COMBAT FORMS OF SRI LANKA
P.E.P. Deraniyagala (Some Sinhala Combative Field and Aquatic Sports and Games 1959) has shown that wrestling was a highly developed art in the country.
Such games were often fought till the death of one contestant. The Kandyan aristocracy are even known to have written wrestling treatises known as mara-nil-satra (the science of death-inducing centres).
Deraniyagala has shown that a variety of scientific blows as well as throws and locks were known to the wrestlers. An interesting kind of bloodless wrestling was well-wrestling (Ura Linde Angan Pora).
This contest comprised of two wrestlers descending into a narrow well whose sides had been strengthened by terracotta rings. They then commenced wrestling with their backs pressed against the sides of the well, each endeavouring to make his way up the shaft and emerge to the surface by propelling himself off his rival by kicking him back into the well.
Water Fights (Jala-pora) where the contestants who were stationed about two yards apart, splashed each other with water so that one of them was eventually forced to turn away from the constant deluge were well known.
During the contest, it was permissible to approach one's opponent. The first to turn his or her back to the attack lost the contest. The Kav Silumina alludes to such fights being conducted by squirting water through a large syringe known as the Jala Yantaraya (lit. water machine).
The Mayura Sandeshaya (14th century) states that the women employed an ellipsoid article known as pen malava made with silver and set with a large ruby.
There also existed a great deal of armed combat such as quarter staff (polu haramba) and mace combat (muguru pora). These however were not so violent as the sanguinary gladiatorial contests with swords and daggers fought between contesting gladiators (Saramba-Karayo).
The contestants fought in an arena or Ura linda, a pit 30 cubits long and 7 cubits deep. The duration of the fight was one Sinhalese hour (i.e. 24 minutes) by the water clock. The winner of the fight was rewarded with lands and a rank such as `Panik-rala' (Master of martial arts). The contest did not commence at once; as Deraniyagala notes: `As it was considered improper for a man to attack another without provocation it was customary for one contestant to inquire from the other `Fellow from where do you emerge' or some similar impolite question to which the reply would be `You beef eating dog, you have but an hour to live, make your peace with the Gods' and the fight was on.'
During Kandyan times, gladiatorial contests were usually undertaken by two renowned martial clans, the Maruvalliye and the Sudaliye who were rivals of one another.
H.C.P.Bell (Report on the Kegalle District 1892) has recorded an interesting tradition from the Kegalle District concerning a famous female gladiator.
A gladiator of the Maruvalliye clan was once summoned to the court to fight a renowned Sudaliye champion and before departing for the fight instructed his pregnant wife to train their unborn child in the martial arts in case he fell. The Maruvalliye warrior was slain in the contest and their child, a girl, was trained in fencing. Some years later she made her entry to the court disguised as a man and threw a challenge to any Sudaliye warrior, whereupon a fighter from that clan accepted the challenge. The Maruvalliye girl killed her opponent and revealed her identity to the king, who was so pleased with her that he presented her with five elephants and appointed her Disava (Governess) of the Satara Korale.
Fighting with wild beasts as the ancient Romans did was also not unknown.
The Deva Angam cloth of the Maha Devale Hanguranketa (16th century) depicts two gladiators armed with daggers and aided by three dogs fighting a leopard.
Fights between animals were also known. Some of these were elephant fights (Gaja-Keli) cock fights (Kukul-Keli) bull fights (gon-pora) and buffalo fights (migon-pora).
Elephant fights were commonly witnessed by royalty. Stone inscriptions of the 11th-12th centuries allude to the king watching such fights. Robert Knox (1681) refers to the elephant fights staged before the king who watched the spectacle from a pleasure house built upon a high wall in Kandy.
In a famous elephant fight at the royal sports field at Kundasale near Kandy, a fight between a wild tusker and a tamed one was watched by the king, the court nobles and thousands of others. The wild tusker is said to have been pushed backwards by the tamed beast and slid down a slope in a clay pit where it was gored to death by the victor. As for cock-fights (cocking), this pastime was evidently very popular in the olden days.
Abu Zaid Al-Hasan (851 AC) states that the chief pastime in Sri Lanka was cocking. The owners armed the fowls with blades of iron and bet gold, silver, land etc, upon the combats.
The Portuguese Historian Joao Ribeiro (ceilao 1658) records that one of King Rajasinghe's brothers at Matale was so devoted to the sport that he was called `Prince of the Game Cocks' and preferred cocking to asserting his claims to sovereignty.
The king himself was not uncaptivated by the game and in spite of the continuing war with the Portuguese wrote to the Dutch in 1652 with a request to secure some Siamese game fowls for him. Setting one kind of beast against another kind was also deemed a form of entertainment.
The Deva Angam cloth (Hanguranketa Maha Devale - 16th century) depicts a fight between an elephant and an imported Bengali tiger. The painting shows armed men attempting to shove aside the elephant who is on the verge of crushing the tiger to death. This may be an attempt to save the tiger for another occasion.
Such grotesque games are thankfully no longer practiced though it is known that today villagers enjoy setting the mongoose against its proverbial enemy, the cobra for a fight unto death.