What is Kalari?
Kerala is a state known to hold its traditional culture very close at heart. Kalaripayattu is one such embodiment of the rich Indian heritage. It is a south-Indian martial art form originally from Kerala and which is still actively being practiced in South India. The martial art has a large influence from Ayurveda and yoga due to its understanding as a holistic teaching. Kalaripayattu does not only target body strengthening or training of fighting movements and defense forms, but is a doctrine for the whole body, mind and soul and thus for the human being in its entirety.
Originating in north Kerala as a martial art form It is considered to be one of the oldest surviving fighting systems still in existence in the world. Interestingly the earliest written evidence of this martial arts form can be found in Dhanurveda a part of Atharvaveda and Rig Veda and has developed into its present form by the 6th century.
Currently, it is receiving a lot of prominence particularly by those seeking to gain internal strength while developing their bodily strength and if your hearing about kalaripayattu for the first time one of the main reasons lay in the philosophy of the art itself. Most people turn to a martial arts form to learn to fight. But the teachers of kalaripayattu emphasize restraint and meditation. The knowledge is meant only for fitness and treatment. There are very few occasions — to defend the helpless — when one is encouraged to use this art against someone. The art is a means to understand how weak the body is. It is also a way to keep fit and rejuvenate your body. The more dangerous techniques are often not taught to students. A martial art masquerading as a rejuvenation technique can only have so many takers. Kalaripayattu also involves detachment from the world, which is quite challenging to attain. It is a form of exercise with a spiritual dimension, emanating from concentration and self-discipline and employes great muscular coordination.
Like other martial arts kalaripayattu too has its own variations, with the northern style from the Malabar region in north Kerala which is based on elegant and flexible movements, evasions, jumps and weapons training, while the southern “Adi Murai” style primarily follows the hard impact based techniques with priority on empty hand fighting and pressure point strikes. Intriguingly enough some of the flexibility training methods in northern Kalaripayattu are applied in Kerala dance forms and Kathakali dancers who knew martial arts were believed to be markedly better than the other performers. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate kalaripayattu as part of their exercise regimen. Kalaripayattu techniques are a combination of steps (Chuvatu) and postures (Vadivu). Chuvatu literally means ‘steps’, the basic steps of the martial arts. Vadivu literally means ‘postures’ or stances are the basic characteristics of Kalaripayattu training. Each stance has its own style, power combination, function, and effectiveness. These techniques vary from one style to another.
Learning Kalari requires a composed mind and a willing soul says Krishna Prathap, a second-generation Kalari instructor. When asked why people choose Kalari over the gym or taking yoga lessons, the master says Kalari offers yoga, meditation, and relaxation along with self-defence techniques, which explains why 75 percent of his class consists of IT professionals.One such learner is Mayank Rungta, a software engineer from Rajasthan. “I did not know about Kalari before. After taking these classes, I feel agile, flexible and rejuvenated,” says the young techie who has been learning the art for three years.
The Kalaripayattu scholar needs to train and develop four basic qualities. These are “Manakarutha“, the mental power which develops the desired inner tranquility, self-confidence and thus the goal of self-control and non-violence, “Maikaruth“, which is speed, elegance and power as mental and physical qualities, “Ayudakarutha“ which gives a fair knowledge of weapons and their use, and “Anakakruth“ which targets precision in defense and attack.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.
Not only has kalaripayattu diffused into southern dance forms but has also made its presence in the traditional art of healing – Ayurveda. Kalaripayattu teachers often provide massages (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. Kalaripayattu has borrowed extensively from Ayurveda and equally lends to it.
A day in the life of a practitioner is quite compelling with training beginning 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. The primary aim is the ultimate coordination between mind and body. Another focus of Kalaripayattu is specialization in indigenous medicinal practices. Kalaris are also important centers of religious worship.
One of the reasons for its lasting popularity even today is the numerous benefits practicing kalaripayattu inculcates in the mind and body. A few being listed below:-
- It boosts flexibility – just like any other martial arts form kalaripayattu requires quick reflexes and stances to defend yourself during a fight thus remarkably improves the body’s flexibility in the process.
- Strength training – In kalaripayattu the strength within your body is first focused upon. Trainers and practitioners believe that you can never call yourself truly strong unless you are internally healed, fit and healthy.
- Improves agility – There are a lot of quick moves that you learn while practicing this art form. You are required to defend yourself for protection and also attack, both within a fraction of a second which require fast sharp movements.
- Concentration Building – If you want to enhance your innate ability to focus on a singular task, Kalaripayattu can help you with the same. As only with a clear mind and conscience can the practitioner understand the knowledge which he receives.
- Improved patience – Kalaripayattu requires patience as building your fighting skills requires time and an unaltered mind thereby building a patient mind of a skilled practitioner.
Kalaripayattu is, without a doubt, an original depiction of the concentration, courage, and confidence of performers who’ve mastered the ancient martial art form. The art of Kalaripayattu dates back thousands of years to the times of Lord Parshuram, an ancient Indian fighting art which is still finding relevance and applause all over the world. At Mathatitu, we have people from all walks of life joining us on this incredible journey so connect with us to imbibe the various elements of kalaripayattu to experience the art form in its true element.