Martial arts are known to be the organized and documented systems of combat practices with origins in the ancient world, that are still practiced and taught either for the purpose of imparting the knowledge of self defence or keeping alive the ancient combat skills through competitions as well as for health and fitness, entertainment and mental, physical, and spiritual development.
Origin of the ‘Kalaripayattu’ Martial Arts
Martial arts is proved to have existed in India for over 3000 year by its mention in the Vedas and other ancient scriptures. Kalaripayattu is one such ancient martial arts believed to have preceded those that formulated in china. Although the origin of Kalaripayattu is a much debated topic, two of the most famous folklore are as follows:
One legend has it that, Agasthya Muni, the Father of Thekkan Kalari discovered this art of combat while observing the hunting of a crane by a fox. Even while facing the looming inevitability of death, the crane manages to escape by pecking at the fox’s eye. This led to the conception of the animal stances or techniques known as ‘vadivu’.
The other legend is drawn from the creation of Kerala by the great “Lord Parasurama”, a great warrior and sage, who trained four Brahmin sects on the special methods of warfare. They are known to have further trained more men and selected 21 outstanding experts for the establishment of the 21 ‘Kalaris’.
Kalaripayattu thrived in full glory during the 100-years of war between the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas during the early part of the first millennium. The warring states refined the fighting skills and techniques prevalent in the area into a martial art form. The art flourished between the 13 and 16 centuries, becoming a part of the education of youngsters. It was a social custom in Kerala to send all youngsters above the age of seven to learn Kalari.
The Decline of Kalaripayattu
The advent of the British rule and its subsequent suppression of the Kerala military system saw the gradual demise of the great art. The British were threatened by widespread Kalari training an the traditional system of carrying arms by the nairs. The ceding of the Malabar province in favor of the British as per the treaty of Seringapatam in 1792, resulted in a series of revolts in the Malabar. The revolt led by Pazhassi Raja was well supported by the Nair soldiers and Kurichya tribals of Wayanad. Consequently,the Malabar commissioners found it essential to unarm the entire region to establish tranquility. Major Dow’s direction in this regard, is note worthy.
On 20th February 1804, Robert Richards, the Principal Collector of Malabar, wrote to Lord William Bentinck, President and General-in Council, Fort. St. George, asking permission to take action against persons carrying arms, either imposing death penalty or deportation for life. Lord Bentinck issued an order on 22nd April 1804, that those who concealed weapons or disobeyed the orders of the British against carrying arms would be condemned to deportation for life.
At the time of the Pazhassi rebellion, British soldiers raided each and every house of the rebels to confiscate their arms. The same situation repeated in Travancore at the time of the revolt orchestrated by Veluthampi, the Dalawa of Travancore. These developments led to the slow deterioration of Kalaripayattu. Yet, there were a few Kalaripayattu gurus who worked selflessly to keep this tradition of martial art alive for the future generations by training youngsters away from the prying eyes of the British rulers.
Kalaripayattu Training System
Following the collapse of the princely states and the advent of free India – Kalaripayattu had lost its significance as a mortal combat code. Fortunately, Kalaripayattu has successfully survived the steady and sad decline in popularity. Kalaripayattu has once again regained popularity with the youth as a form of self defence as well as physical, mental and spiritual discipline and healing.
Kalari training is traditionally carried out in an enclosure which is 21’ width and 42’ length. Such training grounds are constructed according to Vastu shastra and are considered as pious as a place of worship. The entrance faces the East and the place of deity is to the South West. The path leading to the deity has seven steps symbolizing Strength, Patience, Commanding power, Posture, Training, Expression and Sound.
In Kalaripayattu, students attain the power to control the internal energy, breath, mental power and the power to focus by following the rituals and reciting mantras. Students are instructed not to sleep during the day time and are advised to sleep well at night. It is important that the students understand that Kalari is considered not only as a means of self-defence but also as a means to become determined and self disciplined.
A person can being Kalari training at an age as early as seven. Beginners start with training in balance and body flexibility and then move on to advanced lessons. Kalari requires speed, agility, and co-ordination of body parts. The training to become a Master includes training in Ayurveda and knowledge of human anatomy which helps in understanding vital nervous points.
The combat training is divided into four categories
MAITHARI – Physical methods of fighting.
KOLTHARI – Wooden weapon fight.
ANKATHARI – Iron/steel weapon
VERUNKAI PRAYOGAM – Unarmed combat.
Kalari Treatment or Kalarichikilsa
Kalaripayattu and the ancient medical texts in the Dravidian and Sanskrit traditions share the concept of the ‘vital spots’ in the human body, which is made up of the Pancha Bhootas (five basic elements), air, water, earth, fire and ether. Prana (life energy) flows through the body channeled through marmas or vital points.
Attacking the vital spots caused the opponent to be stunned, disarmed or even killed and is essential to the highest stage of training given by Gurukals to their most accomplished students in the Kalari.
The earliest reference to vital points in combat is in the Rig Veda (1200 BC) where the Lord Indra slays a demon by attacking his marma with his divine weapon.
“Human is an immortal spirit encased in a perishable body so there should be points where spirit hinges matter which are called marmas or vital point”
Kalarichikilsa has its roots in the traditional Ayurveda and sidhaveda systems practiced in south India. Kalarichikilsa, the body of knowledge with which Gurukals treat and heal combat injuries by manipulating these vital points, is based on marma chikilsa with its roots in the oldest medical practice in the world known as Siddha medicine, which is embodied in ancient Dravidian texts attributed to the sage Agastya who occupies the same position as Hippocrates in modern western medicine.
Agastya identifies 108 vital points in the body and this knowledge is gained by the most exceptional students by dedicated study under their Masters for anywhere between 10 to 12 years by demonstrating great yogic ability and control of mind to avoid the remotest possibility of any misuse of such great powers.
Marma chikilsa, considered by many to be more effective than Ayurveda, employs medicinal oils and herbal preparations to treat a wide range of diseases through manipulation and massage techniques so sophisticated that they are unmatched even in this modern age.
This form of therapy is used to give the flexibility, agility and suppleness to Kalari students, to correct and cure orthopedic deformities and injuries and rheumatoid disorders.
Marma chikilsa is also a complete naturalistic healing system to rejuvenate the body by eliminating toxic imbalances to restore resistance and good health in the highly stressful environment of modern times.