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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
Bangalore-560027
Tel: 91-080- 2212 3684 / 4148 3534 / 4146 7690
Tel-Fax: 91-080-22123809
Email: attakkalari@gmail.com

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
Email: ranjanmullaratt@yahoo.com

Krishna Pratap
Kalaripayattu Bangalore
Classes in Kanakpura Road, NGV and Indian Heritage Academy
Email:prathap_kalari@yahoo.com, kalarimaster@gmail.com
Mobile : 09448482643

More info:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalarippayattu
http://www.kalari.in

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14 Comments

  1. We were part of the audience in this kalari program just last month and i had my mouth open all the while.. there was an accident, a near miss in that show where the upper part of the sword/some sharp tool just flew off and landed next to one of the ladies sitting right above there. but the show and energy continued… my camera couldn’t capture pics as clear as you have put here.. and interestingly i never thought of it like you did and researched and hv provided contact details.. that makes a lot of difference and in a good way..

    those guys were just too good.
    ps: we headed for kathakali straight after that and that was good too..

  2. I had caught a show in Bangalore itself, but I could feel they were restricted in their movements and were very careful as they were performing on an elevated stage and I felt it was quite possible the stage might not hold to the true Kalari 🙂

  3. Nice article Anita, It has been a long time I heard about Kalaripayattu. Hailing from kerala, it had been a central theme in movies earlier and then kind of lost the movie stream. I remember as kid going to the townhall to watch programs.

    Last year while watching a Jackie Chan movie shot in India, the first scene shows him fighting a few martial arts people and then the guy starts speaking in malayalam and Jackie speaking malayalam back. It was hilarious and made me happy for the kerala language and the art form getting recognized in mainstream world movie. The film I guess flopped and so no reference of this ever came up. In fact history does say that the Northern part of kerala is where it is most active.

    Though now it has more of a training and entertainment value, this was a part of usual education and a whole society and a lot families revolved around this art form. Some famous families include Thacholi, puthooram etc.. created their own styles and I believe the people in these families took up senior defense roles with the then time rulers in the area. The concepts of mamankam festival and chaver Padas (suicide squades) had this art/fight forms as part of their activity. A very interesting story line and lot of interesting things to write about. Do keep writing. First time here, will visit often

  4. Have seen glimpses on TV etc – to have seen a ‘real’ performance must have been something. Its heartening that there’s growing interest in these arts.

  5. @manasa, not really, in olden days even women practice it and there are stories of several women who took up arms in defense of their families and communities. Not sure though if that is a preferred art among the new generation women

  6. Interesting article Anita! I have heard of this but never seen it in action myself. Good for you for starting. I don’t think there is anything wrong with you doing it at your age (I think we are close in age!) and if we all waited to lose weight before we started something, we would never start anything! Piffle on whoever said that.

    Let me know when you are ready to perform 😉

  7. I think this is the oldest form of Marshal Art .Buddhist when leaving India ,may be spread this in some other form to all the world

  8. Kalaripayattu is one of the most ancient martial arts in India and may be should be given a heritahe status. You can learn kalarippayattu in Indain heritage academy in bangalore as well

  9. Kalari has also a treatment mode where sprains and even multiple fractures are treated successfully. There are many of such people in Plakkad and Kannur districts

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