Kalaripayattu – Extinction of Indian Martial Arts, Part – III

Posted on November 27, 2011

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Kalaripayattu is the ancient, holistic, physical discipline from Kerala, which combines the dynamic skills of attack / defence and the power of the secret knowledge of the body, with a scientific system of healing and therapy based on allied disciplines like Ayurveda.

This oldest existing martial art form, dating back more than 2000 years is said to be the forerunner of popularly known Chinese martial arts, as the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma took this knowledge from India to China.

The practice of Kalaripayattu is said to originate from the Dhanur Vedic texts encompassing all fighting arts and described by the Vishnu Purana as one of the eighteen traditional branches of knowledge. Historically, the art can be traced to the Middle Ages, or ca. the 11th to 12th century, more specifically to the account by historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai who attribtues the birth of kalari payat to an extended period of warfare between the Tamil Kingdoms Cheras and the Cholas in the 11th century AD. Kalaris are the schools where training in this martial art form is imparted by Gurukals or masters.

This martial art form is indigenous to the Southern Indian state of Kerala which, legend has it, was created by the warrior saint Parasurama, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, by throwing his axe into the sea which receded till the point where it fell. Parasurama then established forty-two kalaris and taught twenty-one masters of these kalaris to protect the land he created.

Kalari payat became more developed during the 9th century and was practiced by a section of the Nair community, warrior clan of Kerala, to defend the state and the king. In the 11th and 12th century, Kerala was divided into small principalities that fought one-to-one wars among themselves. These duels or ankamwere fought by Chekavar on an ankathattu, a temporary platform, four to six feet high.[9] The right and duty to practice martial arts in the service of a district ruler was most associated with Nairs and Ezhavas. The Lohar of north Kerala were Buddhist warriors[10] who practiced kalaripayat.

Kalaripayattu is a traditional psycho-physiological discipline emanating from Kerala’s unique mytho-historical heritage as well as a scientific system of physical culture training. The historical antecedents of this martial art form combines indigenous Dravidian systems of martial practice such as ‘varma ati’ or ‘marma adi’ with an influence of Aryan brahman culture which migrated southwards down the west coast of India into Kerala. There are two distinct traditions in Kalaripayattu-the Northern and the Southern schools.

In the Northern tradition the emphasis is laid on progressing from body exercises to combat with weapons and last of all to unarmed combat. In the Southern tradition the patron saint of Kalaripayattu is the sage Agastya whose strength and and powers of meditation are legendary. It is said that when the Lord Shiva married the Goddess Parvati at Kailasa in the North, all gods and goddesses went to attend the wedding and with this shift in weight the world tilted, so much so, that Agastya was sent to the South to restore the balance.

Lord Rama, legend has it, was mentored by Agastya to acquire the weapons, which defeated the demon king Ravana. In the southern tradition the emphasis is primarily on footwork, movement and the ability to strike at vital points or ‘marmas’ in the opponents body of which 108 points are considered lethally vulnerable.

Decline and revival

Kalari payat underwent a period of decline when the Nair warriors lost to the British after the introduction of firearms and especially after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century.[1] The British eventually banned kalaripayattu and the Nair custom of holding swords so as to prevent rebellion and anti-colonial sentiments. During this time, many Indian martial arts had to be practiced in secret and were often confined to rural areas.

The resurgence of public interest in kalari payat began in the 1920s in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout south Indi. and continued through the 1970s surge of general worldwide interest in martial arts.[11] In recent years, efforts have been made to further popularise the art, with it featuring in international and Indian films such as Ondanondu kaladalli ( Kannada ), Indian (1996), Asoka (2001), The Myth (2005), The Last Legion (2007), and also in the Japanese manga Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple.

Styles

Various kalari styles as specified in Vadakkan Pattukal,

Kadathanatan Kalari
Karuvancheri Kalari
Kodumala Kalari
Kolastri Nadu Kalari
Kurungot Kalari
Mathilur Kalari
Mayyazhi Kalari
Melur Kalari
Nadapuram Kalari
Panoor Madham Kalari
Payyampalli Kalari
Ponniyam Kalari
Puthusseri Kalari
Puthuram Kalari
Thacholi Kalari
Thotuvor Kalari
Tulunadan Kalari 

Stages

Training is divided into four main parts consisting of

Meithari (മെയ്ത്താരി)
Meithari is the beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. Twelve meippayattu exercises for neuro-muscular coordination, balance and flexibility follow the basic postures of the body. Kalari payat originates not in aggression but in the disciplining of the self. Therefore the training begins with disciplining the physical body and attaining a mental balance. This is crucial for any person and not necessarily a martial aspirant. This first stage of training consists of physical exercises to develop strength, flexibility, balance and stamina. It includes jumps, low stances on the floor, circular sequences, kicks, etc. An attempt is made to understand and master each separate organ of the body. These exercises bring an alertness to the mind, and this alertness helps one understand some of the movements and processes of the self defense sequences that are taught at later stages.

