Deadly Innocence | Daily News

Deadly Innocence

G Karunapala Pictures by Rukmal Gamage
G Karunapala Pictures by Rukmal Gamage

Soon to be well-lit, the abode is ready for the battle. The guru steps into the ground and lights the brass lamp and burns the incense sticks to pay reverence to the Buddha statue. In the well-lit abode, the disciples prepare for the battle with meditation. Following meditation, the disciples take a few vows. The game they are about to practise is deadly, but the disciples vow never to use it for ungainly needs. The game is an art studied only for self-defence – and yes, self-defence alone!

Mere interest in this art would not qualify you to enter this abode. With the brass lamp well lit, Master Karunapala will penetrate into your mind and body to assess your eligibility. Tougher than any written or oral examination, you cannot afford to cheat here. Utter falsehood, and you will no longer be eligible to unearth this ancient art, angampora, which trains you to handle your own body with amazing dexterity.

G Karunapala is the eldest surviving angampora guru in Sri Lanka. Although the art comes under the martial art category, Guru Karunapala does not quite agree with it. It is a deadly art, yet you do not kill people.

“We take a vow not to engage in any misdeed before the training. You train yourself to kill someone in one blow, yet you cannot do it unless your life is in grave danger,” Guru Karunapala insists.

Angampora is a vanishing art simply because the masters have chosen not to pass it down. The disciple must earn trust in addition to dedication. No disciple is privy to the subject in its entirety, though they will be entitled to the nitty-gritty.

“Most artists are familiar with all kinds of martial arts. They learn bits and pieces of everything and claim to be angampora veterans. But none of them knows the real subject in entirety. It is easy to differentiate the genuine ones from the fake ones,” Master Karunapala warns.

One basic question on how many elements that the subject has is enough to drive the so-called angampora veterans crazy. The number of elements remains a secret confined to the angampora caucus. Anyone can dance. Anyone can play with the clubs. The angampora is an admixture of all this, yet remains unique as every weapon used serves a specific purpose.

The run-of-the-mill artiste chooses the easiest path of raking in money. What they engage in for the sake of a few rupees does not offer anything worth in return to the country, Master Karunapala emphasizes.

Guru Karunapala is the only academic at the Sri Jayewardenepura University who teaches angampora as a subject.

“I ask my students not to engage in the malpractices. Learn the right kind of art. If you don’t know the art, learn it somewhere. But don’t do anything bad. People teach karate and wushu in the guise of Angampora,” Karunapala laments.

His journey to protect the much-hallowed subject is filled with challenges and dare beyond the physical dexterity. On principle, Guru Karunapala never gets along with the swathe of so-called angampora artistes.

“I had to face a few angampora fighters at the request of the Cultural Affairs ministry. Before dealing with them, I invited them for a getapoottuwa (an angampora element) challenge. None of them accepted the challenge. I realized that I had nothing to do with such a crowd. It was a government-mediated event, but I backed off. I told them I deal only with the genuine angampora veterans who can accept any challenge,” Guru Karunapala recalls.

The art runs in the family. Master’s father was a veteran. His grandfather paid reverence to the sun and the moon and got certain work done. Guru Karunapala follows their footsteps and continues to pay reverence to the sun.

“This is the best art form in the world. You witness the best civilisation here. You see the unique costumes here. The royalty dwells in this art. If someone seeks to distort the art, they would not do well,” Master Karunapala insists.

He likens the subject of angampora studied today to a Malay pickle, a mixture of everything. The angampora that most artistes claim to be well versed in is not the genuine subject, as the master clarifies. The art form is used as a defence mechanism to fight any death threat. The art is pure in three kinds. First, it could be followed only in a Buddhist background. Second, it should be studied in Sri Lanka. Third, the disciples should be the Sinhalese. It is not studied to fight against each other. The foreigners approaching Grand Guru Karunapala would not get the complete training.

The collapse of the most civilized art form began with the British intervention. Following the Kandyan convention, the colonial rulers imposed a ban on the angampora practice. They used physical arms to ensnare the mental strength of the Sinhalese. The angampora training centres were polished off. Anyone caught in the angampora practice was shot under the knees. The art faded into oblivion, yet did not perish. A few families preserved the art form in secrecy until the country finally gained Independence.

The tradition was preserved. But the British act took a heavy toll on the authenticity. Like any other subject, the angampora began to resurface albeit with dilutions and distortions.

78-year old grand guru never utters filth. Nor is he into falsehood and other vices. He firmly believes that the art has to be passed down to the next generation before he breathes his last. Yet, he is very much careful and meticulous in choosing the disciples. Only a handful of disciples have been privy to the art form in its entirety.

Meditation is an essential ingredient of the Angampora. Your mind needs to remain in the centre. That ensures firmness. When the mind is focused on one point, then you will be able to grasp the art.

Yet, master warns, you cannot master the art with temper issues.

“A genuine Angampora artiste never steals. Plus they can control their temper. If you have temper issues, it will be your weakest point. When you speak to each other, you should be mindful not to hurt the other party.”

Angampora exists everywhere, Master Karunapala declares, but in many fake forms. Even the street drama artistes claim knowledge on angampora. The snake-charmers are no exception either. Anyone familiar with karate and wushu easily steps into the angampora territory and claims proficiency.

Angampora is also deemed as a human gym with no liabilities. You are prone to no injuries. Even if there is an injury, the art form has the healing therapies within itself. This well-fed art form must be practised slowly. The slowness ensures the steady mastery. 


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