Posted by: lrrp | February 1, 2009

Blow by blow

One of our most ancient traditional martial arts, angan pora, that was used in many a battle against the Portuguese and Dutch and then went underground when the British prohibited it, is seeing a new revival in an angan maduwa in Kaduwela.

What did Kataragama Mahasen of the Yaksha tribe, as legend would have it, who strode this land 25,000 years ago and showed off his prowess during a sura-aura battle, Ravana’s grandfather Pulathisi, Kuveni, Acharya Pandula, Parakrama Bahu I, Dutugemunu and the Dasa Maha Yodayas, Vijaya Bahu I, Seethawaka Rajasinghe, Leuke Disawa, Meegasteene Adikaram and Wickremasinghe Mudliyar have in common?

Some genes for sure, as the Sinhala saying goes, “Thun Sinhalema nedeyo”, but the inextricable link is angan shastraya though known in those days as a parani deshiya satan kramaya (ancient martial art).

This is what we hear while seated in a rustic wattle-and-daub hall in Koratota, Kaduwela, believed to be the only authentic angan maduwa in the country, having walked along a niyara across lush green paddyfields.

“This was the martial art that Ravana used in the battle with Rama,” explains Mahantharachchige Ajantha Perera, taking us along the misty corridors of history, while two of his golayas (disciples) in loin cloth learn the finer points of angan pora.

Twenty-six-year-old Ajantha has taken upon himself the task of nurturing and fostering this fighting technique, that had gone into disuse over time.

Considered one of the few very ancient forms of martial arts, practised long before karate and kung-fu and at a time sans guns and bombs, it was angan pora that vanquished the Portuguese at Seethawaka, explains Ajantha, adding that certain families specialised in this art form.

Having used it also against both the Dutch, and the British in the 1818 uprising triggered by Keppitipola, the British colonialists had in desperation prohibited angan pora through a Gazette notification around 1827, he says ruefully.

The weaponry used in angan pora was also banned while its practice and teaching were strictly prohibited. If anyone broke this law, the British had warned, they would be shot at sight below the knee, says Ajantha, adding that it was then that this martial art went underground. As the British set ablaze angam madu across the country, the exponents of this technique quickly added the movements and steps to different dance forms to keep it alive.

Our elders hid this martial art in narthana krama (dance forms), says Ajantha, explaining that adi maaru krama (the different foot movements), pinum-karanam (somersaults) and pahara deem krama (modes of attack) can be seen in the koti natum, vedi natum, walas natum, sinha natum and lee-keli natum.
Why so many animal forms? In this martial art which is very close to nature, animal movements are used by the proponents, he says, adding that sathunge abhashayen gaththa shailayak.

The tools of training even now come from the environment and one of Ajantha’s golayas strengthens his arms by husking a green coconut with his bare hands. Although earlier it was learnt by the masses at large, when the British prohibited it, the secrets were kept within the family, father passing it down to son or daughter.

There was a strict regimen when choosing the disciples. “Everyone could not learn this art,” stresses Ajantha. “Only Sinhala Buddhists were chosen after reading their horoscope. The golayas were as young as six or seven years old as their bodies were flexible and to ensure that the mind was clean.”

Both boys and girls were eligible, he says citing the cases of Navaratne Menike of Seethawaka in the 1560s and Edanduwawe Disapathiniya in the 1600s (Kandyan era).

They were also taught vedakama for kedum-bidum (broken bones and sprains) and kepum thuwala (cut injuries).

In gratitude for the support of about 18 families from Seethawaka who gave of their angan services to the country, especially in the Mulleriyawa battle, the king had presented nambu-nama (titles such as Lihinikaduwa and Suraweera) and also nindagam with a sel-lipi with the sun and the moon carved on it still standing as testimony.

This fighting technique is also mentioned in the Mahavamsa, Rajavaliya, Chulavamsa, Magasalakunu Kavi Potha, points out Ajantha, adding that several ancient temples such as the Dalada Maligawa in Kandy, the Ridi Viharaya in Kurunegala, the Vishnu Devale in Hanguranketha, the Kataragama Devale in Embekke have paintings and carvings of the different poses.

