Angampora is a Sinhalese martial art that combines combat techniques, self-defense, sport, exercise and meditation. The name ‘Angampora’ is derived from the Sinhalese word anga- a root word for ‘body’, indicating physical combat and pora, meaning fight. It loosely means the martial, which uses limbs without the use of weapons.
According to legendary Sinhalese folklore, Angampora’s history stretches as far back as 3,000 years with the Yaksha tribe, one of the four “hela” ancient tribes that inhabited the island, being identified as originators. Two ancient scripts named the ‘Varga Purnikawa’ and ‘Pancha Rakkhawaliya’ go further by identifying nine hermits as founders. Folklore goes on to describe ‘Rana Ravana’ a mythical warrior who is said to have lived 5,000 years ago, as the most feared Angam warrior of all time.
Practice of Angampora 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 continued existence in the ensuing centuries: dressed in male attire, she is believed to have defeated the killer of her father in a fight inside a deep pit during a historic fight. Angampora fighters also fought alongside the army of Mayadunne of Sitawaka in the 1562 Battle of Mulleriyawa. Tikiri Banda also known as Rajasinha I of Sitawaka, who succeeded Mayadunne, became a true supporter of this art.
There were two major schools of Angampora: Maruwalliya and Sudhaliya, which consistently fought each other in fights known as ‘angam-kotāgæma’ in the presence of the king. The huts used by Angampora fighters for training were known as Angam Madu and were built according to the concepts of ‘Gebim Shasthraya’ the traditional philosophical system of architecture.
A key component of Angampora is the namesake angam, which incorporates hand-to-hand fighting, and illangam, involving the use of indigenous weapons such as the ethunu kaduwa, staves, knives and swords. Another component known as maya angam, which uses spells and chants for combat, is also said to have existed. Angampora’s distinct feature lies in the use of pressure point attacks to inflict pain or permanently paralyze the opponent. Usage of weapons is optional.
With the arrival of Colonial rule over the entirety of the island in 1815, Angampora fell into neglect and was very nearly lost as a part of the country’s heritage. The British Colonial administration banned its practice due to the dangers posed by a civilian populace versed in a martial art, burning down any practice huts devoted to it. Breaking of the law was punished by a gunshot to the knee, successfully crippling those engaged in it; Angampora however survived within a few families, allowing it to surface into mainstream Sri Lankan culture post-independence
The martial art re-surfaced from an area known as Beligal Korale, around Kegalle, following the end of British colonial rule in 1948.The Jathika Hela Angam Shilpa Kala Sangamaya, the highest governing body of the art 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. A collection of weaponry used in Angampora is also kept on display at the National Museum of Colombo.
A number of paintings related to Angampora are found at Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.
The Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs has taken steps to promote Angampora as a martial art as well as a national heritage of the country.
Cabinet approval was granted in 2019 to lift the ban on this. However, the relevant Gazette notification has not been published thus far. Therefore, the Cabinet of Ministers has approved the proposal presented by the Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs to publish a Gazette notification lifting the ban.