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Entranced by an ancient art

Entranced by an ancient art

I still remember the show we watched during a trip to Kerala last year. It was at Thekkady, while we were out exploring, when we saw a sign saying advertising a Kalari performance in the evening. We decided to venture in.

Kalaripayattu is derived from the words Kalari – which means “place, threshing floor, or battlefield”, and payattu – which means to “exercise in arms or practice”. In fact, legend traces the art form to more than 3000 years ago to sage Parasurama. It is also said that Kung-fu, popularized by the monks of the Shaolin Temple traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma – an Indian Buddhist monk and a Kalaripayattu master.

It was like opening a new door. I watched quite fascinated by what was going on in the “performance” area. With their oiled bodies, they stood in perfect symmetry, executing jumps, leaps and moves that did not seem humanly possible. They could move any way – forward and backward – with extreme agility as if they had elastic in their spine. In fact, sometimes, they would remind of my cat with their feline and smooth moves.

An art perfected through the years – we managed to catch a bit of the gist from the slightly difficult to understand accent heavy commentary. But from whatever I saw that day, I came away very impressed.

I read up on this form of martial arts. I came to know things like: “The art is trained in an enclosure called ‘Kalari’, which is 21 feet by 42 feet. The entrance faces the east. In the south-west corner is a seven-tiered platform called the “poothara”, which houses the guardian deity of the kalari. These seven steps symbolise seven abilities each person requires. They include Vigneswa (Strength), Channiga (patience), Vishnu (commanding power), Vadugashcha (the posture), Tadaaguru (training), Kali (the expression) and Vakasta – purushu (sound). Other deities, most of them incarnations of the Bhagavathi or Shiva, are installed in the corners.”

From being a pure martial combat, Kalari has been adapted today as an exercise form and a way of self expression.

Back in Bangalore, I tried to find out about teachers of this art. I found a handful. I decided on joining the one closest. And I must say I’ve enjoyed every moment of it in the last few months that I’ve been initiated into this form of exercise.

The twisting and turning makes me realize that I still have a long way to go before I develop such flexibility. But at least it’s a start. Learning it young is a good idea I realize but “it’s better late than never” has always been my philosophy. A well-meaning friend commented that I shouldn’t probably try all these things till I lose weight. And that I’m probably past the age when I should be trying anything that involves leaping and jumping. But then I’ve never really agreed to the school of thought that says there’s a right age to do things. Anything should be tried and tested, if you feel you want to give it a go, don’t let anyone or their opinions get into the way. You try it and you decide!

There are folks who start running in their 40s and 50s and develop into marathoners. So, I don’t think age should ever be an excuse. Just do it (if you really want to) – at least you’ll never live to regret it.

In Bangalore, you can try these schools based on your location and convenience. These are also different styles (Northern/Southern) so there are variations. Go in for a trial class if you can!
Centre for Movement Arts
24-04, BTS Bus Depot Road
Wilson Garden
Behind Mandovi Motors
Tel: 91-080- 2212 3684 / 4148 3534 / 4146 7690
Tel-Fax: 91-080-22123809

Ranjan Mullarat
Kalari Academy of performing Arts
#25, V N Plaza, Bazaar Street, Brigade Road Cross.
Bangalore 560 025, India.
Phone: 080 – 25551772
Mobile: +91-99451 55995

Krishna Pratap
Kalaripayattu Bangalore
Classes in Kanakpura Road, NGV and Indian Heritage Academy,
Mobile : 09448482643

More info:


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