Kolthari (കോല്തരി)

Once the student has become physically competent, they are introduced to fighting with long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is the staff (kettukari), which is usually five feet (1.5 m) in length, or up to the forehead of the student from ground level. The second weapon taught is the cheruvadi or muchan, a wooden stick three palm spans long, about two and a half feet long or 75 cm. The third weapon taught is the otta, a wooden stick curved to resemble the trunk of an elephant. The tip is rounded and is used to strike the vital spots in the opponent’s body. This is considered the master weapon, and is the fundamental tool of practice to develop stamina, agility, power, and skill. Otta training consists of 18 sequences.

Ankathari (അങ്കത്തരി)

Ankathari in which both opponents are armed with chuttuval and paricha

Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons, they proceed to Ankathari (literally “war training”) starting with metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to their lethal nature. The first metal weapon taught is the kadhara, a metal dagger with a curved blade. Taught next are the sword (val) and shield (paricha). Subsequent weapons include the spear (kuntham), trident (trisool) and axe (venmazhu). Usually the last weapon taught is the flexible sword (urumi or chuttuval), an extremely dangerous weapon taught to only the most skillful students. Historically, after the completion ofAnkathari, the student would specialize in a weapon of their choice, to become an expert swordsman or stick fighter for example.

Verumkai (വെറുംകൈ)

Only after achieving mastery with all the weapon forms is the practitioner taught to defend themselves with bare-handed techniques. These include arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the pressure points (marmam). This is considered the most advanced martial skill so the gurukkal restricts knowledge of marmamonly to very few trusted students.

Marmashastram and massage

It is claimed that learned warriors can disable or kill their opponents by merely touching the correct marmam (vital point). This is taught only to the most promising and level-headed persons, to discourage misuse of the technique. Marmashastram stresses on the knowledge of marmam and is also used for marma treatment (marmachikitsa). This system of marma treatment comes under siddha vaidhyam, attributed to the sage Agastya and his disciples. Critics of kalari payat have pointed out that the application of marmam techniques against neutral outsiders has not always produced verifiable results . The earliest mention of marmam is found in the Rig Veda where Indra is said to have defeated Vritra by attacking his marman with a vajra.[13] References to marman also found in the Atharva Veda.[14] With numerous other scattered references to vital points in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that India‘s early martial artists knew about and practised attacking or defending vital points.[15] Sushruta (c. 6th century BC) identified and defined 107 vital points of the human body in hisSushruta Samhita.[16] Of these 107 points, 64 were classified as being lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick.[17] Sushruta’s work formed the basis of the medical discipline ayurveda, which was taught alongside various Indian martial arts that had an emphasis on vital points, such as varma kalai and marma adi.

As a result of learning about the human body, Indian martial artists became knowledgeable in the field of traditional medicine and massage. Kalari payat teachers often provide massages (Malayalam: uzhichil) with medicinal oils to their students in order to increase their physical flexibility or to treat muscle injuries encountered during practice. Such massages are generally termed thirumal and the unique massage given to increase flexibility is known as katcha thirumal. It is said to be as sophisticated as the uzhichil treatment of ayurveda. Kalari payat has borrowed extensively from ayurveda and equally lends to it.

Techniques

Techniques (atavu) in kalari payat are a combination of steps (chuvatu) and stances (vadivu). There are five steps and northern styles have ten postures (Ashta Vadivukal). Each stance has its own power combination, function and set of techniques. All the eight postures are based on animals.

Kalaripayattu is the art that is developed from nature. This skill is developed from the attacking motion of animals.

Interested in Getting Free Training?

Kalaripayattu training is given free to every student. Please contact the below address for further details.

Kalariyil Dharmikam Ashram

Parusuvaikal, P.O Parassala,

Thiruvananthapuram- 695508

Kerala, SOUTH INDIA

Ph +914712232686/+919495038070

Email : contact@dharmikam.com

WEB – www.kalari.in

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