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Elara (monarch)

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Title: Elara (monarch)  
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Elara (monarch)

Chola King of Anuradhapura
Statue of Ellalan in the premises of Madras High Court in Chennai
Reign 205 BC – 161 BC
Predecessor Asela
Successor Dutthagamani
Dynasty Chola Dynasty
Born 235 BC
Died 161 BC
Religion Hinduism, Shaivism

Ellalan, ([1] the ancient capital of Anuradhapura. Often referred to as 'the Just King'. The Tamil name Ellalan means, 'the one who rules the Ellai (boundary). Ellalan, a Tamil from the Chola country, is traditionally presented as being a just king even by the Sinhalese.[2] The Mahavamsa states that he ruled 'with even justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law,[3] and elaborates how he even ordered the execution of his son on the basis of a heinous religious crime. Elara is a peculiar figure in the history of Sri Lanka and one with particular resonance given the ongoing ethnic strife in the country. Although he was an invader, he is often regarded as one of Sri Lanka's wisest and most just monarchs, as highligted in the ancient Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa. According to the chronicle, even Ellalan's nemesis king Dutugemunu had a great respect for him, and ordered a monument be built, where Ellalan was cremated after he was slain in battle.

Birth and early life

Ellalan is described in the Mahavamsa as being 'A Damila of noble descent...from the Chola-country';[4] various other sources name him as the son of a Chola queen and brother of the king Ellagan. Little is known of his early life. Around 205 BCE Elara mounted an invasion of the Kingdom of Rajarata based in Anuradhapura in northern Sri Lanka and defeated the forces of king Asela, establishing himself as sole ruler of Rajarata.

Manu Needhi Cholan

bell and cow of Elara

Ellalan got the title Manu Needhi Cholan because he has executed his own son to provide justice to a Cow. Legend has it that the king hung a giant bell in front of his courtroom for anyone needing justice to ring. One day, he came out on hearing the ringing of the bell by a Cow. On enquiry he found that the Calf of that Cow was killed under the wheels of his chariot. In order to provide justice to the cow, he killed his own son Veedhividangan under the chariot as a punishment to himself i.e. make himself suffer as much as the cow.[5] Impressed by the justice of the king, Lord Shiva blessed him and brought back the calf and his son alive. He has been mentioned in the Silappatikaram and Periya Puranam.[6] His name has since then been used as a metaphor for fairness and justice in Tamil literature. His capital was Thiruvarur.

Chronicles such as the Yalpana Vaipava Malai and stone inscriptions like Konesar Kalvettu recount that Kulakkottan, an early Chola king and descendant of Manu Needhi Cholan, was the restorer of the ruined Koneswaram temple and tank at Trincomalee in 438 A.D., the Munneswaram temple of the west coast, and as the royal who settled ancient Vanniyars in the east of the island Eelam.[7][8]

Manu Needhi was also called as DharmaRajan. In the 'MahaVamsa', a historical poem of the Kings of Sri Lanka, tells of a Chola King who had identities similar to ManuNeedhi. MahaVamsa states that a King called Elara, a Chola King invaded the island in around 235 BC. It also adds that, he ruled 'with even justice toward friend and foe, on occasions of disputes at law,[1] and elaborates how he even ordered the execution of his son the basis of a heinous religious crime. The same chronicle relates that the king had a bell with a rope attached at the head of his bed, so that all who sought redress might ring it.In particular he is presented as a tireless defender of the native faith and of pointedly treating native Sinhala nobles with the same dignity as his Tamil associates. As such Elara is often held as the archetype of the Dharmaraja, or 'just king' of Buddhist tradition, all the more remarkable for not being a native son of the kingdom he governed.

From this Chronicle, The King's ordering of execution of his own son, and having a bell of justice can be related to Manu needhi's actions of killing his son for showing justice to the Cow and the bell which cow rang, as found in the first paragraph.

Defeat and death

Dakkhina Stupa in Anuradhapura. Currently identified as a Buddhist stupa, but considered until the mid-1800s CE as Elara Sohona, the tomb of 2nd century BCE Tamil king Elara, who invaded Sri Lanka from the Chola Kingdom, in the Tamil country and ruled in Anurahapura. The tomb was built by King Duttugemunu, to honour King Elara, who had ruled justly. The identification and reclassification is considered controversial.[9][10]
Despite Elara's famously even-handed rule, resistance to him coalesced around the figure of Dutugemunu, a young Sinhala prince from the kingdom of Mahagama. Towards the end of Elara's reign Dutugemunu had strengthened his position in the south by defeating his own brother Tissa who challenged him. Confrontation between the two monarchs was inevitable and the last years of Elara's reign were consumed by the war between the two.

