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King of Anuradhapura
Elara’s bell and cow.jpg
Elara’s bell and cow
Reign 205 BC - 161 BC
Titles Elara the Just
Born 235 BC
Died 161 BC
Predecessor Asela
Successor Dutthagamani

Elara (235 BC - 161 BC), also known as Elalan, or Élaezha Chola, was a Tamil king who ruled Sri Lanka from 205 BC to 161 BC from the ancient capital of Anuradhapura. Sometimes referred to as 'the Just King'. 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 a Tamil King, and an ethnic outsider with respect to Sinhala people, he is often regarded as one of Sri Lanka's wisest and most just monarchs, as highligted in Sinhalese chronicle Mahavamsa. According to the chronicle, even Elara's nemesis Sinhala king Dutugemunu had a great respect for him, and ordered a monument be built in memory for Elara after he was slain in battle.


Birth and early life

Elara is described in the Mahavamsa as being 'A Damila of noble descent...from the Chola-country'; 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 for the northern part of Sri Lanka.


Elara, an ethnic Tamil, is traditionally presented as being a just king even by the Sinhalese. The Mahavamsa states 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 on 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 Sinhalese faith and of pointedly treating 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 Sinhalese, whom he governed.

Defeat and death

Dakhinathupa in Anuradhapura, currently identified as a Buddhist temple, but considered until the 1900s CE the tomb of 2nd century BCE Tamil king Elara. The identification and reclassification is considered controversial.[2][3]

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.[4] 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 the location of the monument is lost - the Elara Sohona ('Tomb of Elara') in Anuradhapura today is in fact a stupa constructed under Elara's orders and not the actual tomb.


Tamil separatist groups involved in the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka have used Elara as an iconic figure (or 'Ellara' or 'Ellalan' as pronounced by Tamil 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. ^ Chapter XXI
  2. ^ Harichandra, The sacred city of Anuradhapura, p. 19
  3. ^ Indrapala, K. The Evolution of an ethnic identity: The Tamils of Sri Lanka, p. 368
  4. ^ Chapter XXV

External links

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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