The Karava Maha Kodiya of the Karava Community.
|Regions with significant populations|
|Buddhism, Roman Catholicism, Hinduism, Protestantism|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Sinhalese, Tamils, Karaiyar|
Karava (Sinhalese: කරාවා, translit. Karāvā) also Karave, Kara and Kaurawa is a Sinhalese caste from Sri Lanka. The Tamil equivalent is Karaiyar. They are traditionally coastal people occupied in seafaring, fishing and naval warfare.
The origins of the term Karava are still debated. One school of thought maintains that the Karava are the traditional coastal folk citing the similarity between the terms for sea-water (Kara Diya in Sinhalese) and Tamil Karaiyar denoting 'coast men'.
The first recorded instance is the Abhayagiri vihara terrace inscription dating from the 1st century BC denoting a Dameda Karava navika. Other historical counts refer them and also the Karaiyars as Careas and Kaurawar.
Historical manuscripts such as the Mukkara Hatana indicate that there were migrations from the Kurumandalam coast of South India, and that they were originally Tamil speakers. The Karavas north of Negombo are predomanantly Catholic and bilingual in Tamil and Sinhalese, whereas the Karavas south of Colombo are Buddhist and completely Sinhalized.
The Mukkara Hatana describes that they won a three month siege against the Mukkuvars, under the sponsorship of Kotte king Parakramabahu VI in the 14th century AD. The Kotte King Bhuvanaikabahu VI was the son of a Karava chief who was adopted by Parakramabahu VI after the death of his father in the war mentioned in Mukkara Hatana.
The Karava chieftains resisted the colonial Portuguese rule in 16th century. They were under Portuguese rule, along with the Karaiyar and Nair recruited as Lascarins and were converted to Catholicism. Large Catholic Karava communities exists ever since, who were Hindus prior to conversion. The Catholic Karava chieftains sided with the Kingdom of Kandy and the kingdom's Dutch allies against the Portuguese empire, and the King bestowed honors and titles to the Karava chieftains.
The Karavas amessed wealth through commersial ventures such as in arrack, rubber, graphites etc. The Karavas formed the elites between 16th century and early 20th century. Numerous organization were formed by them such as Ceylon National Association, one of the predecessors of the Ceylon National Congress. James Peiris, a Karava lawyer and national leader, was an essential character in the Sri Lankan independence movement. Rohana Wijeweera and other Karava leaders formed in the 1960s the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, a communist party and political movement, who were involved in two armed uprisings against the ruling governments in 1971 and 1987.
The Karavas were traditional fisher folk, who served in naval wafare and contributed as coastal chieftains and regional kings. Their chiefs were referred in Sinhalese as Patabendi or Patangatim, which is derived from the Tamil term Pattamkattiyar (meaning "crowned one"), which was also used by their equivalent Tamil Karaiyars.
The Karavas were one of the few Sri Lankan communities traditionally entitled to use flags. A large number of these Karava flags have survived the ravages of time and many are illustrated in E. W. Perera's book Sinhalese Banners and Standards.
The sacred usage of conch shell and tying of Nalapata (royal forehead plate) was a common practice among Karavas, also mentioned in the Rajaveliya. The sun and the moon, pearl umbrella are traditional royal symbols used by the Karavas. The Makara, being an emblem of their clan, is the mount of their clan deity, the sea god Varuna.
Insignia such as the pearl umbrella, flags, swords, trident, yak tail whisks, lighted flame torches and drums were previously widely used by the Karavas at their weddings and funerals. By the 1960s, such usage has been greatly reduced, whereas some places is it still practiced.
The Karava's use the vasagama naming system. Vasagama, literally meaning "estate (gama) in which one resides", is a title or surname that is given to the patrilineal descendants. The most common clans among the Karavas are Kurukulasuriya, Varunakulasuriya and Mihindikulasuriya. Other clans are Koon Karavas and Konda Karavas.
Names based on leadership or military activity include Aditya (chief/noble), Arasanilayitta ("royal authority"), Arasa Marakkalage ("house of the Royal Mariners"), Patabendige ("house of the local headmen"), and Thantrige (also Tantulage or Thanthulage, "house of experts").
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