Kalaripayattu is the vibrant, traditional
martial art form of Kerala and is richly blended with its cultural heritage.It is usually described as an indigenous martial
art of Kerala evolved between the 9th and 12th centuries AD. It is believed that Parasurama, the mythical creator of Kerala,
instituted 108 'Kalaris' all over the land. But similar cultural traits and institutions are found in other regions of South
India and Sri Lanka.
The term 'Kalari' denotes a gymnasium where proper training is imparted for mind as well as muscle. The 'Kalaris'
imparted training in literacy, body-building and warfare/weapony.
Both men and women were admitted to the course. 'Payattu' literally means training or exercise
or training in the traditional style of combat.
Each 'Desam', which was a unit of administration in traditional Kerala, had its 'Kalari'
and each 'Kalari' was under the supervision of its guru, who was differently known in different areas as 'Panikkar', 'Kuruppu',
etc. Originally, these were only names of profession but later they became names of sub-caste.
of the art
techniques of Kalaripayattu were used at one time in the battlefields. Kalaripayattu
is a good exercise to alert the body and mind, very good
visual art, useful for self-defence.
Starting from simple breathing exercises, a person can awaken the total dynamism of his body
and can tune it in a way he wishes. It will enable a person to develop four powers 'karuthu' which are:
power of the body.
Manakaruthu: power of the mind.
power to combat.
Ayudhakaruthu: power to wield weapons.
First is the salutations in favour
of the superior elements then the student is given the first system of exercise called 'Angasadhana' for
placing the soles of the feet. The firm step on the ground is called 'Akkachuvadu'; and movements of the sole in jumps are
known as 'Chattachuvadu'.
The circular movement is known 'Vattachuvadu'. The student, during his feet exercise
moves from eastern side to the western side. The feet and hands are raised and moved according to the sequences and in strict
accordance with 'Vaythari' of 'gurukkal'.
These practices including 'Meippayattu' for several months make the
student fit for the training in the use of weapons. After imparting the body training, a student is initiated to the use of
weapons. The 'Muchan', also called 'Cheruvati' is a smaller stick about 22 inches in length and used to give powerful blows
and also to resist the blows from others.
Then, he is initiated to the use of metallic weapons like 'Kathi' (dagger),
Sword, 'Kuntham' (spear) and 'Urumi'. The Gada is also practised in some ''Kalaris'. The training in the use of metallic weapons
requires more dexterity and agility of the body.
Indigenous folk narratives and technical literature furnish
long lists of different types of 'Kalaris'. They are 'Ankakkalari', 'Totuvor Kalari', 'Totukalari', 'Netumkalari', 'Kurumkalari',
'Totukalari', 'Cherukalari' etc.,
Oil massage, physical exercise, acute body-bending, use of shield and sword
are the common features of many of these art forms and Kalarippayattu.
The rigorous training
The 'Kalari' training is based on an elaborate system of physical
exercises. The practical experience of the body movements strengthens the knowledge of a disciple. Constant practice adds
to agility and strength. At the age of seven, the student is recruited for his training under a 'Gurukkal'.
massage or 'Uzhichal' is an essential part of the training. The verbal commands of the 'Gurukkal' known as 'Vayttari' are
obeyed and repeated to grasp the body movements. Each combination of step and gesture is known as 'Adavu'. Each of them helps
to recollect memory and leads to correct movements.
The training or the system has a metaphysical dimension as
it was practised everywhere in Kerala. The students arrive at dawn with empty stomach. They are wrapped in a six feet long
and one feet wide cotton cloth tightly wound around their waist. This cloth is named 'Kachha'. The combatants generally used
to wear red-kacha made out of silk over which a belt is also tied to strengthen the waist.
This pre-set sequence of movements is the rudiment of Kalarippayattu. Actually, it is a body controlling exercise to master
balancing in air and ground. There is a hidden secret element in these movements, every imaginable combination of offensive
and defensive attacks and movements are included.
Kolthari: This section involves training in
Ankathari: This is the combat training section of metal weapons.
Self-defence with empty hands. Here a student learns how to face an armed man, using only his limbs, and also learns
vital points and locks.
Kalarichikitsa: Kalarippayattu masters of yesterday and today are ayurvedic
doctors. Marma therapy, massage therapy, Bone setting, Yoga therapy, Pizhichil, Dhara, Kizhi are the important branches of
Kalari Massage: As food is a necessity for an organism from birth to death,
so is massage to the human organism. Massage excites the internal resources and provides nourishment in the form of proteins,
glucose and other vitalising chemicals, which are within the system. It also works as a cleanser and helps the organism in
discharging toxins out of the body through sweat, urine and mucuous, thus rejuvenating the body.
Although the 'Kalari' is an empty space, for a student,
that space has all meaning of life and the supernatural. It is an abode of deities and the several generations of gurus who
had initiated the disciples into training from generation to generation. The student makes a ritual touch of earth with right
hand and propitiates the goddess of earth. The touching of the forehead with right hand shows his reverence to the deities
of knowledge. Both peace and destruction are symbolised in the '''Kalari''' space.