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Martial Music in Sri Lanka.

Compiled by Major Anton Edema


The earliest reference to any kind of music associated with military activities and state functions are during the reign of Devanampiyatissa, 3rd Century BC. The ensemble referred to as Thalavachara is said to have been used in the battle field as well as at state functions. The instruments that constituted Thavalachara are not known, but from latter references that occur in various chronicles, Treatises, it can be safely concluded that percussion and wind instruments had been used. Texts like Chulawansa, Thupavansa, Bodhivansa, Kuveni Asna, Dabadeni Asna and Sddharmalakaraya mention a large variety of musical instruments which cheered the Sinhala Soldiers to chivalry in the battle field. The mainstay of the Sinhala military band was undoubtedly the drum many varieties of it. As in the case of modern military bands the other variety was the wind instruments. Undoubtedly the wind instruments of the ancient Sinhala military band did not have the scope of the sophisticated instruments of today. They primarily used in creating a defiant atmosphere in order to dispel any trace of fear that would have lingered in the mind of the soldiers. It is recorded that King Parakrama Bahu had in his hand, among many varieties, a drum by the name of Adam Bera. The Sak or the Conch had a place of pride and he even created a post called Sankhanayaka Kitti for the officer who blew the conch. The Sinhal army on its march to the war front carried a special drum on an elephant. It was held in veneration and the capture of this drum by the enemy was considered to be a defeat of war. In the long annals of history of Sri Lanka, the musical instruments which inspired the Sinhala soldier to many a victory in war have come down the ages up to the end of the Kandyan period 19th century AD. One can the grandeur of the Sinhala Martial band and its magnitude by the following list of musical instruments, which according to many references led the army of King Dutugemunu in its long march from Ruhuna to Anuradhapura. Geta Bera Pana Bera Ekas Bera Mihingu Bera Maddala Pataha Loho Bera Yuwala Bera Maha Bera Daduru Bera Roda Bera Mudangu Bera Ghosha Bera Thalappara Virudam

Thammatta Nisana Ranaranga Gosha Samudra Gosha Anukkuli Thimbilivu Davul Morasu Mallavi Sirivili Thappu Thathsara Dakki Udakki Maddala Nagaswara Uchchabhayaga Kombu Dalahan Sakunu Viridu Surana Kalandandura Dalahan Lohan Sinnam Kinnara Kaithlam Samuththlam Gee Thalam Pataha Davul Sak Sinnam Ran Sinnam Ridi Sinnam Ruvan Sinnam Ran Dara Ridi Dara DalaDara Gavarahan Vijadhavani Ottu Thanthiri Patasiri etc. Some of the instruments mentioned above obviously could not have been used on the march or in the battle field. We may safely conclude that such instruments would have provided the much needed entertainment in camps. The following instruments have withstood the ravages of time and vicissitude of colonialism. Daul, Yak Bera, Maha Davul, Udekki,Thanmmettam, Thai,Loha Thanmmettan, Thalam, Geta Bera, Horane, Sak, Saksinnam, Kombu.