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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

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Angampora should be brought back to the limelight

Recently I had the very rare opportunity of witnessing about 20 young and sturdily built men being trained in the indigenous art of combat known as Angampora. The trainer was Angampora Master Gratien Fernando, a steel 74 year old, who follows the orthodox style of Angampora based in Angampitiya. Due to the discipline practised since the age of seven, he is clearly able to knock-out a youth despite his age. His trainer was his father, who in turn had been trained by his father.

Angampora is known to be an ancient fighting style of the Sinhalese, handed down from generation to generation. It is a traditional martial art style of fighting combined with a range of techniques and practices.

It has been proven to be an efficient method and has a rich history and intricacy of the true art. Most importantly, aside from the physical activity, it entails meditation, knowledge of armed combat as well as indigenous medical knowledge. Among other great chronicles, the Mahawansa and the Rajawaliya make reference to Angampora.

Watching training sessions, I was inclined to believe that Angampora shares characteristics with other fighting styles like Karate, Kungfu, Wrestling and Judo but Angampora is a merger of armed, unarmed and pressure-point combat skills and is therefore unique.

There are no similar native martial arts in Sri Lanka. Legend has it that the demon king Ravana employed the fighting style in his battle against Rama.

It is also recorded that the Sinhalese adopted the art very effectively, when they fought to ward off raids on villages by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. In 1815 when the British gained control of Sri Lanka, they made immediate rulings to ban the practice of Angampora and the practitioners had to carry forward their act by concealing the movements in dance styles which tradition, is being practised to this day.

As the training provided is very rigorous, only those in excellent health and with the appropriate planetary alignments as warriors in their horoscopes, are selected as potential pupils of the art for it requires only the bravest of the braves.

As I watched in astonishment, a pupil was made to bend his body outward like a bow and place his palms flat on the ground. A skinned coconut was then placed on his chest. Another pupil who stood kneeling in front, at the command of the Master, brought his katty down with all his might splitting the coconut into two in one blow, while the other pupils stood looking wide-eyed. The exercise I was later explained was many fold; bravery, courage, skills and accuracy, discipline, strength and endurance.

Angampora is said to be closely linked to Buddhism due to similarities in the virtues of the two doctrines, such as strict discipline, veganism and abstinence from the five primary sins. It is recorded that in the sixth century BC a Buddhist monk who mastered Angampora visited China and is known to have shared his knowledge with the locals. Cheena Adi is believed to have been conceptualised thereafter, to suit Chinese culture.

Countries in the Far East have their martial arts such as Cheena-adi, Karate, Kungfu and Judo which have been recognised world-wide and even accepted in the Olympic games. Angampora is no second to any of these fighting sports but lie almost hidden.

The number of Angampora training centres in Sri Lanka is just about four. The Sports Ministry should take immediate measures to unearth this resource which is an iconic memento of our proud culture.


White Elephant at Hingurana

There is news in the local press that four white elephants, the Janatha Fertilizer Company, Hingurana Sugar Corporation, Sri Lanka Rubber Manufacturing and Export Ltd and Lanka Fabric Ltd are to be liquidated. The Hingurana Sugar Corporation was born as the Gal Oya Sugar Industries of the now defunct Gal Oya Development Board when industrialization of the valley began. Those were the days of gentleman politics and the Opposition was not destructive and an opponent of the ruling party as today, but levied constructive criticism when Bills were placed in Parliament. Dr. S A Wickremasinghe, the Communist Party stalwart and MP for the Akuressa seat had a particular interest on this subject. He went on record when he expressed in Parliament his disapproval that 150,000 acres in the valley, the area of authority for development was jungle thickly infested with wild elephants and 'crow size' malarial mosquitoes and lacked the basic amenities for potential settlers.

In 1961 when the sugar factory (a gift from Yugoslavia during the reign of President Marshall Joseph Tito) was to be commissioned, Dr. Wickremasinghe went on record again saying that the Gal Oya sugar factory was a "White Elephant" without a plantation sufficient to feed the factory to its capacity requirement of 1,200 tons per day.

On my way to join the Gal Oya Development Board, I boarded the train at Polgahawela on June 1, 1961 and reached Batticaloa at 6.00 pm. No sooner I alighted and walked out to the verandah of the railway station, the warning I got from a Railway Department porter, was to 'beware of wild elephants on the road'. I therefore spent the night in the verandah and left for Ampara the following morning. I joined the Board's service and continued for 37 years in many departments, lastly in the Sugar.

There were elephants present in abundance and, vicious and venomous serpents in good measure. Disturbed and excited by the sudden intrusion of humans into their habitations where they lived solitarily for thousands of years, the elephants attacked pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles in the areas towards the Uhana aerodrome and it's environs and in the colonies at random but unlike today, they were not killed, they were controlled instead. This example set by the ancestors of the present generation is worth following.

The first harvesting and crushing season was inaugurated on July 4, 1962 and the turn-over was 290 tons of white sugar. This meagre output substantiated Dr. Wickremasinghe's allegation that there was no sufficient cane grown to feed the factory. The Gal Oya Sugar Industries was detached from the GODB and handed over to the newly established Sugar Corporation along with Kantalai Sugar Industries on October 1, 1967. Gal Oya Sugar Industries then came to be known as the Sri Lanka Sugar Corporation (Hingurana). It became Hingurana Sugar Industries Ltd., a private concern when it was sold to one S. Arumugam for a tuppence. He was a sugar importer in the Pettah. This priceless industry was sold to Arumugam for Rs.128 million when the state assessed value was Rs. 800 million. He paid Rs. 25 million and died subsequently. Thus the net loss incurred by the state was Rs. 775 million which it never recovered.

As Dr. Wickremasinghe alleged, the industry which became a 'White Elephant' without a sufficient plantation at the inception, died a white elephant with an abandoned plantation of 12,000 hectares, ending an era that went on spending public funds ad infinitum. The sugar industry which fed the country continuously for three decades, is now earmarked for liquidation, a pitiful and heart rending pale no doubt to those employees who dedicated the strongest days of their lives to uplift a national enterprise with austerity for posterity.


Mattala Airport and Hambantota Harbour

Many ideas have been expressed about the Mattala Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport and the Magampura Harbour. Most of the critics are people who have not studied the subject of transport economics. The need for a second international airport has been pointed out many times in the past. But economic planners only looked at budgetary deficits.

The second international airport in Sri Lanka at the inception, was proposed to be located at Hingurakgoda in the Polonnaruwa District. It was then realised that the absence of a sea harbour close to Hingurakgoda would not open up the potential of air sea trans-shipment of goods.

It is a simple economic theory that seaports and airports thrive on commercial business - not on incoming traffic but on outgoing traffic. Both at the new airport and seaport, officials are proably bent on attracting incoming passenger and cargo traffic. This attitude needs to change to develop out bound passenger and cargo traffic. This requires time and effort on the part of officials who operate both the airport and the seaport.

 

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