Blazing guns, knockout punches and knee kicks- all of these have come to embrace today’s black leather generation, typically in the entertainment industry. Parallel to this magnetic gore, the world has also witnessed the evolution of a savage-free art; the martial arts.
“We learn martial arts as helping weakness. You never fight for people to get hurt. You’re always helping people.”– Jackie Chan
In Kerala, which can be deemed as one of India’s most progressive states, martial arts, particularly Kalaripayattu (‘Kalari’ meaning training ground and ‘payattu’ meaning fight) occupies a central place in the lives of the common folk as a key to unlocking the gems of the being.
Mother of all martial art forms?
It is a popular belief among a section of scholars that the famous Kung-Fu owes it origin to the Kalari art. The oft-heard theory is that, a Buddhist monk named Bodhi Dharma, a Kalari expert travelled to China and popularized the form among the monks of the Shaolin temple who were hitherto lacking in mental and physical strength for meditation and self defence respectively. Gradually, with local innovations, it evolved into the widely popular Kung-Fu form. Similarly, Kalaripayattu is also believed to have made immense contribution to the development of Judo, Karate and other martial art forms, apart from heavily influencing Kerala’s dance and theatre forms like Kathakali and Theyyam.
Obscure origins: Boiling down to religion
The origins of the Kalari art is difficult to trace with certainty. Numerous local stories passed down the generations attribute the founding primarily to Lord Shiva, Sage Parasurama and Sage Agasthya, some 3000 years ago. Moreover, the practice of this form finds place in the Dhanur Vedic texts, together with the Vishnu Purana, which describes it, as one of the 18 traditional branches of knowledge.
Techniques such as killing someone by pointing a finger!!
The synergy of art, science and medicine is the engine that propels this martial art form. The focal objective is to develop a sound body and mind. The various bodily movements are derived from that of animals which is why it is believed that Kalaripayattu originated in the jungles- the sharp observations of hunters having sown the seeds of this art.
Initial training in Kalaripayattu entails empty hand combat and meditation which then slowly progresses to more challenging stages encompassing myriad weaponry such as- sword and shield, spear, short and curved stick, long staff, etc.
‘Marmas’ is a popular term in the vocabulary of Kalari experts. It refers to weak pressure points that the practitioners take advantage of, to disable or kill an opponent. The Ayurveda places the number of lethal Marmas at 64, an unfortunate victim of a bull’s eye hit would surely see his/her lights go out.
The incredible power associated with Kalaripayattu can be gauged from the fact that those with years of practice are able to acquire the capability to end a life by the mere pointing of a finger!
Era of influence & British suppression
Massive strides as well as setbacks define the past of the Kalaripayattu art form. The 13th and 16th centuries witnessed its rapid upward spiral; the warring legacies of the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas having played an important role in propelling its glory. The setback came with the arrival of the British. The fear of mutiny and rebellion led to the passing of numerous laws aimed at eventual annihilation of the Kalari art. However, the persistent efforts of men like C.V. Narayanan Nair and Kottackal Kanaran saved it from the brink of extinction.
Throughout human history, the eternal tide of time has swept away rich gems to no man’s islands without giving humans the opportunity to fully appreciate them-their own precious gems. Keralites however, have clung on their martial art gem-rightly shaping and reshaping it to withstand the overwhelming tide. We leave you with a documentary on this great martial art.