Extinction of Indian Martial Arts (Part – 1)

Posted on November 14, 2011

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Kalaripayattu - Martial Arts from Kerala

When we think of martial arts, we usually think of China or Japan. Only recently, people have discovered that martial arts had its roots in India “somewhere”. The location of what part of India martial arts came from still remains a mystery to a lot of people.

Let us take note that India is a sub-continent with roughly 18 languages and various dialects of certain languages. Each state has its own language and writing script. Moreover, there are three major ethnic groups which are the Indo-Aryans of the Northern part, the Mon-Khmer of the Eastern part, and the Dravidians (Thamizhars) of the Southern part. The Indian sub-continent is more comparable to Europe geographically even though it is a country in itself created by the colonial British for their own economical achievements.

Martial arts have been in existence on the Indian sub-continent for thousands of years practiced by ancient Tamils of Tamil Nadu, Tamil Eelam (Northeast Sri Lanka), Kerala, and the Southern portion of present day Andhra Pradesh. The Malayalam language in Kerala only separated from Tamil as its own language during the 8th century A.D. In Andhra Pradesh, the southern half of that state spoke Tamil, while the northern part spoke Prairie, before the language of Telungu had formed it’s own language in that state. In Sri Lanka, the whole island was Tamil up to the 3rd century B.C. before the arrival of a group of exiles from Bengal penetrated the island. They settled in the Southern and Western and Southern parts of the island. Their offspring later became the present day Sinhalese, which their language is a mixture of Tamil, Pali (from Bengal area), and Sanskrit.

The Indian sub-continent was once connected with Madagascar of East Africa and Australia by the sunken Lemurian continent of the Indian Ocean. On the African continent itself are numerous fighting styles some also in forms of dances which resemble various Kung-Fu kicks, leaps, and maneuvers.  In Brazil, there is a martial art called Capoeira. It is a fighting style in a form of a dance brought to South America by slaves along with the Yaruba religion of West Africa. These ideas of combat must have crossed from both Africa and Australia through Lemuria to the Indian sub-continent which may have had an influence on the scientific Tamil martial arts thousands of years ago.

Long ago, animal fighting styles were imitated by pre-historic man which was a system for survival. The first weapon used was the stick which was an extension of the arm. Various weapons were later invented during the Stone and Iron Ages. At the turn of the 6th century A.D., martial arts spread from Southern India to China by a Tamil prince turned monk named Daruma Bodhidarma. From China, martial arts have spread to Korea & Japan. In South East Asia martial arts was introduced during the naval expansion of the Chola and Pallava Empires of the Tamil Country between the 2nd and 12th centuries A.D.

In the Tamil country, the earliest martial arts known were Varma Kalai (pressure point attacks – similar to Tai Chi or Dim Mak), Kuttu Varisai (hand to hand combat – similar to Kung Fu and Karate), Malyutham (wrestling), Silambam (staff and weapons fighting – similar to the Filipino arts of Arnis, Kali, and Escrima), and  Adithada (kickboxing).

Martial arts can also be seen in the classical dance of Bharatha Natayam. Through its rhythmic movements one can see a close resemblance to the stances, blocks, and strikes in martial arts. There is also a close affiliation to Yoga in the stretching and meditating exercises of almost every fighting art.

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