‘Not Just Sports’ – Part 12 : ‘Jana Kreeda’ change as kingdom moves to east


The famous ‘Angampora’ craving at the Ambekke Devalaya. The Kandyan kingdom faced frequent attacks from its enemies and, as a result, it couldn’t survive the traditional sports but made popular a combat sport like ‘angampora’.

* In an effort to provide a background to a discussion on sports, we, in our initial columns, tried to explain the deceptive nature of the understanding of our outside world, which includes sports. We talked about our inclination to ‘take things for granted’ and ‘a culturally constructed world’ which we tend to understand simply as ‘natural’.

* Then there was a brief introduction on seven (7) ‘prehistoric’ sports.

* Then we focussed our attention on how Brian Mackenzie, a British athletic coach, tried to brief the history of sports in general, centering his discussion on his native place Great Britain.

* Thereafter, we discussed very briefly the documented history of world sport.

* Then, before shedding light on the origins and histories of some leading sports and games that are identical to Sri Lanka, we dedicated a couple of articles to present a timeline on the progress of sports in the globe.

* Here, in this 12th part, we continue for a second week our discussion on the origins of sports and games in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, basing on the preface written by Lalith Gunawardena, Assi. Archivist, Department of National Archives, to the book ‘Sri Lankaave Jana Kreeda’ (Sports of the masses in Sri Lanka) written by P. M. Senarathne. The book was publication of M. D. Gunasena and Company Ltd. in year 2000.

by Revata S. Silva

* The famous historical chronicle ‘Mahawamsa’ shows that the ancient Sri Lankan kings have always offered state sponsorship to national sports festivals. Many references in ‘Mahawamsa’ prove that the then kings had been engaged in ‘Dadakeliya’ (hunting games) and ‘Diyakeliya’ (water sport) with the participation of a host of people.

* It also proves the visit of Arahat Mahinda, who introduced Buddhism to Sri Lanka, took place when the king of that time, Devanampiyatissa, was participating in a sports festival related to (deer) hunting.

* So, it can be concluded that the ancient sports festivals received the sponsorship of the state, the kings.

* No lengthy descriptions, though, given on such sports festivals could be found in any chronicle on Sri Lanka.

* Sources found randomly in those chronicles only lead us to conclusions on a very limited area.

* Most of the time, the intention of the ancient writer has been to admire either Lord Buddha or the kings of the time. Therefore those ancient books do not include details on sports.

* But a vague picture can be drawn through the limited details that are available.

* Due to various problems that happened in the kingdom, especially due to many foreign invasions and various geographical reasons, the Lankan kingdom shifted towards the eastern part of the country. And, as a result, the economic base of the kingdoms too, which had centred mainly on agriculture, shattered.

* Sports like ‘Dadakeliya’ and ‘Diyakeliya’ were directly connected to an agricultural economic system. And, when the economy changed as the kingdom shifted towards the east, such sports like ‘Dadakeliya’ too slowly withered and new kinds of sports originated.

* The Lankan kingdom which shifted from Anuradhapura to cities like Polonnaruwa, Dambadeniya, Kurunegala, Gampola and Kotte finally ended up in Kandy. The Kandyan kingdom faced frequent attacks from its enemies. And, as a result, it couldn’t survive the traditional sports that existed till then in the previous kingdoms.

* By that time, sports connected to war (combat sports) like angampora, mallawapora (some sort of wrestling), mushtipora (something similar to boxing), karanam (acrobatics) and kadu shilpa (fencing) became popular.

* The nature of Kandyan sports prove the theory propounded by Prof. Casperis (?) of the Oriental Languages Unit of the University of London, who did a research on ancient oriental sport. He said: ‘Sports are created according to their environment’.

(To be continued)


Courtesy ‘Sri Lankaave Jana Kreeda’ (Sports of the masses in Sri Lanka) by P. M. Senarathne, an M. D. Gunasena and Company Ltd. publication, 2000.

(A translation of the preface of the above book written by Lalith Gunawardena, Assi. Archivist, Dept. of National Archives.)

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