Kalar­i­pay­attu Mar­tial Art In Kerala

A TO Z INDIA - - Inside - - Shivsankar

Con­sid­ered among the old­est and most sci­en­tific mar­tial arts in the world, Kalar­i­pay­attu was de­vel­oped in Kerala. Lauded as the pride of Kerala, it is ac­knowl­edged and re­spected across the world.

The train­ing be­gins with an oil mas­sage of the en­tire body un­til it is ag­ile and sup­ple. Feats like chat­tom (jump­ing), ot­tam (run­ning) and marichil (som­er­sault) are also in­te­gral parts of the art form. There are also lessons in us­ing weapons like swords, dag­gers, spears, maces, and bows and ar­rows.

The pri­mary aim is the ul­ti­mate co­or­di­na­tion between mind and body. An­other fo­cus of Kalar­i­pay­attu is spe­cial­i­sa­tion in indige­nous medic­i­nal prac­tices. Kalaris are also im­por­tant cen­tres of reli­gious wor­ship. Once the course is com­plete, one should en­gage in oil mas­sage and prac­tice to main­tain shape.


Ex­is­tence of Mar­tial arts in In­dia for over 3000 years can be proved by the men­tion of mar­tial arts in the Vedas. Ac­cord­ing to an­cient folk­lore, Lord Vishnu’s dis­ci­ple Para­sur­ama who was an avatar of Lord Vishnu is be­lieved to be the founder of mar­tial arts in In­dia. Kalar­i­pay­attu, which is the most pop­u­lar amongst many mar­tial arts prac­ticed in In­dia, is be­lieved to have been founded by Para­sur­ama. Kalar­i­pay­attu is prob­a­bly the old­est form of mar­tial arts in In­dia. The word kalar­i­pay­attu is a com­bi­na­tion of two words, namely, ‘kalari’ and ‘pay­attu’ which mean train­ing ground and fight. Kalar­i­pay­attu is an an­cient art form and is con­sid­ered to be one of the old­est forms of mar­tial art in In­dian and across the world. Dur­ing the peak of its pop­u­lar­ity, kalar­i­pay­attu was used as a code of com­bat by the South In­dian dy­nas­ties. Kalar­i­pay­attu reach its zenith dur­ing the hun­dred years of war between the Cho­las, Pandyas and Cheras. The con­stant fight­ing between the princely states helped the fighters in re­fin­ing the art into a mar­tial art form.

Many mar­tial arts in In­dia have been for­got­ten due to ne­glect and lack of proper doc­u­men­ta­tion of their ex­is­tence but kalar­i­pay­attu has stood the test of time. Dur­ing the 13th and 16th cen­turies, the art gained dom­i­nance and was in­cor­po­rated into many re­li­gions as well. It was cus­tom­ary in Kerala to have all chil­dren above the age of seven to ob­tain train­ing in kalar­i­pay­attu. Mar­tial arts in In­dia were con­sid­ered as a code of life for many. How­ever, dur­ing the Bri­tish oc­cu­pa­tion, mar­tial arts in In­dia suf­fered ma­jor set backs. The rul­ing Bri­tish ob­jected to the tra­di­tion of train­ing with and car­ry­ing arms. Laws were passed and were im­ple­mented with zest to pre­vent the peo­ple from prac­tic­ing and train­ing in kalar­i­pay­attu. These laws were put in place by the Bri­tish to quell the chances of any form of mutiny or re­bel­lion among the na­tives. But the Bri­tish had un­der­es­ti­mated the love of mar­tial arts in In­dia and kalar­i­pay­attu was se­cretly prac­ticed and kept alive dur­ing the colo­nial oc­cu­pa­tion of In­dia by the Bri­tish.

