‘Kalari’ or ‘Kalaripayyat’ is the exclusive martial arts legacy of Kerala. An old combat martial art originating in Southern India, Kalari is used as a defensive system. It’s believed that Kalaripayyat may have been the inspiration for the many Asian martial arts we know today.
Kalaripayattu is indigenous to the South Indian state of Kerala and derives its name from the Malayalam word ‘Kalari’ which literally means ‘battlefield’. In respect to this martial art, Kalari refers to the arena where training goes on and demonstrations are performed.
Originally, the Kalari was a place of learning for subjects such as ayurvedic medicine, yoga, philosophy, astrology, architecture and geometry in addition to combat arts. Physical well being is a fundamental element to this martial art with massage techniques and medical treatments being part of the over-all system.
What is Kalari payyat
Place of Kalari practice
The villages of medieval Kerala had a kalari, a temple, and a public tank for bathing, – a rare combination of religion, hygiene, public health and defence. Although the Kalari system was an offshoot from the Hindu way of life, it was shared by all people, irrespective of caste and religion, as a common legacy.
‘Ankathattu’ is a four to six feet high platform constructed temporarily for the purpose of fighting duels. ‘Ankam’ means war in the Malayalam language. This platform is constructed as per tradition and is in the center of the ground from where people can watch the fight. This place altogether is called AnkaKalari.
Every Kalari has a Poothara (meaning “platform where flowers are kept” in the Malayalam language). It’s a seven-tier platform placed in the south-west corner of every Kalari, housing the guardian deity of the Kalari. The seven tiers symbolise the seven abilities that each person must possess – Vignesva (strength), Channiga (patience), Vishnu (power to command), Vadugashcha (the posture), Tadaguru (training), Kali (the expression) and Vakasta – purushu (sound).
Gurrukal – The Teacher
Each Kalari is run by a ‘gurukkal’ (teacher) who teaches the students the esoteric physical and spiritual disciplines needed to master Kalaripayattu. A Kalari teacher was very much respected by the society. He was given the title ‘Panikkar’ derived from the term ‘Parinayaka’. According to Buddhist literature, he is a teacher of weaponary or Ayudha Vidya Guru.
The Styles of Kalari
The styles of Kalari are based on the region of training like North Kerala, Central Kerala and Southern Kerala.
Vadakkan (Northern) Style
This style is characterized with the typical leaping and jumping movements which is unique to the system. The training starts at an early age- as early as 5 yrs. The place of Kalari has very strict dimensions.
Another unique practice of the Vadakkan style is the applying of oil on the practitioner’s body before training. Herbal oils are applied and Chavutti Thirummal or foot massage is performed before undertaking training. This helps in developing flexibility and preventing injury.
After the Meyppayttu (solo forms) the student progresses to Kettukari (long staff), Muchchan (short stick), Katara (dagger), Valum parichayum (sword and shield) and Urumi (flexible sword) and then to the Ottakkol (curved stick).
Though in the ancient days the place was ruled and controlled by local chieftains, they had only a minimal role as far as law enforcement was concerned. Disputes between persons or the chieftains were settled by duels in a specially constructed arena in the town square called ankathattu. This led to the development of the skills needed for one on one fighting with sword and shield and other weapons like Churika and Urumi made of metal. Each family of the warriors were said to have developed secret fighting formula.
Thekkan (Southern) Style
The stances are comparatively higher than in the Northern or Vadakkan style and relatively less emphasis is placed on the weapons like sword and shield and Churika (double edged sword dagger about one cubit in length).
More emphasis is placed on the empty hand techniques and knife, long staff and short stick plus the extremely effective and lethal weapon called Kottukampu. This could be due the presence of a well-established law enforcing system present in the southern part of Kerala right from ancient days. Use of weapons like swords by civilians was a crime whether in self-defense or otherwise and the ancient masters cunningly developed very effective empty hand sets.
Then the science of striking the vital points or Marma developed as a great system of medical tradition and as a sinister art of killing a person without any visible mark of violence, this completely changed the nature of the southern style Kalarippayattu.
The central style (practiced mainly in Trissur, Malappuram, Palghat and certain parts of Ernakulam districts is ‘a composite’ from both the northern and southern styles that includes northern meippayattu preliminary exercises, southern emphasis on empty-hand techniques, and its own distinctive techniques, which are performed within floor drawings known as kalam.
Kalari Training Centres
1. Kerala Kalarippayattu Academy
The Kerala Kalarippayattu Academy was founded in 1976 in Cannannore by a dedicated group of individuals concerned with the future of Indian martial arts, especially Kalarippayattu of kerala and adi murai of Trivandrum and kanyakumari Districts. The Academy aims to become an international center of learning and exchange of techniques,knowledge, ideas,and research on the martial and related healing and meditation arts.
Kerala Kalaripayattu Academy
Pillayar Kovil Road,
PH: + 91- 497- 2768 178,+ 91- 497- 2702 369
2. Sudarsana Kalari Sanghom
Sudarsana Kalari Sanghom has full term 2 year courses as well as short term courses. ‘Kalari Kaipporu’ is an offshoot of Thekkan Kalarippayattu developed by Sudarsana Kalari Sanghom. This system is developed mainly for learning survival in a fight against one or several opponents, armed or unarmed. The main difference between the classic Thekkan Kalari and Kalari Kaipporu is that while the classic system takes a few years to learn, the later takes much shorter time- often as short as six months.
Sudarsana Kalari Sanghom,
Mundayil, Varkala (P.O),
Kerala, INDIA – 695141
Kerala, INDIA – 695141
email@ – firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Kalari Kovilakom
Kalari Kovilakom is the Palace for Ayurveda, perhaps the first and only one of its kind. The palace (or ‘kovilakom’) that Dhatri built came to be known as ‘Kalari’, because it was built on a site that contained a ritual space for ‘Kalari Payattu’.
Kerala 678506 INDIA
Ph: +91 4923 263737
Fax: +91 4923 263929