Dheeraj tells Rohan about the ancient art of Kalaripayattu.

Dheeraj asked Rohan what he was planning to do in his summer vacations. Rohan said he was planning to learn martial arts. Dheeraj asked “Rohan, did you know that we have a martial arts style in India that is centuries old?” Rohan was surprised and asked Dheeraj to tell him about it. This is what Dheeraj told Rohan.

The name of the martial art form is Kalaripayattu and it is thought to be one of the oldest forms of martial arts on the planet. There is mention of this form of martial art in the Vedas too!

Believed to be have been taught by Agastya Muni and Lord Parasurama, Kalaripayattu is one of the most popular martial arts forms in India. Many martial arts techniques have been lost over the years due to lack of information, proper documentation and neglect, however Kalaripayattu has retained its identity over centuries. The word Kalaripayattu is formed from two words “kalari” and “payattu” which means training ground and fight respectively; it means practicing the art of battlefields.

In ancient times all children above the age of seven in Kerala were taught this fight form and it was incorporated in religious practices too. Kalaripayattu finds mention in the ancient Sangam literature also. During the extended period of war between various dynasties during the 13th to 16th century, this fight form gained popularity. It is believed to have originated in Kerala while some attribute its origin to entire South India.

During the British rule this art form was discouraged by the colonial rulers but the lovers of the art practiced it secretly especially in the rural areas. After Independence since there were no restrictions imposed, Kalaripayattu regained popularity and almost became fashionable.

Kalaripayattu: An ancient Indian martial arts form

This fight form is not only about fighting or kicking but focuses on understanding the energy system of the body. This martial arts style originally started as a way to protect oneself from the abundant wildlife in India – mainly tigers. A lot of movements and postures are inspired by the strength and postures of animals and are named after them too. From fighting with animals the style evolved to fighting with men. In the beginning the fighting style involved crouching positions since the technique was used to hide from and fight animals. Later the style adopted standing positions.

Sage Parasurama’s s style evolved to use all kinds of weapons while Sage Agastya’s style retained fighting with hands. This martial art was taught at schools known as “kalari” which were centres of learning for other subjects too and art forms. True learners of Kalaripayattu have a great understanding of the 107 “marman” which are the vital points of the body. This knowledge is used for marmachikitsa or the marman treatment.

It is believed that true scholars of this form can kill or a disable a person with a mere touch at one of the marmans. This knowledge about the vital points and their importance was used to develop a way of healing too. The massage given by trained kalari practitioners with special medicinal oils can cure a lot of problems and increase flexibility and treat muscle injuries that occur during the fights.

Like any art forms Kalaripayattu relies on a series of steps and postures which have been named after various animals. The practice includes learning about strikes, kicks, wrestling, weapons and healing techniques.  There are different styles of Kalaripayattu practiced across South India and within Kerala too. The poses, their names, application and interpretation also vary with each having its own function and utility.

There is close relationship between martial arts, yoga and dance forms in India. A lot of influence of Kalaripayattu can be seen in Kathakali or the vice versa could be true. Similarly Kalaripayattu borrows and lends heavily to yoga too.

Though very little literature exists, the origin and spread of Kalaripayattu is believed to have influenced the development of the martial art forms in China and Tibet too!

So you see Rohan, Kalaripayattu is an ancient fight form that has stood the test of time and exists after hundreds of years too. More than that what started as a mere tactic to protect oneself from animals, over centuries became an art form that can be used for healing too. Kalaripayattu is not about only fighting but it is a great art the combines dance, fighting and healing.

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Kalaripayattu: An ancient Indian martial arts form
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