Not Just Sports - Part 21 : Sri Lankan traditional martial art


A present day teacher and a pupil of Angampora. (Pic courtesy Karatota Ranapila)

By Revata S. Silva

* In an effort to provide a background to a discussion on sports and its history, we in our first few columns, tried to explain the exceedingly deceptive nature of our understanding of the outside world, which also includes sports. There, we talked about our inclination to ‘taking things for granted’ and about ‘a culturally constructed world’ which we always tend to reckon as ‘natural.’

* Then as a means of laying a foundation to our discussion, we introduced briefly seven (7) ‘prehistoric’ sports.

* Then we focused our attention on how Brian Mackenzie, a British athletic coach, tried to brief the history of sports, particularly in Great Britain, in a sociological perspective.

* Thereafter, we discussed briefly about the history of world sport in general.

* Then we dedicated a couple of articles to present an interesting timeline of the history of world sports.

* Thereafter we presented for seven (7) episodes a translation of an article written by Lalith Gunawardena of the Department of National Archives on the origins of sports and games in Sri Lanka in a preface to a book titled ‘Sri Lankave Jana Kreeda’ (Sports of the Masses of Sri Lanka) written by P. M. Senarathne in 2000.

* Today, in this 21th part, we introduce another traditional sport named ‘Angampora,’ similar to ‘Porapol Geseema’ and ‘Ang Keliya’ which we described briefly in our last two weeks’ columns.



Angampora is an indigenous martial arts form, the origins of which are buried in legend.

As far back as 5,000 years ago, ‘Vyshrava’ and ‘Kaikashi’ gave birth to a son in the ‘Yakka’ tribe, who becomes ‘Rana Ravana’ (master of the fields of medicine, music, art, dancing, mantra, technology, astrology and most importantly Angampora), the most feared and revered true martial art warrior of all time. Due to his mastery over ten sciences, he gets referred to as ‘Dasa Sheersha Pathi’ and thus gets depicted with 10 heads.

The art form ‘Angampora’ is said to have transferred from father to son through his only son ‘Indrajit’ to his two sons ‘Keweshastha’ and ‘Shavishailasha’ getting fragmented among the two.

This martial arts form received royal patronage of Prince Tikiri or King Rajasingha of Seethawaka who effectively used it to defeat the Portuguese army in the famous battle of 1562. Aspects of Indian arts such as ‘Sudaliya’ and ‘Maruwalliya’ are also introduced into this local martial art form.

During the period of British colonial rule, action was taken to suppress this art form by the gazette notification of 1827 led to teaching halls called ‘Angam Madu’ being set ablaze and warriors shot and killed. At this point in history, Angampora becomes a secretive art, brought down from generation to generation, and a Sri Lankan version of ‘Ninja’ called ‘Illangakkara’ is born.

Angampora is not just a martial art but a truly indigenous way of life and a diverse sustainable culture.

In Korathota Navagamu Pattini Devalaya (a temple for God Pattini at Korathota), surrounded by paddyfields, male and female youth train in the various aspects of Angampora in the ‘Angam Maduwa’ built according to traditional Sinhalese architecture of ‘Gebim Shasthraya,’ while some train in the open using training equipment made out of coconut tree trunks.

Under the guidance of a ‘Panikki Rala,’ a senior of the art, masculine youth, dressed in white, limbs shining with the application of the special fighting oil and energetic lean, light female youth dressed in a white ‘hattaya’ (jacket) and cloth, engage in unarmed combat (Angam) known as ‘Guti Haramba’ or ‘Pora Haramba’ using limbs, pressure-point combat (‘Maru Nila Shasthraya’), armed combat using swords and shields, poles, sticks, knives, etc. (‘Illangam’) and use of spells and incantations (Maya Angam).

A ‘Gurunnanse’ sits in his chair at the special verandah of the ‘Maduwa’ checking the astrological suitability and spiritual traits of prospective students to see that they will not bring unnecessary harm to people by the use of this powerful art since this was taught for one reason only –to protect their country, their faith and their culture.

Another group of students, a little distance away from the ‘Angam Maduwa’ prepare medicines from the herbal garden of the centre. Some practise a specialty known as ‘Nila Wedakama’ (use of pressure-points). Some engage in the traditional Yoga techniques that is unique to the country.

Some engage in meditation disciplining the mind comfortably unaware of all the hustle around to be able to harness and channel the energy that lies within. Some dance and create music with drums. Some chant mantras and some learn to draw ‘yantras.’


An extract from an introduction on ‘Angampora’ written by by Kanchana Senasinghe on the web-site

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