Kalarippayattu is an Indian martial art that is also known as Kalari. It is the oldest art in the world which was developed in Kerala. The word, “Kalaripayattu,” is said to be derived from the name of Hindu deity Khaloorika Bhagavathy. The word Kalari is also found in Sangam literature. Like most other Indian martial arts, Kalaripayattu draws heavily from Hinduism and is based on Hindu medicinal concepts found in Ayurveda. Unlike other parts of India, warriors in Kerala belonged to all castes. Women in Keralite society also underwent training in Kalaripayattu, and still do so to this day. Keralite women such as Unniyarcha are mentioned in a collection of ballads from Kerala called the Vadakkan Pattukal are praised for their martial prowess.
Kalaripayattu techniques are a combination of steps (Chuvadu) and postures (Vadivu)
Chuvadu literally means ‘steps’, the basic steps of the martial arts. Vadivu literally means ‘postures’ or stances which are the foundations of Kalaripayattu training.
There are 8 kalaripayattu animal postures – Ashta vadivu:
- Gajja Vadivu: Elephant posture
- Ashwa Vadivu: Horse posture
- Simha Vadivu: Lion posture
- Varaha Vadivu: Wild boar posture
- Kukuda Vadivu: Rooster posture
- Sarpa Vadivu: Snake posture
- Matsya Vadivu: Fish posture
- Marjara Vadivu: Cat posture
Kalaripayattu: An Art
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.
Kalaripayattu, the ancient form of martial arts includes the yogic perfection of postures and strength, and its medical treatments are based on the science of Ayurveda. Kalaripayattu includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry, and healing methods. Some of the methods used to enhance flexibility in Kalaripayattu are also utilized in Keralite dance forms such as Kathakali. Dancers in Kerala who had experience with Kalaripayattu were noted to be markedly better than the other performers. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate Kalaripayattu as part of their training regimen.
Generally, two styles of Kalaripayattu have acknowledged among Kalari practitioners: the Northern Style and the Southern Style. These two systems are quite similar, but their training methods begin to diverge to specialize in either weapons or hand-to-hand combat. The styles are variations that various masters have adapted and modified according to their understanding of the art.
The Northern style is also known as, Vadakkan Kalari, and is generally regarded as the “original,” form of Kalaripayattu. This system places more emphasis on physical flexibility exercises and strength training rooted in the slogan Meyy kanavanam, meaning, “make the body an eye.” These exercises are done individually, as well as in combinations. Training begins with the dagger, sword, and then the spear.
Kalaripayattu has three forms, which are distinguished by their attacking and defensive patterns. They are Arappa Kayy, Pilla Thangi, and Vatten Thiripp.
The Southern-style is also known as Thekkan Kalari. The origin of Thekkan Kalari is a subject of much debate and controversy. It is a style of Kalaripayattu that is said to have been altered and influenced by Sage Agastya. It may have been altered from the Northern style of Kalaripayattu to fight combatants trained in Adi Murai and Silambam from Tamil Nadu during various wars and skirmishes with Tamil kingdoms. It is essentially a style which combines Kalaripayattu with certain elements of Adi Murai and Silambam.
Kalaripayattu is now a global face of art forms and its sacred to the people who have become an expert in or mastering this art form.
All images belong to their respective owners.
Learn more about Kalaraipayattu