri Lanka National Guard



Emblem: The Sinhalese Lion armed with a sword, Or

Garland: Ears of paddy, Or, in base the name of the regiment on a white scroll

Supporters: Two lion’s paws armed with a sword, Or and Argent

Motto: The Country Before Self in Sinhala in black sinhalese script on a white banner





Symbolizing the nation


Protecting the nation from enemies

Two gold coloured  ears of paddy

Prosperity of the nation and the Regiment

Two swords which cross each other at the top  

Providing perfect protection to the nation

Name of the Regiment in Sinhala is

Y%S ,xld cd;sl wdrCIl n<uqMZj

Motto in English


Motto in Sinhala

iajdrA:hg fmr foaYh



The flag measures 6Í4 ft and is of three stripes blue, white and red, each 16” wide, and charged with the emblem in the middle.

The colours symbolize Loyalty, Peace and Combative Spirit respectively.




Designed by Lieutenant colonel DSC Ganegoda KSV SLASC (Retd)


Security Force Headquarters (East)



Description of the flag


Lion figure- Three Sinhalaya and skilfulness, intelligence & proudness   

Bow - This shows the Courageousness to move into the expected

Spike - Winningess and this illustrate the Nations First War leader king Dutugemunu’s sceptre

Four Conches  -  Winningness and sounds of heroes and persons with kind hearts

Filled pot - Prosperity, supportiveness of economic development             

Tuskers - The living being representing the war of North and East. This creature is one the ancient four arms forces

Close up of- Without any arguments move towards the expected target as an united

Lions & Tuskers - nation

Colours - Green, White, Light blue, Gold

(1) Green To represent the jungle area

(2) Blue To represent the sky

(3) White Peacefulness and genuineness

(4) Gold Prosperity of agriculture

Shield - To achieve the expectations of local people and people protection



In January 1938 the Ceylon Naval Volunteer Force (CNVF) was created with Commander W.G. Beauchamp as Commanding Officer under ordinance No I of 1937. After independence the Royal Ceylon Navy was created on 9 December 1950 with Ceylon Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve forming the nucleus.

In 1972 the Royal Ceylon Navy became the Sri Lanka Navy.


Royal Ceylon Navy 1950


Sri Lanka Navy 1972


Air Force


The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) (Sinhala: Sri Lanka Guwan Hamudawa) is the air arm and the youngest of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces. It was founded in 1951 as the Royal Ceylon Air Force (RCyAF) with the assistance of the Royal Air Force (RAF).


HQ RAF Ceylon/AHQ Ceylon




Formed 27 Jun 1941 as HQ RAF Ceylon. Reduced to Group status as No 222 Group, 1 Sep 1941. 

No 222 Group raised to command status as AHQ Ceylon, 16 Oct 1945. Disbanded, 1 Nov 1957.




Royal Ceylon Air Force



Foto Dave O’Malley

Royal Ceylon Air force crest

In the Church of  St. Clement Danes, London

RCyAF Cap badge


Sri Lanka Air Force





Arms: Light blue within a dark blue bordure inscribed: Sri Lanka Guwan Hamudawa (Sri Lanka Air Force)  in white sinhalese script, charged with an eagle wings spread looking to the sinister.

Crest: The Emblem of Sri Lanka proper

Garland: Ears of rice

Motto: Surakimu Lakambara (Protect Lankan Skies) in white sinhales script on a blue ribbon.


Sri Lanka Air Force Regiment Crest

4th Squadron crest







Royal Ceylon Police Emblem (cap badge)

Sri Lanka Police Emblem






Tamil Eelam




The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, commonly known as the LTTE or the Tamil Tigers was a separatist militant organization formerly based in northern Sri Lanka. Founded in 1972 as the ‘Tamil  New Tigers’ by Vellupillai Prabhakaran, and renamed ‘Tamil Tigers’ in May 1976,  it waged a violent secessionist and nationalist campaign to create the independent state of Tamil Eelam in the north and east of Sri Lanka for Tamil people. The campaign evolved into the Sri Lankan Civil War, which ran from 1983 until 2009, when the LTTE was defeated by the Sri Lankan Military.


The emblem of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam consisted of a tiger’s head and claws issuing from a sun radiant supported by two rifles in saltire. Around the sun is the name of the movement in tamil language and script and below the same in english and latin script.


The emblem was created by Vellupillai Prabhakaran  and drawn by his friend Najadaran in 1977.

The tiger was choosen because it is an ancient dravidan martial emblem symbolizing heroism and rebellion. He was supposed to inspire the freedom-fighters to be brave, heroic and free.


The colors are said to mean:


Yellow symbolizes the fundamental political and human right of the Tamils to freely govern themselves in their own homeland. The color expresses the justice of Tamil struggle and reinforces the will of the Tamil Nation to keep up morale on its path towards freedom.

Red symbolizes the awareness that freedom is not completed by the establishment of a separate state of Tamil Eelam. Distinctions of caste and class should be abolished. Equality should become our spiritual principle. Gender equality should permeate Tamil society. The revolutionary changes necessary to achieve social justice represented by these principles are symbolized by this color.

Black reminds us that the march towards freedom is full of dangers, death and destruction. It is filled with pain and misery. Black signifies determination and resolution vital to withstand the setbacks and build the new nation of Tamil Eelam, to provide security and to defend the borders.

White demands purity, honesty and selflessness from the leaders and citizens of Tamileelam.[3]


The flag of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, adopted in 1977 showed this emblem on a red cloth. The national flag of Tamil Eelam, adopted 27 November 1990 was based on this flag,  the inscriptions omitted.

Tamil Tigers Flag, 1977-2009


National Tamil Eelam Flag, 27.11.1990-2009


Gold coin 1990


In 1990 a gold coin was struck showing the emblem of the Tamil Tigers.


Tamil Eelam Air Force.


For the emblem of the Navy and some other emblems of  the Tamil Eelam armed forces see:



Back to Main Page



© Hubert de Vries 2012-08-07



[1] Perera, Edward W.: Sinhalese Banners and Standards. Memoirs of the Colombo Museum Series A, n 2. Colombo, 1916.