Rituals of Angam
As believed by its practitioners, this art is loved and protected by the God Ravana as well as the God of Kataragama. Students must offer themselves and their allegiance to these Gods and the art. This art has a lot of oaths and pledges that binds the practitioner to its and vice versa. Centuries ago those who wished to learn this art needed to present their horoscope to the head master of the angam maduwa (angam training school). The gurus who in those days were proficient in reading horoscopes will see if he/she is worthy of learning this art. If they are considered worthy, the guru p performs a special initiation ritual where 3 oil lamps are lit in the name of the Buddha, God Ravana and God Kataragama, and takes seven oaths from the student. Afterwards students will have take part in various rituals such as the Ayudha pooja (Asking for blessings from the Gods for the weapons) throughout his student life. Those who are selected to learn the art of death are also required to go through special ritual that gains their oath before being taught these deadly techniques.
It is told that angam practitioners have used special incantations and rituals to gain the favor of the gods centuries ago.
Ancient way of passing the knowledge of Angam from Guru to Apprentice
Traditionally, a Guru would bestow his Angam knowledge to his student in secret. Due to this, its value has increased over the generations. The Upanishud way of thought, is a means of actually whispering the teachings to the apprentice’s ear by the teacher. This ensured the preservation of these arts and has kept its secrets and mysteries from being lost.
Due to such a background, Gurus across the ages have shared their valued knowledge only with their own children and close friends and acquaintances. Even so, most refrained from revealing more advanced techniques. This has resulted in the knowledge of Angam to be scattered thinly among less and less people.
Being a deeply centralized system of teaching, there are numerous tasks a newcomer to Angam must go through before commencing apprenticeship. Merely the desire to learn it was not enough to even speak to a Guru about it.
First, the aspiring student must meet the teacher with offerings of flowers, lamps, incense and his horoscope, and it must be done with a great display of genuine and reverence and respect. New comers are judged by the teacher, through observing their horoscope, manner of speaking, body language and what is said and meant. This is used as a preliminary appraisal of the new comer’s ability to grasp the Angam teachings. Additionally, his horoscope, palmistry, birth marks, etc are checked for a better evaluation of character.
Honesty, compassion, endurance, resilience and having a friendly attitude is among the primary characteristics sought after in potential students.
Those who pass the Gurus evaluation will have the privilege of lighting three lamps before first stepping into the Angam training area (Angam Maduwa). This is considered one of the greatest honors bestowed upon a new student and is regarded as his prime responsibility.
The first lamp is lighted in the honor of Lord Buddha. It signifies his boundless kindness and compassion for all sentient beings. Before every training session, the Angam artists will worship and pay their respects to the Triple Gems and vow the Five Precepts. This portrays the purest form of the true goals of an Angam artist. They take Lord Buddha as their prime example for conduct and way of life. They vow to protect Buddhism and the Buddhists way of life. It is said in ancient text and lore that Angam artists were the Guardians who defended this country and its people. The light of the lamps and the blessings of the Triple Gems is said to offer protect the righteous Angam practitioner. The development of Kindness and Compassion (Metta) meditation and contemplation on the five senses is essential for the development of the spiritual aspect of Angam. It is an effort to bring ones physical movements in harmony with the universe around him.
The Second Lamp
Lighted to show respect to ones teacher, and the ancient god who is known to be the originators of the Angam arts, the God Ravana and God of Katharagama. This follow the belief that most of the earliest knowledge of humanity were originally taught to them by certain deities of the ancient world. In that sense, God Ravana and God of Katharagama are said to be the Lords of Angam and all artists pay their respect to this persona through chants and offerings. As paying respect to one teacher, and the very first teach being part and parcel of the Angam traditions, these beliefs are held to this day.
The Third Lamp
The flame of the third lamp is lit in honor of one’s Gurus and parents. It symbolizes all the responsibilities the Angam artist must duly fulfill for them. The student will embrace his inherited traditions and will consider it an utter loss if those traditions are not carried on. He will see Venerable Sariputta, senior disciple of Lord Buddha, as his example for conduct when caring for ones parents. His love for them shall be absolute.
Here onwards, the new student will begin his training in angam exercises, will observe his Guru’s practices to perfect his own. These angam exercises will clear his mind and make him adaptable enough to continue his future training.
Angam gurus of ancient times have had various practices which many now would consider mystical. It is said that, by looking at the intensity of the light of the lamp upon it’s lighting, he is able to gauge the student’s intelligence and compassion. Also, another such test is done by placing the students and palms facing the flame from opposite sides. It is said to indicate whether the student will continue his studies with devotion while preserving the traditions, or whether he will fail in both. Another method is to place a shaved coconut on a student’s palm and light tablet of incense on it. There are numerous such seemingly mystical methods practiced by teachers over the millennia.
After passing such evaluations, the student will be sworn into apprenticeship through the said lighting of oil lamps.
The swearing in consists mainly of vows to Lord Buddha, the Gods, Gurus and his Parents and binds him to his responsibilities to them. He will vow to defend his lineage, not to bestow his knowledge on Angam to those who are unworthy of it, and not to use his skills for selfish intentions.
The Seven Oaths of Angam
In every martial arts system tradition in the world, e.g: Wu-shu, Karate, etc, there are a set of mandatory oaths and rules every practitioner must adhere to. This is more than true in the case of Angam as well.
This general set of oaths have existed for many centuries and has been recently names as the “Seven Oaths”, or “Diwurum hatha”.
The Seven Oaths according to Angam are as follows.
- A Student may not abandon his training half-way through
- Must use Angam only for self-defense
- He must honor and respect his teachers, seniors and elders
- In public, he will be discreet and humble about his Angam skills and identity as an Angam practitioner
- He will refrain from consuming intoxicants (Alcohol, tobacco, drugs),Pork and Beef
- He will mainly teach the arts of Angam to those with gentle, willful and compassionate personalities.
