Sri Lanka is an ancient land which dates back even beyond the arrival of the first Sinhalese King Vijaya 3,500 years ago. The fighting arts of the island date well beyond this period and literally translates “fighting with the body”. The origin story of this ancient art has many versions and has never been documented but passed down from generation to generation, from master to pupil. However, some ancient chronicles do shed some light into this ancient practice.
The ancient Indian saga of the Ramayana gives an insight which leads us to believe that Angampora dates back beyond 5,000 years ago to the time of the mythical king of Lanka, Ravana.
Legend states that Ravana himself was a masterful practitioner of the deadly art and used it in the battle against Prince Rama. Another legend states that the art was perfected by the Yaksha or Yakkha tribe and used as self-defence to protect the island from foreign invaders.
Whatever the origins maybe the art is a holistic fighting form which incorporates, Hand to Hand Combat (Angam), Weapons (Ilangam) and Mysticism (Maya), all of these three elements combine to be referred to as Angam Satan Kala (Fighting art of Angam).
Besides the fighting forms, practitioners of this art also learn the arts of healing and natural medicine techniques, meditation techniques as well as astrology, making this more than a mere fighting art, but rather a way of life.
The art was widely used in the golden age of the Kings and helped to protect the island from foreign invaders. Famously Sri Lanka’s most loved ruler King Duttugemunu, had 10 great warriors by his side known as the “Dasa Maha Yodhaya’s” or 10 giants, they were believed to be masters of Angampora, and are akin to the knights of the round table in Arthurian legend.
Practice thrived during Sri Lanka’s medieval period when Bhuvanekabahu VI of Kotte’s successful campaign to conquer the Jaffna Kingdom included fighters who excelled in this art. Descendants of a heroine named Menike or Disapathiniya who lived around this time is credited with the art form’s survival in the ensuing centuries: dressed in male attire, she is said to have defeated the killer of her father in a fight inside a deep pit known as ura linda (pig’s pit), during a historic fight.
The practice of this art helped to combat the colonial powers to Sri Lanka, with many successful battles and skirmishes won against the Portuguese, Dutch and later British forces. One of the most famous battles was at Mulleriyawa, which is modern-day Colombo suburbs, wherein the mid-16th Century many Angam practitioners were able to defeat the Portuguese.
During the time of British colonial occupation, the practice was banned by a special announcement in 1817, and this art was relegated to mystery and legend. Any caught practising the art were shot on the knees so they can never do so again. Despite the cruel practices of the colonials, the art did not die but rather was practised in secret. With this ban, the fighting art was hidden in many forms of traditional dance. These dances hid many techniques such as footwork, striking forms within the dance itself.
With the onset of Independence from British Colonial Rule, these practitioners were once again able to hone and develop this ancient art form once again. But despite being free from Britain, the art was yet known only more by legend and still practised in small pockets of communities who kept this art alive, passing it on from generation to generation. Many Sri Lankans themselves do not truly know or have witnessed this art, which is taught to only a select few, and this too is practised with many traditions and only the truly worthy are allowed to learn this art form.
Currently, there are few schools which practice this art form in the island, steeped in tradition, the art is kept alive by these dedicated families of practitioners who helped to preserve these invaluable traditions which our island can truly be proud of.
Classic Sri Lanka, has the privilege of working with two of these ancient schools, one located in the outskirts of Colombo and the other in the remote region of the North Central Province, whereby we are proud to showcase the art and its rich history and traditions to our clientele.