Angan to the fore as the battle of Mulleriyawa rages to the sound of drums

By Hansini Munasinghe, Pix by Sanka Vidanagama.

The boom of the kodi thuwakku (canon) reverberated through the town of Kaduwela and flaming arrows pierced the night sky. The beating of war drums echoed, reincarnating the battle of Mulleriyawa. The Ran Kadu Poojawa (Offering of the Golden Sword) held on August 23 at the Ran Kadu Paththini Temple in Kaduwela was to commemorate the 449th anniversary of the Mulleriyawa Battle in 1562, when King Seethawaka Rajasinghe’s army defeated the Portuguese.

Organised by the Koratota Angan school led by Ajantha Mahanthaarachchi, it was a night of pageantry, rhythmic dance and fierce fighting. The ceremony was held at the site where the Sinhalese fort had once stood. After the victory, King Rajasinghe built a temple there and offered his golden sword to the Shrine of Goddess Pattini. Today, it is known as the Ran Kadu Paththini Temple in Kaduwela.

The kodi thuwakku fired at the ceremony is believed to be one of the 450 canons used by the King’s army to destroy the Portuguese fort. The king’s sword was handed over to the Koratota Angan family who had pledged to protect it and the art of Angan or traditional martial arts.

Angan Pora has a history of thousands of years that dates back to the days of Ravana and beyond, explains Ajantha, a descendant of the Koratota Arachchi family. During the British reign, Angan was banned and anyone caught breaking this law was punished severely. The martial art thus went underground. Bringing this sacred art back to the people of Sri Lanka is one of the objectives of this ceremony.

There are two main forms of this martial art, explained Ajantha. Angan uses the human body through wrestling, acrobatic movements and hitting important ‘nerve-spots’ of the opponent. In contrast, ilangan incorporates various weapons such as swords and staves in fighting. In addition, maya angan are used to mentally weaken an opponent.

The Ran Kadu Pooja ceremony began with the kadu paliha wahala dance, a traditional dance performed with swords and shields by the people of Hewagam Koralaya to describe the bravery of King Rajasinghe.

The audience became transfixed as skilled fighters, men, women and children, began displaying their mastery of Angan to the beat of the war drums played using the traditional instruments- the yak beraya, thammattama, davula and conch shell.

Ajantha amazed the audience by fighting blindfolded with many opponents and displaying his skill with various traditional weapons. Daggers, shields, staves and various types of swords including the traditional pathru kaduwa and ethunu kaduwa were used by the fighters. Two young women Sanjula Senevirathne and Kanchana Mallawaarchchi displayed many amazing acts both unarmed and using swords, staves and daggers, proving that Angan is not limited to men. Both women have pledged to practise and safeguard this sacred art.

Sanjula, who has been practising Angan for many years following in her grandfather’s footsteps, is one of the few women who have earned the maha panikki status by mastering nine of the 21 adaus or movements.

She believes that, more than physical strength, self-confidence and willpower are required of a good Angan fighter. “A woman is someone who has the willpower to give birth to a child, and that in itself is a battle between life and death. That gives her the ability to enter Angan,” she explains.

Kanchana, also a maha panikki, who has learned Angan for more than three years, says commitment is a must for any Angan fighter. She practises daily with her son, Phamod Lahiru (10), who has been learning at the Koratota school for two years. “It’s good and not very difficult,” adds Phamod, who displayed his budding talents together with other boys his age.

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