The art was prac­ticed by peo­ple in ru­ral ar­eas to avoid an con­fronta­tion with the au­thor­i­ties. Thus, one of the main mar­tial arts of In­dia sur­vived the dark times where curbs were im­posed on its prac­tices. On be­ing de­clared in­de­pen­dent, mar­tial arts in In­dia were in vogue again as they could now be prac­ticed with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Lost glory of kalar­i­pay­attu was re­gained slowly and steadily. Many move­ments and pos­tures in the art of kalar­i­pay­attu are be­lieved to be in­spired by the raw strength of an­i­mals and are also named af­ter them. There is a strong be­lief that this art was de­vel­oped in the forests when hunters had ob­served the fight­ing tech­niques of dif­fer­ent an­i­mals.

Kalar­i­pay­attu means Prac­tic­ing the arts of the bat­tle­field. Kalari means bat­tle­field. Kalar­i­pay­attu is some­times in short called as Kalari. It is to­day more preva­lent in the south In­dian state of Kerala. This art is said to have had its ori­gin with Rishi Agastya and Parashu­rama. Agastya is a great name in Ayurveda – the main In­dian med­i­cal sys­tem. Parashu­rama is also said to have re­claimed the sub­merged Kerala from the Ara­bian Sea (Will write on this as­pect of Kerala some­day)

The old­est ref­er­ence to this mar­tial art is found in the Rigveda and Athar­vaveda. In Rigveda it is men­tioned that lord In­dra de­feated the dae­mon Vri­ta­sura us­ing one of the mar­mam tech­niques of Kalari. Mar­mam are pres­sure points in the hu­man body and ex­pe­ri­enced prac­ti­tion­ers can dis­able or kill their op­po­nents by a mere touch of the op­po­nent’s Mar­mam. This tech­nique is taught only to the promis­ing and level headed per­sons, to pre­vent its mis­use.

To­day mar­tial arts in In­dia are back in fo­cus. Kalar­i­pay­attu is now prac­ticed widely across Kerala, fringes of Kar­nataka and Tamil Nadu and also in Sri Lanka. Kalar­i­pay­attu is also a source of liv­ing for many peo­ple in Kerala as per­for­mances are now con­ducted for tourists. Kalar­i­pay­attu has been stood the test of time un­like many other mar­tial arts in In­dia. His­tor­i­cally, kalar­i­pay­attu has proven to be one of the most an­cient mar­tial arts in In­dia and is still be­ing prac­ticed by many in South­ern In­dia.

Shiva was said to have taught Para­sur­ama, the art of Kalar­i­pay­attu, which arised it­self out of Shiva’s war with his Fa­ther-In-Law Dak­sha, one of the Pra­jap­atis or ‘Lords Of Cre­ation’. Later, Para­sur­ama taught his 21 dis­ci­ples the art of Kalar­i­pay­attu, and then opened 108 Kalari (school’s/gym­na­si­ums) around the Kerala re­gion, South­ern In­dian state.

There are no records that chron­i­cle the his­tor­i­cal ori­gins of Kalar­i­pay­attu, only nar­ra­tive ac­counts for­mat­ted as myth and leg­end. Most of these credit Kalari’s ori­gins to Lord Shiva, one of the three prin­ci­ple Gods of the Hindu pan­theon. Shiva has many as­pects, he is de­picted as moral and pa­ter­nal, also called, the Lord of Time(ma­hakala), the ‘De­stroyer’ of all things. He is the Yo­gesh­wara who dwells in Kailas, deep in the med­i­ta­tion that main­tains this very ex­is­tence.

The eth­nic In­dian mar­tial art of Kalari Payat (Kalar­i­pay­attu) - mean­ing ‘Bat­tle­ground’ or ‘Gym­na­sium’ - (Kalari), ‘Method’ or ‘Art’ - (Pay­att), has a spe­cial sig­nif­i­cance for prac­ti­tion­ers of the Ti­betan and Chi­nese mar­tial arts.In tra­di­tion, the Shaolin Tem­ple mar­tial art of China was in­tro­duced by the In­dian Bud­dhist Pa­tri­arch and founder of Ch’an’ (Zen) Bud­dhism; Bod­hid­harma (450-523 AD).

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