AngamporaSri Lanka's Unique Art of Combat

Angampora is a uniquely Sri Lankan art of fighting, created thousands of years ago by the island’s early inhabitants to protect their communities and eventually the sovereignty of the nation.

Harking back to the days of yore, Sri Lanka has been a paradise island rich in natural resources, fertile land, as well as tradable commodities. The natural splendour of the island is what drew many from far and wide to its shores throughout history. As the nation began to attract the attention of outsiders who recognized the potential of the land, the natives found themselves having to defend their territories and communities from foreign aggressors, in addition to fighting internal squabbles and disputes.

Naturally, the need arose for a local form of tactical combat which would give the islanders the upper hand. This art of combat lived on for centuries, helping the people of Lanka to protect the sovereignty of the nation, until the period of British Ceylon, when it was banned and prohibited from being practiced or passed on to younger generations.

Here is the story of Angampora – a uniquely Sri Lankan practice, that has just recently come to the forefront and garnered the interest and attention of those within the island as well as afar…

In the Beginning

Angampora, an ancient martial art that originated in Sri Lanka, has an intriguing and tumultuous history. Literally translating to ‘fighting with the body’, it was a unique art practiced by the natives of the island for thousands of years.
There are many versions of how Angampora came to be, since it was never officially documented, but passed down from generation to generation. However, there are a few chronicles that shed light on the possible origins of the practice.

Insight gained from ancient texts such as the Ramayana lead us to believe that the fighting technique of Angampora dates back at least 5,000 years to the time when the Raksha King Ravana reigned in Lanka.

It is believed that the king himself was a master practitioner of Angampora, and that he used it during the battle against Prince Rama of India. What made the practice of Angampora so unique at the time was the belief that the king developed not only ways of inflicting death on his opponent through a series of strikes, but also knew how to heal his soldiers through pressure point strikes. The latter has been incorporated into the ancient art of Ayurveda healing.
There is reason to believe that prior to the great war between Ravana and Rama, the king of Lanka even took Rama’s brother, Lakshmana, under his wing and trained him in the art of Angampora. This could even be one of the reasons that Rama and Lakshmana eventually succeeded in defeating Ravana.
Another iteration of the origins of Angampora is that it was perfected by the Yakkha tribe, about 3,000 years ago, and was used solely for self-defence when they were threatened by foreign invaders and other tribes.
In addition to these schools of thought, some present-day practitioners of the art believe that Angampora was devised by prehistoric men who lived on the island to protect themselves against predatory animals.

The Art of Angampora

What is popularly known as Angampora today, is actually just one part of a complete martial art that encompasses hand-to-hand combat (Angampora), wielding of weapons (Ilangampora), and shamanism (Maya Angam). All three elements are referred to as ‘Angam Satan Kala’ as a whole (translated as ‘the fighting art of Angam’).

Angampora is an art of hand-to hand combat that incorporates defensive and offensive strikes, along with intricate grapples that cause the opponent immense pain or pins them down. Many of these techniques utilize a series of intricate foot movements.

There are four particular techniques that require years of practice – Guti Harammba (striking techniques), Gata Harammba (locking and gripping techniques), Pora Harammba (takedowns and wrestling techniques), and Maru Kala (techniques that strike the pressure points of the body with the intention to kill).
Ilangampora is much more aggressive in that it requires the practitioner to bear several weapons. According to tradition, Ilangampora incorporates the use of 32 weapons, of which, the sword, the long stick, the mace and the battle axe are key.
The third practice is called Maya Angam, and is an art form that uses incantations and black magic to inflict harm upon an enemy. Although this has been documented in ancient texts such as the Mahavamsa, and is believed to have been used widely by the masters of old, presently there are no known practitioners.

Angampora is not just an art of self-defence, but is in fact a way of life, as it incorporates meditation and is only taught to pupils willing to accept seven oaths (Diwurum Hatha). These oaths are the stringent parameters that pupils must follow if they are to become senior practitioners (Jeshta Abhyasee).


Angampora – the Military Technique

From its supposed inception 5,000 years ago during the reign of King Ravana, Angampora was heavily incorporated into military tactics, and used in various battles that determined the fate of the nation, even as late as the 19th century.
Throughout its use as a primary martial art in the days of old, many families who were adept in the technique were given special distinction by the ancient kings of Lanka. Warriors who used techniques of Angam played a key role in many historic battles. The Ten Great Giants (called the Dasa Maha Yodayo), are considered to be the best practitioners of all forms of Angampora during the 2nd century BC.
The art of Angampora persisted even through the turbulent colonial times of the Portuguese and the Dutch, with native warriors who fought the Europeans using Angampora techniques in guerrilla warfare. The Sinhalese famously defeated the Portuguese at the Battle of Mulleriyawa during the mid-16th century, where many Angam fighters succeeded in decimating the Portuguese army.

The Ban on Angampora

It was during the British colonial era that Angampora almost went extinct in Sri Lanka. The colonials realized that the natives were using the art of Angam, coupled with guerrilla tactics to overcome British forces. Although it eventually failed, the Uva-Wellassa uprising of 1817-18 put fear into the hearts of the Brits, and they took steps to curb the threats they were facing from the natives. The Governor of Ceylon at the time, Robert Brownrigg, banned the practice and teaching of Angampora, set fire to Angam training centres and ordered soldiers to shoot in the knee and cripple the masters of Angam so that they couldn’t pass it down to younger generations.

A few masters escaped the persecution of the colonizers and went into hiding, practicing and teaching Angampora to their sons and other youngsters in secret. The ban on Angampora in Sri Lanka was only lifted in 2019. What has survived in secret today is but a fraction of the glorious art of Angampora that once protected the people of this land.

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