Angampora gripping technique at Korathota Angam Maduwa
|Country of origin||Sri Lanka|
|Famous practitioners||Ten Giant Warriors|
Angampora (Sinhala: අංගම්පොර) is a martial art from Sri Lanka. It combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise and meditation. Key components in angampora are: angam, which incorporates hand-to-hand fighting, and illangam, which uses indigenous weapons such as the ethunu kaduwa, staves, knives and swords. Another component known as maya angam, which uses spells and incantations as a fighting technique is also said to have existed. Its most distinct feature is the use of pressure point attacks to inflict pain or permanently paralyze the opponent. Fighters usually make use of both striking and grappling techniques, and fight until the opponent is caught in a submission lock that they cannot escape. Usage of weapons is discretionary. Perimeters of fighting are defined in advance, and in some of the cases is a pit. Angampora became nearly extinct after the country came under British rule in 1815, but survived in a few families until the country regained the independence.
Angampora derives from the Sinhalese word anga which means a part of the body, thus denoting physical combat. The Malayalam cognate ankam means a duel between kalaripayat practitioners, while poru refers to a group fight.
According to the Sinhalese folklore angampora dates back to over 30,000 years. It says that the fighting style had originated among the Yaksha tribe, one of the four hela - tribes which lived in Sri Lanka back then. Two ancient scripts named Varga Purnikawa and Pancha Rakkhawaliya identify nine hermits as its founders. The folklore describes Rana Ravana, a mythical warrior said to have lived 5,000 years ago, as the most feared angam warrior of all time.
The practice thrived during the medieval period of Sri Lanka. Troops which conquered the Jaffna Kingdom under Bhuvanekabahu VI of Kotte aka Sapumal Kumaraya included fighters who excelled in this art. A generation descending from a heroine named Menike or Disapathiniya who lived around this time, is credited for ensuring the survival of the true fighting style for centuries. Menike, dressed in male clothes, 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. Angampora fighters also fought alongside the army of Mayadunne of Sitawaka in the 1562 Battle of Mulleriyawa. Tikiri Banda aka Rajasinha I of Sitawaka, who succeeded Mayadunne, became a faithful sponsor of this art.
There were two major schools of angampora: Maruwalliya and Sudhaliya. These schools routinely fought each other in the early modern times of Sri Lanka. Leaders of these schools were known as Maruwalliya Muhandiram Nilame and Sudhalaye Muhandiram Nilame. These fights took place in the presence of the king, and were known as angam-kotāgæma. The huts used by angampora fighters for training, were known as angam madu. These were built according to the concepts of Gebim Shasthraya, the traditional architecture.
Angam techniques were used by locals to fight off the westerners who occupied the coastal areas of Sri Lanka during its early modern period. The British, who occupied the whole island by 1815, and who had full control of it by 1818, issued a gazette banning the practice in 1817, paving the way to its decline. All the angam madu were ordered to be burnt and people found practicing the art were shot below their knees. But only a few families continued the practice at secretive locations.
A number of paintings related to angampora, are found at Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka. These include Embekka Devalaya, Gadaladeniya Rajamaha Viharaya, Temple of the Tooth, Saman Devalaya (Ratnapura) and Lankathilaka Rajamaha Viharaya. The martial art re-surfaced after British rule ended in 1948, from an area known as Beligal Korale, around Kegalle.
The Jathika Hela Angam Shilpa Kala Sangamaya, highest body governing angampora today, was established in 2001. Sri Lanka's Ministry of Culture and the Arts has also taken action to support the survival and preservation of angampora. Several public exhibitions have been mounted with the aim of increasing public awareness of it. More permanently, a collection of the weaponry used in angampora is kept on display at the National Museum of Colombo.
The angam component is divided into three main disciplines, gataputtu (locks and grips), pora haramba (strikes and blocks) and maru kala (nerve point attacks). Gataputtu are placed on an opponent using the fighter's hands, legs or head. Pora Haramba include approximately eighteen forms of offensive strikes and seven of defensive blocks. Maru kala is the component that incorporates nerve-point attacks capable of inflicting pain on the opponent and also of causing serious injury.
Several offensive strikes:
Before a practice session starts, the student is expected to meditate and to offer merit to the master. Student lights three lamps as he enters to the angam maduwa. He also has to make a pledge not to use the technique for anything except for the self-defense and the defense of his family or country. Practicing begins with basic warm-up exercises, gradually moving on to special exercises. Foot movement techniques are the cornerstone of this art of fighting, and a foot exercise called mulla panina is the first skill taught. In this, the student is disciplined for making even simple mistakes. This exercise is followed next by more advanced techniques like Gaman Thalawa.
The hand fighting technique known as amaraya belongs to the next level. A student learns to observe the weaknesses of the opponent, and to attack those weak points with experience. Weapons such as the suruttuwaluwa/velayudaya (an apparatus made of four long flexible pieces of metal, with sharp edges on both sides), the combat sword, keti kaduwa (a smaller version of the sword), and cane sticks are also used for fighting, together with the paliha, a shield. In total, there are sixty-four types of weapon, including thirty-two different swords.
A graduation ceremony known as the Helankada Mangalya is the apex of the life of an angampora fighter. This ceremony is held inside a Buddhist temple.Panikkirala, or fencing master, is the highest position in angampora, which is the headmanship of a particular school. However, the tradition does not use a rank signal mechanism like belt, to denote the degree of competence of the fighter. The male-fighters usually fight barechest. Although angampora is designed to kill, it requires the practitioner to adhere at all times to a stringent discipline. In extreme cases, fights are held inside deep holes. Some deadly, higher level Angam attacks involve the nervous system of human body. If executed properly, they can stop the blood circulation of vital organs, leading to paralysis or even death. Alongside such techniques students learn an ayurvedic practice known as beheth pārawal, or medical shots, for reversing the effects of such strikes.
In popular culture
Angampora has been the subject of a number of films and television dramas in Sri Lanka. One such film, Angam, directed by Anjula Rasanga Weerasinghe, inquired into the beginnings of the art through traditional folk stories and scientific examination. Jayantha Chandrasiri's tele-dramas Dandubasnāmānaya and Akāla Sandhyawere also featured angampora. These movies and dramas have boosted the recent revival of this now-declined martial art.
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