Lamenting that touches of other martial arts, such as cheena adi and even the namaskaraya from the Malayalam Malayadi have corrupted this battle form which saw the massacre of 1,600 Portuguese in 1562 on the Mulleriyawa wela, Ajantha as the Muhandiram (Principal of the angan maduwa) along with his four Pannikki Ralas vows to retain and pass on angan pora in its original form to the next generation.

The different forms of combat

This fighting technique includes angan (unarmed combat), ilangang (use of 21 different types of weapons) and maya angan (mental power) such as yantra-manthra and the gupta shastraya to scare off the opponents by creating images of two when in fact there was only one, says Ajantha who got into this martial art as a child of six, honing his skills under the expert guidance of both his grandfather and father.

There are 21 adaw (segments) which a good golaya would usually master in five years. Targeting nila sthana (important points) in the body, an angan fighter can not only hit to make an opponent lose consciousness but also give a second blow to revive the fallen victim. “There is another blow which can bring death instantaneously,” says Ajantha, adding that a different type of blow can bring on death in six-and-a-half hours, one-and-a-half days or even three months later, while another type of blow can paralyse a person or make him dumb.

The other aspects of this martial art included rana-bera vadanaya (music) after blowing the hak gediya, followed by drum beats from the yak beraya, tammettama, daula, getaberaya and horanewa and checking out the auspicious time when going to battle, it is learnt.

The weapons used are the sword, kirichchiya (dagger), spear, keteriya (axe), kala kiringgya (knuckle duster), rita and mugura (long and short canes) and dunna (bow and arrow), he adds.

First Angam Maduwa since 1826
The April 11 Daily Mirror ran an advertisement announcing the presentation of ancient Chinese martial arts in Sri Lanka in June by the legendary Shaolin Temple monks. But few Sri Lankans are aware that we have had our own age-old tradition of unarmed combat better known as Angampora which is just as effective as the well-known Kung Fu, Karate and Tai Kondo.

Ajantha Perera, a young descendant of the Angampora masters is now in the process of reviving this ancient Sinhala martial art which the British tried to wipe after the fall of the Kandyan kingdom. Now, 182 years later it is staging a comeback.

Ajantha Perera and his team

This week Ajantha conducted his first Angam Maduwa (arena) at Korathota near Aturugiriya since 1826 when the last of them was held. The area is also famous for the ancient Korathota Buddhist temple.

This centuries-old art featured prominently during the rule of Warrior King Sithawaka Rajasinghe alias Rajasinghe I alias Tikiri Bandara who was responsible for the biggest defeat of a European power in an Asian country in the year 1582. History records that marshes of Mulleriyawa turned red with blood of Portuguese soldiers.

King Rajasinghe – who also laid siege to the Portuguese-held Colombo Fort and almost starved its occupants to death – had in his army a unit of Angampora experts. Hailing from Korathota, these combatants were known as Korathota Arachchis.

The decline of Angampora began with the British occupation of Sri Lanka where the colonial rulers set fire to Angam Maduwas and killed many martial arts experts.



ANGAMPORA: Asia has been the breeding ground for most of the Martial Arts which exist today. Karate, Tae-kwon-do, Judo, Kung-fu which has come from the Eastern Asia and many others have become popular through generations over hundreds of years but there are many that are not recognised today.

Though many Sri Lankans are not aware there are also the inherited great martial arts which is hundred or maybe over thousand years old. The name which stands on top among our own martial arts is the ‘Angampora’.

The start of this art goes back to the period of King ‘Ravana’. Over the centuries the art of the game was hidden in the history. The re appearance of the game came out at the ‘Beligal Korale’, which is currently known as the area around Kegalle.Among the two main divisions of the game named ‘Sudaliya’ and ‘Maruwalliya’ which are two generations, the Beligal Korale was the land for the most widely spread one which is the Maruwalliya.

There are some differences between the two types, but it is said that both types originated from one basic game. The generations of both these two categories exist today.

