I watch two elderly gentlemen in a sparring contest. The now famous statement "He floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee" made about legendary boxer Mohammed Ali in Johnny Wakelins hit single in the 70's 'Black Superman' rings in my head.
I continue to watch the two sixty something men, each dressed in a white padded skinny and traditional 'Diya Katchiya', as they size the other up; floating like butterflies. I wait for the sting...it comes...so sudden that it takes me by surprise. One throws a quick punch. The other gracefully avoids it and entangles his adversary's hand in a lock, wraps his other arm around the assailant's neck and wrestles him down to submission. The two men then get up and smile at me. I have just been witness to the oldest and probably the only form of authentic Sri Lankan martial art: Angampora.
The two men giving the demonstration are two old hands at the sport. They are master Karunapala, who runs a school for Angampora in Mirihana and Rienzie Wickremasinghe. They both have practised and taught this ancient art for over five decades, and are determined to ensure that it does not die out or is subject to distortion in anyway. Both also hold the title of 'Panikkirala', the highest grade in Angampora, equivalent to the black belt in karate.
Where did this art originate? What are the fundamental principles its practitioners follow? What future does it have? With these questions in mind Sports Weekly inquired about the masters and practitioners of this ancient and elusive art. The findings amazed us.
Its History: The exact date of the origin of Angampora is not known. What is known however is that it dates back to the Anuradhapura era to the times of the ancient Sinhala kingdoms. In those days it was the fighting technique of the noblemen. Legend has it that the army that came under the command of Sapumal Kumaraya comprised fighters skilled in this martial art. Angampora continued with the Sinhala kings with the transition of the kingdoms towards the southwest of the country. However, with each new king emerged new gurus and as a result the pedigree of the gurus of Angampora got diluted...
Omens still predict both
good and evil in Sinhalese society: Bathing on Sundays is said to
spoil the bather’s appearance; bathing on Monday improves it; Tuesday -
brings on disease, and Wednesday riches; Thursday - creates quarrels and if
one bathes on Fridays his children will die; Saturday is deemed to be the
most suitable day for bathing and is said to bring happiness. To face east
or west while taking meals is supposed to bring good luck; money
transactions held on full moon days bring ill luck.
still a superstitious society : Ours is still a superstitious society and the commonest kind of
superstitions prevailing among the Sinhalese are those which deal with
omens, which they regard as prognostications, of both good and evil.
Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays are classed as unlucky, but for journeys
Thursdays are the best unless they happen to be astrologically unfavourable.
The best omen for a person setting out on a journey is for him to meet
anyone carrying a pot of water, milk or white flowers first. But it is
unlucky to meet those with shaven heads or with their hair (konde ) loose,
as a sign of mourning, or those with great physical defects or a woman
carrying a pot or ‘chattie’. It is also considered unlucky for a person to
stumble against something or to be interrogated as to his destination at the
outset of the journey.
Tradition: Bathing on Sundays is said to spoil the bather’s appearance; bathing on
Monday improves it; Tuesday - brings on disease, and Wednesday riches;
Thursday - creates quarrels and if one bathes on Fridays his children will
die; Saturday is deemed to be the most suitable day for bathing and is said
to bring happiness. To face east or west while taking meals is supposed to
bring good luck; money transactions held on full moon days bring ill luck.
Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays are bad for visiting, and July is considered
to be an unlucky month for weddings just as May is in England. Talking of
weddings, there is a strange ancient custom followed still in "bringing home
the bride" - the bride is obliged to walk in front of her husband, always
keeping in his sight; the traditional reason given for this is that once a
bridegroom who had walked in front had had his bride carried off from behind
him before he was aware of it, and the newly made husband is not very eager
for history to repeat itself in his case at least...
Even today the elephant
has a prominent place in Buddhism unlike other animals. It is the only animal
possessed of grace to carry the sacred reliquary containing the 'Danta-dhatu'
(Tooth-relic) of the Buddha, in the annual Esala Perahera in Kandy. All Buddhist
temples follow the same procedure in choosing an elephant to carry the relics in
procession, as no major Buddhist procession is complete without at least a
single elephant, ornately caparisoned to walk majestically through the streets. ‘The torn boughs
trailing o'er the tusks aslant,
The saplings reeling on the path he trod;
Declare his might: our lord the elephant, Chief of the ways of God’.
(Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936)
The life and habitat of the elephant are
provocative of wonder and demand our reverence, since both its evolution and
influence upon mankind have always been found to be most fascinating,
bewitching, enchanting, charming and delightful. The interesting roles it has played in
myths, legends, religion, history, folklore and war, notwithstanding its recent
prominence in politics; its association with man and the services rendered to
him from remote antiquity; the symbolic splendour of its colossal body, let
alone flesh, to be balanced on bones; its place in circuses and menageries, in
wildlife sanctuaries and zoological gardens and, above all, its graceful and
majestic appearance have been well attested, expressed and documented in various
works of art and literature down the ages. The elephant belongs to the animal order
Proboscidea (possessed of a trunk) and to the sub-order of ungulates (hoofed
digitigrade mammals). The two species of elephants now extinct are the mammoth
(Elephas premiginius) and the mastodon (Elephas odontos). The two existing
species are the Asiatic elephant (Elephas maximus) and the African elephant (Elephas
Ganesh is the elephant-headed god, Ganesha (or Ganesh) is known (by various names in different parts of India and
Sri Lanka and on different occasions) as the Remover of Obstacles, the god of
domestic harmony and of success. He is the most beloved and revered of all the
Hindu gods, and is always invoked first in any Hindu ceremony or festival. He is
the son of Parvati (the wife of Shiva, the Destroyer, the most powerful of the
Hindu trinity of principal gods). There are many stories
about how Ganesha got his elephant head, and about his exploits and antics. He
was created as an ordinary boy, but was decapitated in battle. Shiva's
emissaries were sent into the forest and told to get the head of the first
animal they found and to fit that head onto the boy's neck. They found a little
elephant, and it worked!
Heroes of epics like the Mahabharata and
the Ramayana are immortalized and are still alive in the day-to-day existence of
the common people. The gods of Hinduism are at once super-human and human and
there is distinct feeling of warmth and familiarity towards them. Rama, the hero
of the Ramayana, represents qualities such as honor, courage and valor and is
held up as a model of manliness. His wife Sita is the prototypal Indian wife who
is carried off by Ravana, the king of Lanka, while Rama and Sita are on exile.
Sita's eventual rescue by Rama, his brother Lakshmana, and Rama's faithful
monkey-general Hanuman are all woven into this engrossing tale. Stories from
this epic have been passed down orally from one generation to the next.
Religious fairs, festivals and rituals have kept these legends alive, and there
is never an occasion that does not offer an opportunity to retell the old
stories. The stirring verses of the Mahabharata
tell the story of the dynastic struggle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas,
who were close cousins. Lord Krishna plays a very important role in this Great
Epic. He is a friend, philosopher and guide to Arjuna, one of the Pandavas, and
he helps Arjuna overcome his hesitation to kill his close relatives in the