What is Kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu is considered to be the base form of martial arts that originated in India in the medieval period. The state of Kerala is said to be the home of Kalaripayattu. The term, Kalaripayattu is derived from the Malayalam words, ‘kalari’, meaning gymnasium and ‘payatukka’, meaning fight or exercise. There is a widespread belief among the people in Kerala that this form of fighting was a gift to mankind by the Hindu Gods and reached the normal man through sage Parasurama. However, there is no doubt about the fact that in the 6th century CE, this form of fighting reached its pinnacle of popularity.

It is considered that the various forms of martial arts that are spread all over the world currently, originated from the base form of martial arts, Kalaripayattu. The Buddhist monk from Tamilnadu, Bodhidharman is said to have helped greatly in propagating this form of martial arts to various parts of his world during his visit in China. The modern day Shaolin temples that train young students in Kung Fu are believed to have developed on the lines of the art from India, Kalaripayattu. Mainly three states of south India, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Karnataka had great warriors who possessed expertise in this form of fighting.

Nairs and Ezavas were the two castes that had expertise in this form of martial arts and experts are of the opinion that the importance of Kalaripayattu increased greatly due to the frequent wars that took place between the Cheras and the Cholas. The main weapons that are made use of in this martial art form are sword, staff, stick and spear. A disciple who wishes to learn Kalaripayattu had to be admitted in a Gurukkal and had to learn the various grappling techniques from the teacher. The pupil was trained in meditation too so that he had control over his mind. The special kind of massage that the student of Kalaripayattu was provided with is said to have played a major role in increasing his strength and stability.

Warriors who specialized in Kalaripayattu were able to kill an opponent by merely touching them at the sensitive spots called ‘marmam’. These deadly skills were to be utilized only in situations of emergencies and were taught only to the best students who exercised excellent self control through meditation. With the advent of colonialism in India, this ancient martial art from began to lose its significance. However, in the recent times, efforts are on to revive the art of Kalaripayattu and it is evidenced from the large number of institutes that have come up in Kerala to teach young students the earliest known form of martial arts.

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