The heroine of the current Maruwalliya is known as ‘Menike’ or the ‘Disapathiniya’ who is known to be lived around 400-500 years ago.

She is said to be a real heroine who was dressed as a man and fought with the warrior that killed her father and defeated him with the help of Maruwalliya.

This deadly fight has taken place at a pit called ‘Ura Linda’ which means ‘pig’s pit’ where the two worriers fight inside the pit and the king and the spectators watch it from outside.

Her art of fighting came along securing the true art of Angampora for centuries and the generation after generation inherited it from their ancestors.

The last of the Angampora gurus existed during the Kandyan kingdom. The sport, that had withstood the test of time, faced its biggest challenge during this era. The British, two years after capturing Kandy and gaining control over the entire island, passed a law to ban Angampora in 1817.

The penalty for anyone found practising the art was harsh. Those who breached this law were shot below the knee. Many gurus and students gave up the art in fear of punishment. The high status the sport had earned was lost and it was looked upon as the game of criminals and vagabonds. However, a few continued to practise this traditional art in secretive places. It’s from the remnants of this art that guru Karunapala passes onto his stu­dents today. After several years of infor­mal training and practice guru Karunapala and Wickramasinghe, with the motive of further developing the sport, established the Jathika Hela Angam Shilpa Kala Sangamaya in 2001, the gov­erning body for Angampora.

Every practice session begins with a session of meditation and an offering of pin (merit) to their guru. When a student first enters the class he or she has to light three lamps and make a pledge. “I can judge whether a student is mentally fit to learn the art by the manner in which the student makes the pledge. If I sense doubt or scepticism in the mind of the student and feel he or she cannot cope with the discipline I don’t take them into the class”, says Karunapala who adds that many fail this initial test. Students also have to produce a police report or Grama Sevaka report before gaining entrance to the school. All this is done to ensure that only people with a stable mind and good conduct can follow the training schedule of the art.

A variety of weapons are used in Angampora. One of the most lethal weapons is the ‘Velayudaya’, a whip like apparatus made of four double-edged flexible strips of metal. A practitioner uses a pair of this apparatus to obtain maximum effect. However, only the most experienced fighters use these weapons, as there is a risk of cutting oneself badly while lashing out at an adversary.

Then there is the combat sword. This thick instrument is custom made for the fighter. The length of the sword is similar to the distance between the fighter’s fingertips and his under arm. A smaller variety of sword, known as the ‘Keti Kaduwa’, is also used. This is used together with a small shield or ‘Paliya’, which is about the size of a standard wall clock.

A beginner is first taught basic warm up exercises. Later a student is taught more specialized exercises which are connected to the art. Once a student is found competent in performing these specialized exercises he or she progresses to the actual art of combat.

The first skill a student learns is the `Mulla Panina’ exercise or basic foot movement. This is done to the rhythm of the geta bera drums, a movement that takes the form of a dance. The basic principle behind Mulla Panina is to learn to use one’s feet. This will help a practitioner of Angampora to sidestep an attacker and keep one’s balance at all times.

Once this basic foot movement is mastered a student learns a more advanced foot movement known as ‘Gaman Thalawa’. Gaman Thalawa is structured around the movements of big cats. This feline like movement makes the fighter move in a rhythmic semicircular pattern, similar to the moving pattern of an angry tiger in a cage.

This foot movement coupled with Ath Haramba or hand movement results in what is known as Amaraya. Amaraya is the use of Gaman Thalawa in a sparring contest against an opponent. The contest between two as mentioned at the beginning of this article was an Amaraya. Here the two opponents move around sizing each other up in rhythmic feline like movements.

Then there are the three main hand movements or Harambas. I already mentioned the Ath Haramba, which is the use of one’s bare hands in combat. In Ath Haramba the student is taught to take on the attacks of adversaries from four directions. An integral part of this is the knowledge of targeting sensitive points in the body when striking an opponent.


  1. Dear writer
    I am interested to know more about this ‘angan pora’ martial arts. Please inform me about websides and other materials related to this topic. Contact me by e-mail please.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: