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Kalaripayattu The Ancient Form Of Martial

Kalaripayattu isregarded as one of the oldest form of self defence and fighting systems existing in the world which draws inspiration from the strengths of some of the wild animals. The place or school where the training is imparted is termed as ‘Kalari’. The Kalari system of education commences with the complete oil massage of the trainee to make his body flexible to undertake the rigorous schedule. The Kalari training includes two prominent phases. One is the strenuous physical training which includes the chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault) etc. The second phase is the training on use of weapons like flexible swords, shield, maces, daggers, machete, swords, spears, the bow and arrow. The art of Kalaripayattu requires an excellent synchronization and coordination between the body and the mind. The usual training sessions of the Kalari begin early in the morning before sunrise under the able supervision of the teacher. The teacher who is normally addressed as ‘Ashan’ wears an ancient costume called the koopeenam and kachha which supports the body muscles during the practice session of series of movements. It helps easy movement while performing various feats.

The complete course of Kalaripayattu has four stages of learning.

  • First stage – (meipayattu or maithari) – Involves the use of body
  • Second stage - (kolthari) – This stage involves the feats using sticks
  • Third stage – (angathari ) – The use of metal weapons
  • Fourth Stage –(verumkai)- The last stage involves fighting empty hand without any weapons

The teacher of this ancient form of martial art is expected to possess excellent knowledge in the seven stages of Kalari.

About Kalaripayattu- Martial Arts of Kerala

Kalaripayattu is the ancient form of martial art practiced in Kerala and some part of the South Indian states. It is regarded as the full fledged martial art form which also has a scientific stand. This combat form of martial art is taught at a separate school called Kalari. The Kalari system of training commences with a complete oil massage of the trainee to make his body flexible and agile. This ensures that the trainee does not develop any cramps and jerks during the course of training and facilitates swift and easy movement of the various parts of the body. Some of the common feats which are mastered by the trainee to make his body remain swift include chaattom (jumping), ottam (running), marichil (somersault) etc. The next stages as they master these feats involve familiarisation in the use of deadly weapons like flexible swords, shield, maces, daggers, machete, swords, spears, the bow and arrow.

In order to master the art of kalaripayattu one needs to have an excellent mind and body co-ordination.Each Kalari apart from training on the doctrines of Kalari also trainsthe students on some of the native practices also which the trainer had learned from his vast experience. Kalari follows non-secular worship, as people from different religion, caste and creed practice this ancient form of martial art. Whenever a student finishes his course, he is supposed to help the Guru with the oil massage and perform the duties of observer for other trainees practicing to preserve this ancient form of martial arts.

The Cycle

With the first indication of the onset of dawn the students assemble in the Kalari for commencement of their coaching. The trainer first wears the ancient costume, the koopeenam and starts applying medicated oil to the body of one another. This is followed by wearing of another garment called the kachha which holds the body muscle firm to aid easy movement. The wearing of Kachha itself forms one type of exercise which helps in slowing down of stiffed muscles. The process involves tying the one side of the knot to a pillar at one end. The teacher then starts to swing after taking few steps back after a series of movements. The Kacchha is automatically worn and the muscles get loosened in the course of this action.

The students then pay their respect to the immortal which is done by performing an exceptionally war dance-like ritual called as poothara thozal. The experienced people in the field can only make out the enormous amount of swift movements and feats involved in this action packed dance form of worship.

Stages of Kalaripayattu

The complete Kalaripayattu training is classified into four stages based on the usage and various exercises involved.

The stages in the increasing order involvemeipayattu or maithari (involving the body), kolthari (use of sticks), angathari (use of metal weapons), verumkai (empty handed without the use of any weapon). In order to become a trainer in kalaripayattu the teacher (Gurunathan) of Kalaripayattu has to master himself with the three other stages which are mainly for the well being of the students and up keep the tradition of this martial art. These stages are Chiktsavidhikal (treatment methodologies to be followed in case of injuries), manthrathantra (chanting of holy verses in remembrance of God), and marmagnanam (Idea or knowledge of Marmas or the pressure points in the body). The Guru who possesses excellent knowledge in all these seven stages is considered to be suitable for the post of Guru.

The first stage or the maithari as it is called involves conditioning, management of muscles and developing excellent concentration skill using meditation and other techniques. Once these training are completed the Guru recites the various rhythmic vaithari in the local language. The vaithari describes the each movement performed in the Kalaripayattu.

The second stage is called the Kolthari which involves the use of sticks. In this stage the scholar begins the training with the use of a sixty three inches long stick and as they improve in this stage the size of the stick becomes shorter. The ability to deliver 100 blows in a minute with utmost confidence and strength marks the completion of this stage. The trainee is then permitted to perform the ottakol, which resembles the elephant's tusk. The act of ottakol when performed by an expert becomes very dangerous and the otta emerges as a dangerous weapon. This act completes the second stage.

Once the second stage is completed the students can enter the third stage which is the angathari which involves learning the use of deadly weapons. The students learn to handle some of the deadly weapons like mace, dagger, sword, spear, bow and arrow in this stage.Initially they learn to fight with the equalled weapons. Once they master the technique of handling all the weapons, the Guru encourages them to fight using cross weapons and multiple weapons to present them with a real life scenario. This stage develops the skill of using the weapons.

The most deadly weapons among the group is the Urumi which is basically a razor sharp blade twirled with a handle to hold it. The use of this weapon in the correct form generates most terrific and irritating sound. The blade is razor sharp and can cause serious wound if not handled properly. The training of Urumi has caused serious wounds to various trainees during the training phase needless to say about the real fight situations. This marks the completion off third stage of kalaripayattu.

Once the handling of weapons is completed, the Guru teaches his trainee with the art of Verukai (Unarmed or empty handed feats). This is a very difficult stage where in the trainee is required to combat with an unarmed situation against an armed opponent. This scenario comes in real life and the Guru prepares his trainee to encounter such situations. This stage requires extraordinary skills and hand, eye coordination. This mastering of this technique marks the completion of formal Kalaripayattu training.

However, once the trainee receives complete confidence of the Guru, he may teach him some of the native skills and inner techniques like marma adi (death blows on pressure points). This is only taught when the Guru feels that his disciple would not misuse his skills.

Kalaripayattu isnot completely about violence and brutality. It also has some aspects which are being increasingly useful to the society. The Kalari Guru is the master of Chiktsavidhikal (treatment methodologies to be followed in case of injuries). This skill of the Guru was made use during the war time to heal the wound of soldiers. The typical Kalari Guru also attends medical requirements of the village like bone setting, curing wounds and other internal disorders. His skills in imparting excellent oil massage and preparation of medicated oils have made him very popular. The Guru who has excellent knowledge of the various pressure points in the body that provides excellent relief to muscles and bones by his treatment.

Each Guru has his own book on healing methodologies and medicinal ingredients which he passes to his disciple when he retires. The Gurus in the Kalari dedicate their life to keep this ancient tradition alive.

Kalaripayattu Weapons

  • Kettukari or Shareeravadi
  • Cheruvadi or Muchhan
  • Otta (Curved Staff)
  • Gadha (Mace)
  • Val Parija (Sword and Shield)
  • Kattari (Dagger)
  • Kuntham (Spear)
  • Urumi
  • Verum Kai (Barehand)



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