The Mahavamsa contains a fairly detailed account of sieges and battles that took place during the conflict.[11] Particularly interesting is the extensive use of war elephants and of flaming pitch in the battles. Elara's own war elephant is said to have been Maha Pambata, or 'Big Rock' and the Dutugemunu's own being 'Kandula'

The climactic battle is said to have occurred as Dutugemunu drew close to Anuradhapura. On the night before, both King Elara and prince Dutugemunu are said to have conferred with their counsellors. The next day both kings rode forwards on war elephants, Elara 'in full armour...with chariots, soldiers and beasts for riders'. Dutugemunu's forces are said to have routed those of Elara and that 'the water in the tank there was dyed red with the blood of the slain'. Dutugemunu, declaring that 'none shall kill Elara but myself', closed on him at the south gate of Anuradhapura, where the two engaged in an elephant-back duel and the aged king was finally felled by one of Dutugemunu's darts.

Following his death, Dutugemunu ordered that Elara be cremated where he had fallen, and had a monument constructed over the place. The Mahavamsa mentions that 'even to this day the princes of Lanka, when they draw near to this place, are wont to silence their music'. Unfortunately this monument has not been found - the stupa which was earlier considered as Elara Sohona ('Tomb of Elara') is today identified as the stupa, Dakkhina Stupa.


The Mahavamsa contains numerous references to the loyal troops of the Chola empire and portrays them as a powerful force. They held various positions including taking custody of temples during the period of Parakrama Bahu I and Vijayabahu I.[12][13] There were instances when the Sinhalese kings tried to employ them as mercenaries by renaming a section of the most hardcore fighters as Mahatantra. According to historian Burton Stein, when these troops were directed against the Chola empire, they rebelled and were suppressed and decommissioned. But they continued to exist in a passive state by taking up various jobs for livelihood.[14] The Valanjayara, a sub-section of the Velaikkara troops, were one such community, who in the course of time became traders. They were so powerful that the shrine of the tooth-relic was entrusted to their care.[15][16] When the Velaikkara troops took custody of the tooth-relic shrine, they renamed it as Mūnrukai-tiruvēlaikkāran daladāy perumpalli.[17] There are also multiple epigraphic records of the Velaikkara troops. In fact it is their inscriptions, like for example the one in Polunnaruva that are actually used to fix the length of the reign of Sinhalese kings; in this case Vijayabahu I(55 years).[18] Therefore, since present day Tamils in Sri Lanka, have links to this king and to the Chola empire, Tamil nationalists started using Elara as a historical basis/link to legitimize and authenticate their claims to a historical presence in the island. In this connection Tamil separatist groups have used Ellalan as an iconic figure (or 'Ellara' as pronounced by Sinhala people) to identify themselves with. For example, LTTE has used the term 'Ellalan Force' to identify their armed wing in certain situations, when they did not want to use the identity 'LTTE'.

See also


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ Mahavamsa Chapter XXV
  3. ^ Mahavamsa Chapter XXI
  4. ^ Mahavamsa Chapter XXI
  5. ^ "From the annals of history". The Hindu (India). 25 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Tiruvarur in religious history of Tamil Nadu". The Hindu (Chennai, India). 16 July 2010. 
  7. ^ Hellmann-Rajanayagam, Dagmar (1994). "Tamils and the meaning of history". Contemporary South Asia (Routledge) 3 (1): 3–23.  
  8. ^ Schalk, Peter (2002). "Buddhism Among Tamils in Pre-colonial Tamilakam and Ilam: Prologue. The Pre-Pallava and the Pallava period". Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis ( 
  9. ^ Harichandra, The sacred city of Anuradhapura, p. 19
  10. ^ Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 368
  11. ^ Chapter XXV
  12. ^ The tooth relic and the crown, page 59
  13. ^ Epigraphia Zeylanica: being lithic and other inscriptions of Ceylon, Volume 2, page 250
  14. ^ Journal of Tamil studies, Issues 31-32, page 60
  15. ^ The Ceylon historical journal, Volumes 1-2, page 197
  16. ^ Culavamsa: Being the More Recent Part of Mahavamsa
  17. ^ Early South Indian temple architecture: study of Tiruvāliśvaram inscriptions, page 93
  18. ^ Ceylon journal of historical and social studies, Volume 2, page 34

External links

  • Sri Lankan history
  • The Mahavams Online
  • එළාර රජුගේ හිතුවක්‌කාර නීතිය
Elara (monarch)
Born: ? 235 BC Died: ? 161 BC
Regnal titles
Preceded by
King of Anuradhapura
205 BC–161 BC
Succeeded by
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