The Fate ofAngampora


The country’s past has been marked by major battles, where brave native warriors fought a variety of invading forces and defended the land and its people.
Ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa, Thupavamsa, Rajavaliya, Dipavamsa, Ramayana, and more recent accounts of incidents that took place in colonial Sri Lanka, indicate that Angampora combat techniques were one of the key reasons for the success of the local warriors in battle.
The popular belief is that Angampora was a martial art originally developed by early humans who inhabited the island to protect their territories from outside forces and predators. It is believed to have eventually become a form of combat utilized by the ancient kings, their armies and independent warriors to defend the sovereignty of the nation. We’ve explored some of the key battles fought using Angampora tactics below.

The Battle of Vijithapura

Considered to be one of the most iconic battles in Sri Lankan history, the Battle of Vijithapura was fought to thwart the mighty army of the Chola King Elara. In the 2nd century BC the Kingdom of Anuradhapura had fallen into the hands of King Elara of India.
Although Elara was considered to be a just ruler, the people of the island wanted a king who had a legitimate claim to the throne. In the Kingdom of Ruhuna, which lay to the south of Anuradhapura, lived young Prince Dutugemunu who resented the foreign ruler. Determined to unite the land under a Sinhala monarchy, the prince challenged Elara for the throne.

Dutugemunu’s father, King Kavantissa of Ruhuna, had recruited a number of highly skilled combatants and created a formidable army in anticipation of the war to oust the Chola usurper. According to the Mahavamsa, this army was led by ten generals – the legendary Dasa Maha Yodhayo (ten great giants). Depicted as men of unusually large stature, these generals possessed immense strength and tactical prowess.

The Dasa Maha Yodhayo, namely Nandimithra, Suranimala, Gotaimbara, Theraputthabhya, Mahabharana, Velusumana, Khanjadeva, Phussadeva, Labhiyavasabha, and Mahasona are believed to have been masters of the uniquely local martial art Angampora, which gave them an advantage over the enemy. From hand-to-hand to combat to armed combat to cavalry charges, each general tactically planned out the attack on Elara’s Vijithapura fortress.

Charging towards all four gates of the fortress, the generals of the Ruhuna army led their cavalry with great distinction even though a number of soldiers fell at the hands of Elara’s archers. With Dutugemunu leading from the front, the Ruhuna army finally broke into the fortress.

Velusumana, was so skilled in combat that he was able to knock down Elara’s soldiers with ease while on horseback. He led a cavalry charge to the eastern gate of the fortress, a heroic action which ultimately forced the army of the Indian king into the fortress.
With the withdrawal of Elara’s army, and the capture of the Vijithapura fortress, Dutugemunu’s army drove further into the heart of Anuradhapura and defeated King Elara in single combat. The island was finally united under King Dutugemunu.
To this day, the gallant efforts of King Dutugemunu, along with the Dasa Maha Yodhayo are spoken of as a great example of how the magnificent warriors of old protected the sovereignty of the land.

The Battle of Mulleriyawa

Fast forward to 1559 AD, and the island of Lanka, for the first time, was under attack by European forces. In 1505, the Portuguese established their presence in Colombo by befriending the local King Bhuvenakabahu VII of Kotte. The main reason the king accepted the presence of the Portuguese was due to the threat posed by his youngest brother, King Mayadunne, who was vying to annex the Kotte Kingdom along with his domains of Raigama and Sitawaka. The king of Kotte, desperate to retain control of his domain, accepted assistance from the Portuguese.
The Portuguese, who now controlled parts of coastal Lanka, used this as an opportunity to infiltrate the hill country of the island, which would then give them complete control of the island. The Portuguese forces moved inland and made their way towards the central kingdom.
With the Portuguese employing the experience of Jorge De Menezes, the objective was to go inland through the Kelani River and capture the Mapitigama stockade which was vital to the Kingdom of Sitawaka. Tikiri Bandara, the son of King Mayadunne, learned about this plan and alerted the king.
The king dispatched Tikiri Bandara to garner support from the locals to fight the hostile Portuguese forces. Venturing to the villages of Aturugiri, Hewagama, Koratota, and Hokandara, he was successful in recruiting a number of villagers, who were masters in the art of Angam.
Come the first day of the Battle of Mulleriyawa, the Portuguese were well prepared for battle, and managed to best the local fighters. However, it was on the second day that the Sitawakans, along with the militias, were successful in completely defeating the Portuguese. They utilized a flanking manoeuvre which blocked the retreat of the Portuguese, annihilating the entire regiment.

It is believed that the Portuguese forces were taken by surprise by the guerrilla tactics used by the militias combined with the highly effective Angampora combat techniques. Even the powerful muskets of the Portuguese could not match the agile movements of the local Angam warriors.

The victory resulted in the families of the militia obtaining high ranks in the King’s court. One of the families who fought in the battle was gifted the sword of Tikiri Bandara, who went on to become King Rajasinghe I. The sword is still guarded by the Koratota family, whom it was gifted to.

The Uva-Wellasa Uprising of 1817-18

Considered to be the first fight for independence from the British, the Uva-Wellassa Rebellion of 1817-18 is also possibly the last time that Angampora was used as a combat technique in battle.
It all began with the appointment of a British puppet Muhandiram Haji Marikkar to administrate the Wellassa region. The reason for such an appointment was to undermine the local leader Millewa Dissawa, and to assert the authority of the British. The appointment led to uproars from the people of the Uva-Wellassa area, which eventually translated into small skirmishes against British authority.
The British, in an attempt to silence the uprising and assert their dominance over the people of Uva and Wellassa, sent local noble Keppetipola Disawe to quell the uprising. In a surprising turn of events, the man who was sent to silence the uprising became the very man to lead the rebels. Although a quick replacement was dispatched, the British faced many casualties and setbacks due to the unpredictable guerrilla attacks employed by the rebels. The rebellion, which lasted from 1817 to 1818 eventually failed and the leaders were executed or exiled.
British Governor Robert Brownrigg realized the threat posed by Angam combat techniques, and issued a decree to ban Angampora. Those who defied the ban were punished, with some practitioners being shot in the knees to prevent them from passing on Angampora to younger generations.
For almost 200 years, Angampora remained in the shadows, being taught in secret and being incorporated into certain traditional dance forms to ensure its survival. The ban was finally lifted by the Sri Lankan Government in 2018/19, and what remains of the ancient art form was brought into the spotlight.
Today, apart from being taught to a select group of individuals as a martial art, Angampora techniques are also taught to segments of the Sri Lankan security forces in combat training. The people of the island have a sense of pride in the fact that this ancient martial art and combat technique, which is unique to Sri Lanka, was preserved throughout the centuries so that it can now be shared with the world.

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