Written and Photographed by Yasas Ratnayake
We have come a long way. Figuratively speaking, of course. We’ve covered a great distance on the road too, but that’s a different story.
Since the idea came into being in 2014, we’ve seen things that nobody has ever seen, faced a tremendous amount of unexpected obstacles, found things we never thought existed, and rediscovered a hidden part of our identities as Sri Lankans. It’s been little over 4 months since we started the actual photography for our book. But in that short period of time, we’ve been greatly blessed by fate, or whatever it is that got us here, to be a few of the first people in the world to witness a hidden culture reveal itself to our eyes.
What is amazing and quite puzzling at the same time is how an entire history of thousands of years has been kept secret from us for so long. Our journey into this book has taken us far and wide, but most importantly, it has taken us deep. Deep into a forgotten part of our “Sri Lankan-ness” which raises many interesting (and sometimes controversial) questions about our history, the accuracy of our historical records, and our identity as Sri Lankans.
Angampora, as we’ve found out, isn’t simply a martial art. If you think that it’s about a bunch of aggressive men trading punches and kicks for fun, then you might as well correct yourself. We’ve found that this discipline is a unique philosophy that was deeply connected to nature and the human spirit. Angampora envisaged the development of a spiritually and physically sophisticated human being that could bond with the unseen universal energies of life and also selflessly safeguard his brethren in their time of need.
Angampora is as uniquely Sri Lankan as Kandyan dancing or bali rituals. And a study of it reveals that it is actually a microcosm of Sri Lankan culture where some of the most iconic Sri Lankan traditions and practices blended together to create a fearsome and mystical martial art. Besides its deadly combat techniques, the substance of what makes Angmpora unique involves meditation, music and dance, herbal medicine, spectacular rituals, and what modern day people call white and black magic. It would be
Our identity as Sri Lankans today has emerged from a mishmash of historic and social happenings that, for better or for worse, is a cause of little concern for most people nowadays. The westernization of the country since the time of the British has created manifold effects such as creating class divisions based on English and non-English speakers, covertly re-prioritized our values to embrace materialism, and erased a rich and sophisticated history from public memory, to name a few.
Bringing this story to light is important for many reasons. Firstly, it will be a rather startling wake-up call for Sri Lankans today. It could make you wonder what else about our history could be hidden from us, such as more than 30,000 unread ola-leaf manuscripts lie in repositories in England and were taken away from Sri Lanka decades ago. It could spark off a greater interest among Sri Lankans to learn about other unseen aspects of our nation’s history and culture. It can help generate greater interest in the world academic community about Sri Lanka and create worldwide awareness about Sri Lanka’s colorful traditions. The possibilities are quite limitless and are straight out of a dreamer’s diary, but anything is possible nowadays, isn’t it?
As a bunch of young guys with a mission to do something significant for our nation, we’re absolutely thrilled to be able to show what we’ve found to our countrymen and the world. And indeed, it should be shown to everybody with a great deal pride!
The photographs we’ve taken and the buried history we’ve uncovered have given us new inspiration and a great deal of hope that we could salvage what remains of dying heritage. We want to help preserve a vanishing legacy in images that will last beyond our time and help educate future generations of Sri Lankans about the richness of our ways and the treasures of our past.