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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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 www.ritigalaangam.lk at Ananda College,
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. ?