- The purpose of his Angam studies and training should not in any way aim for wealth or fame
Most Angam practitioners of this generation have adhered more or less to the oaths above. Their primary aspiration has always been to serve his country and faith. Their contribution for a just and fair society is well recognized. An Angam artist will never insult or belittle his art, and history shown many occasions where such Gurus rise to meet all sorts of daunting challenges. Turning away from a challenge is considered a dishonor to ones lineage. If he requires displaying his skills through public performances, permission is required from his gurus/elders. Training must be carried out to completion and never stopped half-way through. Angam being an art perfected for warfare, an ill-trained and incomplete Angam artist will be detrimental to Angam as a whole.
“Fighting” is an primary characteristic common to all Animals. Perfecting a Fighting Art is a purely creative and intellectual process. An Angam practitioner must be someone who has such a capability. He will use Angam only his own self-defense or the benefit of other’s. This is a simple and clear purpose, but also difficult. A skilled Angam artist will surely become renowned in his community. For this reason, and for the betterment of all, he must exercise humbleness and humility. The more he perfects his own skills, the more flexible, peaceful and humble he must become. He will respect his elders and be patient with his peers.
Training daily with one’s tend to lead to animosity and even anger at times, even with ones teachers and elders. For this reason, training one’s mind to be kind and compassionate is essential to all Angam students and there are many ways of doing this.
When in public, he will be discreet about his skills and will not display them to other’s in order to win respect and recognition. Doing so is detrimental to both himself and his art. He will refrain from consuming meat and also adhere to the five precepts of Buddhism, which it turn greatly develop his meditation practices.
Being disciplined in one’s sexual conduct is not merely a tenet of Shaolin Kungfu. Angam, following a similar philosophy of spiritual purity. It is believed that such a deep level of spiritual purity is essential in perfecting the required physical strength to master Angam. Ancient Angam gurus have all been practicing Theravada Buddhists who have long preserved its traditions and practices. Angam is an art unique to Sri Lanka alone. Angam practitioners of old have all been soldiers fighting for the sovereignty of Sri Lanka at various instances in History. They have given Sri Lanka the required edge when dealing with South Indian, Portuguese, Dutch and English invaders.
Upon taking the Oaths of Angam, the new student will enter the training area (Angam Maduwa). It is considered to be sacred space which is both protected and pure. The ground made of fine clay and grounded coconut fibers. A statue of Lord Buddha and God Ravana is always present at its head as a symbol and reminder to what Angam stands for. Anyone who enters the Angam Maduwa will remove their footwear and headwear before entering this sacred ground. In addition to an Angam Maduwa, students will also undergo special training in different types of terrain such as grasslands, beaches and even swamplands.
All training sessions are preceded by worshiping the God Ravana and meditation. It is said that breathing meditation is essential when it comes to perfecting ones armed combat skills.
There are only very few martial arts systems in the world which utilizes Drumming as a part of their training and rituals as Angam. An Angam martial artist’s training is not considered complete unless, in addition to the fighting art itself, he is also skilled in the art of drumming in Angam. The use of drums in Angam goes back to a very early age in Sri Lankan history where Angam warriors would march into battle with their Sinhalese kings to fight off foreign invasions.
In Angam, drum beats are used both in training, display and combat. These beats contain a high rate of beats per minute, creating a chaotic and intense atmosphere for the practitioner. The main purpose of training in such an environment is to condition the angam fighter to remain calm and focused during a real battle. Ancient gurus used this technique to prepare his apprentices for the battlegrounds of old, which are probably one of the most chaotic and disturbing experiences any one at that time could have faced.
There are several types of drums that are traditionally used in Angam. All of which are indigenous to Sri Lanka. Namely, Geta beraya. Yak beraya, Daula, Thammettama And the beat of the drum and the style it is played also differs according to the play or form the student performs or practices. Expert drummer will know which beat to play that corresponds to what is done by the performer.
Drum beats have always been a part of human physical experience. From music to rituals, as far as the memories of history, they have been there. The usage of drums in Angam is a means of both physical and spiritual perfection of the art. Following is the description about the drums we used for Angam training and for a battle field.
This is the main drum accompany the Hill Country tradition. This drum is turned out of wood from the Ehela, Kohomba or Koss tree. The drum tapers towards the ends on the right side, the opening is covered with the skin of a monkey while the opening on the other side is covered with cattle skin. The strings that are used to tighten the sides are from a deer skin. A student who begins his training in use of the Gete Bera has to practise 12 elementary exercises.
This drum is referred to by many names among which are the Ruhunu Bera, Devol Bera and Ghoskaya. This drum normally accompanies the dancers from the low country tradition, The drum is turned out of wood taken from the Kohmba, Ehela, Kitul or Milla trees. This is a cylindrical drum, fairly long and is played on both sides with hands. The openings on the two sides of the drum are covered with the stomach lining of a cow. The strings used to tighten the sides are from cattle skin. A student has 12 elementary exercises to learn to play this drum.
This is a drum used in all over the island. This drum is cylindrical, but much shorter than the Yak Bera. An important feature of this drum is that one side is played with the hand while the other side is played with a stick. The sides are covers with cattle skin and the tightening is done with a string made specially for the purpose. There are also 12 elementary exercises to be followed by a person learning to use the drum.
This is also referred to as Twin Drum. This drum is used with two sticks. The two drums are of different sizes and while the right one produces a louder sound, the left one produces a looser sound. The drums which have only the top side, are covered either with the skin of the cow or a buffalo. The wood used is from Koss, Kohomba and Milla trees. They use special sticks to play drums and the wood is from a creeper known as Kirindi.