Kerala Martial Arts – Traditions Of Fighting Systems In Gods’ Own Country

Martial arts exist in India since time immemorial. These are fighting systems developed over the years for attacking and self-defense.  Each state of India has developed its own system. Some of the popular ones are categorized under the head  – Kerala Martial arts.

Kerala Martial Arts – How And What Is Imparted

You might be surprised to know that Kerala Martial arts were and are still taught in the Gurukul system format in some parts of Kerala.  Students stay back with the teacher until they learn the specific martial arts and allied subjects.  Training is rigorous and the learners should be physically fit to pass out of the school in flying colors.

Students learn fighting and defensive techniques of a particular martial art along with exercises and Yoga.  Related subjects such as Ayurveda and Philosophy were also taught in most Kerala Martial arts forms.

kalaripayattu photo
kalaripayattu by pravin.premkumar under CC BY 2.0

Ayurveda is the ancient system of medicine.  Learning this would help candidates learn the functioning of internal body parts, joints, and nerves.  The students also learn how to treat themselves in case of injuring when studying this subject.

Philosophy is another subject that helps gain focus and concentration.  Here are some different martial art forms from the state of Kerala:

1. Kalarippayattu

The word is derived from the Sanskrit word Khaloorika,  which means a place for weapon training.   It is one of the oldest martial art forms existing in the world.

Presently this art is taught at various centers in Ettuanoor, Pala, Thiruvananthapuram, and Kanjirappally. The three schools of Kalaripayattu are Arappa Kayy, Vatten Thripp, and Pilla Thangi.

The Guru himself has to clear seven levels to teach this art form. Some believe that this form is the origin of the famous Chinese martial art, Kung Fu. Agastiar, the great Sage is said to be the founder of this and other southern martial arts.

kerala martial art photo
Fight club martial arts of Kerala in India  by under CC BY 2.0

The training involves the development of concentration, skill, handling different weapons and fighting with bare hands. Kalarippayattu includes training in astronomy, geometry, yoga and medicine.  Techniques involved here are a combination of Chuvadu or steps and Vadivu or postures.

Some of the weapons used to practice this martial art are Spears, Sticks, a flexible sword called Urmi, knives and bow and arrow.

It is claimed that the greatest of the practitioners of this art can kill or disable their opponents with a touch of a finger at the correct marmam (vital point in the body).

As the martial artists become adept in healing techniques of the Ayurveda and Siddha, they are also healers to their students and others using medicinal oil for massages.

Kerala martial art photo
Jumping Through Hoops, Kerala, India by Julia Maudlin under CC BY 2.0

2. Parisakali

Mappilas of from North Malabar region in Kerala practice this traditional Kerala Martial arts form.  The form involves wielding of sticks in one hand and red straw board shield in another.

3. Velakali

Velakali is a martial art cum dance of Kerala, unique to places in the Travancore region. It is performed during festivals at the Pamanabhswamy temple and Ambalpuzha, Sri Krishnaswamy temple.

The art form represents war between the Pandavas and Kauravas. About 100 artists dressed in war clothes perform amazing body movements.  No lyrics are involved in this. They perform the art accompanied by drum beats of percussion instruments such as the Maddlam, Ilathalam, Mobu, Thavil, and Kuzhal.

Long sticks and shields are used during the performances. Few names of movements in this performance are Padakali, Vala Ottam and Pidichakali.

kerala martial art photo
Kalarippayattu – traditional martial art of Kerala by Isabell Schulz under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Velakali performers represent the Kauravas who want to defeat the Pandavas (represented by huge effigies during the dance) but in vain. Hence this is a dance symbolizing the victory of Dharma, truth over evil.

While this form was slowly fading away, it saw a revival with the help of a famous practitioner of this art, Mohankunju Panicker.   As a result, the form was in full display after a gap of 40 years, at Padmanabha Swamy temple.

Other types of Kerala Martial arts are Njaninmel Kalli – A rope walking act, Vaaleru -involves sword throwing and Kunderu.

Featured Photo of Fight club martial arts of Kerala in India by under CC BY 2.0

Latest Posts

Get in Touch