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Kalaripayattu: The World’s First Martial Art

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 or Kalarippayattu – the Martial Art form of Kerala | Kerala Tourism


Kalaripayattu techniques are a combination of steps (Chuvadu) and postures (Vadivu)

Kalaripayattu Martial Arts - The Ancient Battle Form - India the Destiny


  • Vadivu
  • Chuvadu

Chuvadu literally means ‘steps’, the basic steps of the martial arts. Vadivu literally means ‘postures’ or stances which are the foundations of Kalaripayattu training.

Vadivu or Vadivukkal in Meythozhil or Meypayattu | Kalaripayattu Discipline Types

There are 8 kalaripayattu animal postures – Ashta vadivu:

  1. Gajja Vadivu: Elephant posture
  2. Ashwa Vadivu: Horse posture
  3. Simha Vadivu: Lion posture
  4. Varaha Vadivu: Wild boar posture
  5. Kukuda Vadivu: Rooster posture
  6. Sarpa Vadivu: Snake posture
  7. Matsya Vadivu: Fish posture
  8. 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.

Northern Style

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 KayyPilla Thangi, and Vatten Thiripp.

The Traditional Styles in Kalari | Southern and Northen Styles | Kalaripayattu Training in Kerala


Southern Style

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.

Places to watch Kalaripayattu in Kerala
We here at Pickyourtrail have curated a list of top 8 places to watch Kalaripayattu in Kerala. Have a read and get to know more about the art form and the training places.

1.C.V.N. Kalari:

It was founded in the year 1945, the C.V.N. Kalari has established professional Kalaripayattu training schools in both Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram. This particular centre conducts regular Kalari training, short-term classes for foreign visitors and also provides Kalari treatments for orthopaedic, neurological and muscular diseases.

2.Greenix Village

Greenix Villiage is a famous cultural performing art centre in Kochi and is a perfect place for all the art lovers. Not only Kalaripayattu, but you will also find a lot of Kerala’s art performances and training classes here. The Kalaripayattu training and performance square has an L-shaped gallery area so visitors can watch the artists undergoing extensive training in the craft.

3.Kadathanadan Kalari

The Kadathanadan Kalari Centre in Thekkady conducts regular performances of the 3000 year old art form to enthral visitors.You get a front row seat to witness a holistic approach towards the ultimate co-ordination and control of the mind and body.

The art form is presented as a synergic harmony of art, science and medicine. Weapons are used as an extension of the body and are controlled by the mind in both offensive and defensive combat techniques. You can easily book a ticket online to observe firsthand the might and prowess of the participants.

4.ENS Kalari

ENS Kalari is one of the famous Kalaripayattu centres which is located in Ernakulam.The speciality of ENS Kalari is its trainers. Yes, the trainers have a vast knowledge of this art form, Ayurveda, mathematics and many more.
5.Kerala Kathakali Centre

You can watch Kalaripayattu shows here on a daily basis,apart from other art forms such as Kathakali and other Indian classical dances.You have to book the tickets online.

Visitors usually find the Kalaripayattu show to be dangerously breathtaking as performances include the use of the Urumi — a thin long metal blade! If you want to experience the strength, flexibility and pure muscle power of the fighters, you’re sure to enjoy this show.

6.The Kalariyil Dharmikam

The Kalariyil Dharmikam is situated in Trivandrum and is a centre for learning Kalaripayattu art and also helps the performers to heal and masters them in spirituality too. The famous Guru Balachandran Nair is the one who teaches the Kalaripayattu art form here. In addition, the whole ambience of this place is something which is highly appreciatable by the locals. The training rooms and the delicious food provided here are at their best.
7.Mudra Cultural Centre

Mudra Cultural Centre conducts Kalarippayattu shows regularly where the performers are allowed to showcase their talent to the larger audience. You can also see some performers bringing their raw power and inspiration from sturdy animals like lion, deer, elephant and snake which are the highlights of the show.

8.Kalari Kshethra

The final one to enter the list of top places to watch Kalaripayattu in Kerala is Kalari Kshethra. Kalari Kshethra conducts daily evening Kalarippayattu shows where one can witness the beauty of this spectacular art form. You will be able to watch four types of Kalarippayattu which are known as Mey Payattu, Vadi Payattu, Ayudha Payattu and Adi Thada. That’s interesting, right? Well, if you are interested to learn Kalaripayattu, you can also request Kalari Kshethra to arrange a special training class. However, classes will be arranged on an availability basis.

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.

Also, do have a look at our video on Kalaripayattu!

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Learn more about Kalaraipayattu

This blog was edited bt Sparsh Sinha.