Whatfs Kalarippayattu?




Itfs the distinguished martial arts system of Kerala State since ancient times.

The word Kalari was derived from gKalurikah, which means gtraining arena for soldiersh in Sanskrit. Therefore, Kalaripayattu means gthe martial training which takes place inside kalari arenah

Itfs not mere martial arts, but also essential core culture which had influenced many

cultural fields like Kathakali dance, Ayurveda treatment, and so on.


Its origin might be divided to two, one is the Dravidian martial arts developed by heroic nature of the Sangam era from 200BC to 600AD, other is the Aryan Veda martial system brought to Kerala by Brahmins immigrated from north west part of India.

Around 1100AD to 1500AD it was highly developed, and established as a very center of the social, cultural, and political systems.

Kalarippayattu is the most ancient traditional martial arts, which is Aryan-Dravidian hybrid with long and complicated history of Kerala.


The distinguished character of Kalarippayattu is the concept of gMarmanh vital points of human body, which is applied for both offence technique and treatment system. As a Veda-Dravidian tradition with abundant source of local herbs, kalari treatment is the most familiar medical system to local people still nowadays.


During colonial period by European invasion, especially under control of British, kalarippayattu was deadly suppressed with capital penalty, then many important techniques and ideas have been lost at that time


Afterwards in 1920fs, C.V.Narayanan Nair and his master, Kottakal Kanaran Gurukkal(Master) started kalari renovation movement, which actualized all aspects of domestic traditional cultures as a counter value against British colonists with vivid nationalism, then the great wave of kalari revival has come at last

In spite of the great result, an evaluation of C.V.N.fs achievements is still in arguments. Some people criticized that C.V.N. style has spoiled practical meaning of each technique as a real martial system, and simplified its complicated variety.

Even so, in fact, C.V.N. style has captured much public interest. After 1960fs, many westerners especially stage performers were attracted by that, came to India for having direct teaching by masters, activated kalari world much.


Kalarippayattu is classified roughly in two categories. One is Vadakkan (northern) style, the other is Thekkan (southern) style. The majority of Vadakkan style is C.V.N. style due to its achievement.


VadakkaniNorthern Stylej


According to the legend, Sage Parashrama mythical creator of Kerala who studied martial systems from Lord Shiva, instituted 108 kalaris upon the land, taught the technique to 21disciples of Brahmin.

After that, Brahmin handed it over to Nair family in Malabar region of north Kerala, and the family succeeded it as a fighter clan.


Kalari arena is built according to traditional architecture called kuzhi-kalari construction as digging pit style.

The south west corner of kalari arena, placed Puttara the most sacred seven stairs platform of the Goddess, is always decorated with light of oil lamp, beautiful flower, and smoke of incenses.


Ordinary a disciple is initiated into the kalari around the age of seven, enter the kalari stepping his right foot first, touching the ground by right fingers, then touching it on the forehead. Then pray for the Gods and Goddess, give dakshina for the Gurukkal(master), touching his right toe by same right fingers, then first practice will start.

The disciples wear Kaccha traditional dress for tightening abdominal area. It is

really similar to Fundosi Japanese traditional dress worn by Samurai and Sumo


Before practice, they put sesame oil on the surface of its whole body from head to toes.

With progress of the practice, oil will be warmed up and penetrates into the body,

make a multiple effect with the exercise.


The most incredible character of kalari practitioners is its flexibility. Supple body with stretching movement looks like rubber without bone. And impressive jump with highly developed turn and twist show the extremely unusual movement.

Similar to yoga tradition, they have also theory of Kundalini based on the belief of

Shiva Shakti. But Yoga and Kalari system are brother from same source, rather than

father-son relation.


Basically kalari training is designed in strict step by step process as below,


1.   MeythariiBody control exercisej The first training for every student, start with Chuvatu based on simple kicks, then proceed to Vativu designed from animal posture, then both Chuvatu and Vativu are systemticaly combined to a series called Adavu. The genetic name of Adavu is Meippayatt, has normally 18 series of Katas. In the pose of Vativu, emphasized keeping onefs balance lowers as much as possible. Itfs very similar to basic training of Sumo, Kung-fu, and so on .Even experienced senior students also start from this Meythari in daily practice. All series of training is on going under direction of Vaythari(verbal command) by Gurukkal

2.   KolthariiWooden weaponj@Normally, after enough period of Meythari training, gurukkal will give permission to proceed to Kolthari training, first from Kettukali, long stick made of  flexible cane, proceeding to MuchhaniShort stickj,OttaiCurved stickjAGadhaiHeavy clubj.

3.   AnkathariiMetal weaponj@Composit of DaggeriShort knifejAUdaval•ParichaiSward & ShieldjAKunthamiSpearjAUrumiiSpring like flexible swardj, most fascinating highlight of Kalarippayattu.

4.   VerumkaiiEmpty hand techniquej@Based on the attack toward particular vital spot called Marman, together with locks, throwing technique, punch and kick. At least 5 years are necessary for stepping up to this stage.


These 4 steps are open for everybody. Then next two steps as esoteric

‚P.   Marma Chikitsa(Marma Treatment)

‚Q.   MantramiMeditative concentration by verbal repetition of secret Mantraj


But Itfs really difficult to touch in such farther secrets for ordinary disciples, especially short term practitioners. Gurukkal will carefully select very dedicated students who has done at least 10 years experience of fully intensive trainings, physically, mentally, and spiritually, then hand it over to him in full personal commitment.

Then only the man who could succeed this Marma Chikitsa from Gurukkal, can become next Guru in future, and will play active parts both as martial master and treatment doctor in local society.


TekkhaniSouthern Stylej

According to legend, Sage Agasth‚™a is the founder of the style, has been succeeded by

mainly Nadar family in the area from south Kerala to south Tamil Nadu formerly

ruled by Travancore Dynasty. Master is usually called Ashan rather than Gurukkal.


Itfs primarily independent martial tradition called gAdhi Tadah from purely Dravidian roots. But after independence of India, Travancore region was integrated to Kerala States together with Malabar region, then it has started to be called gsouthern style Kalaripayattuh.


Generally it has no particular arena construction like northern style, practice takes

place at outside fields in common. The empty hand technique is the most dominant

part, therefore beginners also can practice Verumkai from very beginning.

Some scholar says that Adhi Tada is very original form of far east martial arts like

Karate, Kung-fu.


The traditional knowledge of vital point Marman was delivered from southern style to northern style. Itfs located just in between northern style Kalarippayattu and Silambam of Tamil Nadu, under strong influence of condensed Dravidian flavor.




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