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Kalarippayattu is a 3000-year old martial art originated from Kerala. Chekavars from the Theyya community were considered as the forefathers of Kalarippayattu. ‘Kalari’ means battleground or combat arena and ‘payattu’ mean to fight. This is considered to be the most ancient, traditional and scientific martial art in the world. Kalarippayattu not only concentrates physical training and fitness but also the energy system of the body. Because of this, it is known for the great mix of body and mind. Kung Fu was actually influenced by the Kalarippayattu which was introduced by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma. He was an expert in Kalari and made some changes in it according to the body structure of the Chinese monks.

The Various Forms of Kalarippayattu

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Kalarippayattu has three versions based on the defensive and attacking methods followed. They fight with bare hands and also use weaponry. It is very interesting to know that the student learns the entire fight without the weapons. Before the fight starts, students learn oil massaging, physical exercise, medicines and most importantly meditation. Weapons like a flexible sword, mace, sword, stick, long staff and shield are the main ones. Alertness and flexibility are the hallmarks of this Martial art.

More than a Martial Art

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When we discuss the Kalari, we should also know and discuss the ‘Marmas’ which is pressure point of the body. This is the most effective part of self-defence for Kalarippayattu. This is called manipulation of pressure point of the body in a desired manner, makes terrible pain for the person. Spot death or even disability is also possible if the person is experienced in Marma Vidya. According to the Ayurveda, there are 108 marmas in the human body. This knowledge was given to the special students only whose intentions are good. Kalarippayattu is also learnt by students with good intentions only. This makes the student more alert and sharp in their moves and life.

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Learning Kalarippayattu

There are four stages of learning involved:

First is Maithari wherein the students prepare their body for the rigorous movements involved in the payattu. They make the students do physical exercise. They should have strong joints and muscles to do the payattu.

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Second is Kolthari, in which students will get small and long wooden sticks to fight with. This is somewhat similar to the Silambattam practised in some parts of Tamil Nadu.

The third is Ankathari, where students will get to practice with sharp weapons like sword and shield, flexible sword (Urumi), dagger and many others.

In the Fourth and the last one, students will have to do verumkai in which they fight and defend without any weapons. It is a bare-handed fight.

marmam photoPhoto by seeveeaar

The northern Malabar area is famous for Kalarippayattu camps. It was very popular before the British rule. But they dreaded this ancient martial art because it was powerful. There was no way the British could defend the Kalari experts which made them ban the whole practice. Most of the rebellions used Kalarippayattu to fight and defend. The British put anyone who practised Kalarippayattu with weapons in jail. But at a later stage, dedicated efforts from Late Narayanan Nayar and Kottackal Kanaran revived the ancient art. Kalarippayattu once again became the signature of God’s Own Country. It is not only a martial art but also shares a deep-rooted relation with Kerala’s tradition and culture.


kathakali photoPhoto by cerulean5000

Kalarippayattu is a martial art which has so much of influence in the local performance of Kerala. Kathakali is the toughest dance form in Kerala because of its process, flexibility and concentration needed for the students. They learn it for 12 years to become Kathakali dancers. Even Kathakali dancers learn Kalarippayattu techniques like massages to perform the Kathakali. Kalarippayattu is a combination of defence techniques, meditation, yoga and relaxation.

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Featured Photo by isapisa

Kalarippayattu – Kerala’s Own Martial Art

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