Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 18 December 2011





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The power of Angam haramba

Yasomanike Jayaneththi who
taught the art to Sumedha

He is not a Kung Fu or Karate master, but he is our own ‘gladiator’, who has revived the great indigenous martial art – Angam haramba of Ritigala.

There was a time, many centuries ago, all the villagers in the ancient villages around the serene ‘Ritigala’ knew a martial art, which was purely a Sri Lankan way of defending themselves against the enemy. The highly disciplined method of 'physical combat’, known as ‘Angam Haramba’ was practised by most ancient Sri Lankan men, who were ‘on call’ for any emergency when the country’s security was threatened.

‘Angam haramba’ is unique to Sri Lanka and was also an indigenous martial art that helped the ancient kings, who were also well trained in this art of combat, to defeat the foreign invasions – Indian, Portuguese and Dutch.

The British, who invaded the country in 1815, didn't have hand-to-hand combat with the Sinhala villagers as they had guns.

When the British realised the power of the traditional martial art named ‘Angam’, they started destroying those who were trained in Angam haramba . They hatched conspiracies, imposed severe punishment on Angam haramba artistes and destroyed the places where young Sinhalese children were trained in the art.

After years of harassment, ancient Angam haramba artistes resorted to preserve the art in secret forms.

Angam haramba in Ritigala too died a natural death. After a span of 500 years, Ritigala Angam Haramba, a school propagating this art of Angam, which had been inherited from generation to generation, is back with its original form of combat.

“Our family preserved Ola leaves where the Ritigala Angam art had been written in a form of prose. They were passed down from generation to generation in a very secretive manner as our ancient masters wanted to preserve them from being destroyed”, Sumedalal Dodangoda Arachchi, the Ritigala Angam haramba guru known as ‘Sumedha Master’ said.

He learned the art, researched locally and studied how the dying martial arts in India and Nepal were revived. He practised it for over a decade in the ancient village 'Thelhawadiyaweva' in Maharabaweva on the edge of the famous Ritigala mountains before introducing the martial art which is indigenous to Ritigala.

"Angam haramba" had been in existence since the 16th century and had faced threats from time to time as it was a well-disciplined, comprehensive form of martial art, especially in combat missions. "During" the British rule, they destroyed Angam haramba and our ancestors feared to come out as they would be killed or their families harassed. Ours is one such generation, which kept it a secret. The ola leaves where the art was documented, according to researchers of the University of Kelaniya, is over 500 years old”, Sumedha, who learned the art from his cousin Yasomanike Jayaneththi said.

No recognition

He knew his ‘Kiriaththa’ (great grandfather), Tikiri Appu Arachchila, a maestro in Angam haramba, but didn’t openly practise the art as there was no recognition for it. Though he belongs to a clan of Angam haramba artistes, Sumedha, who thought there was no value for it, learnt Kung Fu and Karate in his teens, as they were popular among his schoolmates of the Girithale Maha Vidyalaya.

But the words of his kiriaththa : “Ravme giya ethi, Kalaya avilla Angam gana hoyala balanna (It's time to look after Angam haramba)” changed his destiny and forced him to start learning the martial art in 1992 from his cousin, the only female of Thelhawadiyaweva who had mastered the art.

Under the guidance of Yasomanike, Sumedha mastered Angam haramba while also teaching his friends in the village. Learning Kung Fu and Karate facilitated him to compare the three forms of martial art. The art was further researched and studied using different terrain with rocky surfaces, rivers, a vast green canopy with tall trees and the low grounds of the Ritigala mountains, 220 km off Colombo.

Angam Haramba, which is also popular as Angam pora, has now been divided into over dozens of clans (Guru Kula) and Ritigala is one of them. Sumedha started teaching the art to others in 2005.

Legends about Ritigala Angam haramba say a military leader called ‘Ritigala Jayasena’ of King Dutugemunu's army was a well-known Angam maestro who practised the art during fights. King Pandukabhaya was also in Ritigala, mastering Angam haramba for over seven years when he was a young prince.

According to Sumedha, there is evidence that King Dutugemunu was also trained here and that he used the Ritigala mountains to train his soldiers in Angam haramba.

According to Sumedha, historical evidence of Angam haramba which dates back to King Ravana’s era 5,000 years ago, was named ‘Uddwisha’ and later had many different names, but it was named ‘Angam’ during the rule of King Sena, the brother of King Agbo IX, in 876 BC.

He said ancient Sri Lankan kings didn’t have big armies as all countrymen were trained in Angam haramba and it was a matter of sending a message as an ‘ana bera’ , a form of communication carried out by kings by beating a drum, in an emergency to defend the country from enemies.

A philosophy

Ritigala Angam is not only a martial art, but also a philosophy which produces a disciplined, healthy and self-confident man or woman.

The beauty of this martial art is that it is a comprehensive package encompassing astrology, worshipping, psychic powers to tame unseen malign forces, controlling mind, body, consciousness, the emphasis on the body's pressure points and indigenous healing methods.

“When we enroll people to be trained in Angam haramba, we go through their horoscope, which is essential to get an idea about them to teach the art, which needs a high level of discipline.

"It also helps us to see whether he/she has confidence to continue the learning process. Health is another aspect which is vital as educational background. We don’t consider paper qualifications, but knowledge about the world around us is a qualification to become a trainee”, Sumedha said, adding that there are no hard and fast rules in the process and once the trainee starts learning, he will gradually say ‘No’ to whatever behaviour that is unsuitable to become an Angam haramba artiste.

According to Sumedha, they are strictly prohibited from consuming beef, pork and other meat, alcohol and other ‘bad’ addictions. “The trainees need strong commitment and can do meditation which helps them to have inner peace”, he said.

“A well-trained Angam haramba artiste will co-exist with his environs, family and religion. Basically, he would be a harmless soul, who has principles and live accordingly. He will not use the martial art unnecessarily unless his self-defence is threatened.

"Angam haramba creates a special lifestyle within the person”, Sumedha said, adding that there was no time-frame to produce a complete artiste, but his/her commitment and ability to gain knowledge will decide his/her future to become an Angam haramba expert.

Int'l recognition

The Angam guru, who has plans to bring international recognition to our martial arts said he was happy to be the teacher of a talented 12-year-old boy as well as a 65-year-old who has reached the meditation level successfully.

A trainee in Ritigala Angam haramba undergoes a gruelling teaching process to maintain discipline, and is required to fulfil 18 mandi’s (methods) in his or her wish to become a fully fledged martial artiste.

Angam has opened its doors to females to master the art, but they can’t study beyond a certain level as they need to maintain the feminine form of a woman.

Having been trained in Lenagala, Balagala, Hindagala and Aralaganwila, the villages surrounding Ritigala, today Sumedha conducts training sessions for some brigades including the Commando Brigade of the Sri Lanka Army and also the Navy.

He was instrumental in teaching Angam haramba to the Nandimithra Brigade of the Civil Defence Force (CDF).

Working with the Sports and Culture Ministries to promote Ritigala Angam haramba, Sumedha, who depicted the power of the art in the latest film – Gamani - directed by former Chief of the CDF Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara, will launch his maiden book – a comprehensive document ‘Ritigala Angam’ and the website at Ananda College, Colombo, tomorrow.

The 18-member Angam haramba team of Ananda College will also make its maiden appearance as Angam artistes tomorrow.

“I have big plans to popularise our indigenous martial art internationally. Sri Lankans can be proud that we have inherited such a powerful and comprehensive martial art”, said Sumedha, who believes that Yasomanike, his Guru who died some years ago, is still the force within him to take the art forward. ?



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