Background of Angampora
Angampora, a traditional fighting style from the heart of Sri Lanka. Originating from one of the oldest combat disciplines on Earth, Angampora stood as Sri Lanka’s first line of defense against invaders such as the South Indians, Portuguese, and Dutch. However, during British rule, this valiant martial art faced a ban and had to go incognito to ensure its survival. Now, it’s springing back to life and capturing hearts all over again.
This incredible art form does more than just teach you to fight; it immerses you in a deeply spiritual journey, intertwined with the philosophies of nature, astrology, and indigenous medicine. Not to mention, it’s a melody of motion, with its movements guided by the rhythm of music. Its name “Angampora” is a testament to its core principles, translating to “body fighting,” it underlines its focus on unarmed combat. The art also incorporates weapon-based combat styles, known as ilangam, and employs the maya angam technique, which uses spells and incantations to confound or subdue an opponent.
Historically, Angampora warriors trained in specially built huts, known as angam madu, constructed according to traditional architectural principles (vasthu vidiya) and timed to align with astrological auspices to ward off misfortune. The revered teachers, known as “Gurus” or “Guruthumas”, taught combatants the art of striking and grappling, typically battling to the death or until one fighter managed to put their opponent into a submission lock.
As for its origin, Angampora is deeply entrenched in the Sinhalese folklore, with narratives tracing its beginnings back over 5,000 years. The tales speak of the Yakkha tribe, one of the ancient indigenous groups of Sri Lanka, as the progenitors of this martial art. The current Indigenous group Vodda, in fact, claims lineage from these original Yakkha people.
Now, it’s fascinating to note the connection between this martial art and Sri Lankan mythology. A narrative tells the tale of King Rana Ravana, an ancient warrior who lived 5,000 years ago and is revered as a fighting god to this day. It’s speculated that the fighting form he practiced might have been the early incarnation of Angampora. In addition, words and place names in the modern language still echo this martial art, such as Angampitiya, Angammaduwa, and Angammana.
Unfortunately, Angampora faced dark days under British rule, with the martial art being forbidden and severely punished, forcing people to abandon it. Teachers, however, ingeniously merged the techniques with different dance forms to keep the art alive and pass it on to new generations, often teaching in secret.
Choosing someone to learn this ancient martial art is a careful process, often involving the reading of horoscopes to determine past life experiences and warrior qualities. Once accepted, the student’s journey begins with a simple ritual to honor Buddha and deities.
Once, Angampora was primarily taught to soldiers, arming them with the skills to wield weapons like swords, daggers, staffs, spears, bows, and arrows. Nowadays, it’s a sight to behold at public performances and has garnered a following among the younger generation. The art of Angampora, thus, is a unique blend of spirituality, combat, and tradition, standing as a testament to the resilience and rich cultural heritage of Sri Lanka.
#Angampora #SriLanka #MartialArts #TraditionalFighting #Rawana
From Mythical Kings to an Ancient Martial Arts
The recorded and systematized history of Sri Lanka unveils a fascinating narrative of organized ruling systems and kingdoms that emerged after the reign of King Pandukabhaya in AD 437. One of the noteworthy chronicles, Mahavamsa, penned by the Buddhist monk Mahanama around AD 500 and translated by Wilheim Geiger in 1912 as The Great Chronicle of Ceylon, provides valuable insights into the ancient kings who restored peace in the country. These historical accounts depict the presence of highly skilled warriors proficient in native combat skills on the island even before the 5th century. They shed light on the existence of a powerful and sophisticated native combat art that Sri Lankans could utilize against invaders (see Samarasekara, 2022).
Moreover, Sri Lankan literary traditions offer documentation of the native combative art. The Mahavamsa contains substantial evidence of battles fought against invaders, believed to have begun in the second century BCE when Sinhala King Duttu Gemunu captured the first kingdom of Sinhalese from the Tamil Chola king Elara. King Dutugamunu, also known as Dutthagamani Abhaya (“fearless Gamini”), reigned from 161 BCE to 137 BCE and gained renown for reuniting the island of Sri Lanka. he achieved this by defeating and overthrowing king elara, the usurping tamil prince from the chola kingdom who had invaded the anuradhapura kingdom in 205 bce (de silva, 1981).
King Dutugamunu’s army consisted of various elements, including soldiers, war elephants, monks for counsel, and a relic in his spear for luck and blessings. Additionally, the Ten Giant Warriors (Yodhayo), renowned warriors recruited from different regions of the island by his father Kavantissa, accompanied the king. Among them, Mahasona and Gotaimbara were famous for their unarmed combat skills, while the others were known for their prowess in armed fighting.
Even today, angam gurus recount fierce unarmed battles between warriors like Mahasona and Gotaimbara to exemplify the indomitable fighting spirit of the Sinhalese people. During numerous invasions, the bearers of indigenous combat art fought alongside ruling kings to safeguard their kingdoms. Typically, the king possessed the authority to organize and train troops for combat. However, under European rule, they faced challenges due to weak leadership and limited commanding power to resist invaders. In such instances, when weak rulers betrayed the kingdoms and European leaders assumed control, the warriors, bound by their vows and combat principles, chose to step back and respect the prevailing laws of the governing authorities.
Against this backdrop, they maintained a simple daily livelihood while secretly preserving their practices by documenting them in books made with palm leaves (puskola poth) until the opportune time arrived (Samarasekara, 2022). Historical references to angampora, the traditional martial art of Sri Lanka, can be traced back to ancient texts. In the 14th century, a poem called “Thisara Sandeshaya” from the Gampola period mentions angampora being showcased in the village of Sungama (Hungama). Similarly, another poetry book, “Maga Salakuna,” from the 15th century indicates the existence of a fighting school called Angam Madilla. During this time, Sri Lanka comprised three major regions: the northern regions inhabited by the Tamils, the southwest region with Kotte as its capital, and the central and eastern regions based in Kandy, where the Sinhalese resided. The arrival of the Portuguese in 1505 marked the beginning of invasions, with the Portuguese capturing Kotte and Sitavaka but failing to annex