Kalari : The Traditional Martial Art of Kerala
Kalaripayattu is a 2000 years old martial art used in self defense. This martial art form draws inspiration from the raw power, majestic strength and inherent fighting techniques of wild animals like the lion and tiger. We can also see the influence of Kalaripayattu in the dance forms like Kathakali.
Kalaripayattu was an integral part of the Kerala society between 11th and 16th centuries. All children above the age of 7 would go for Kalaripayattu training. ‘Kalari’ means school and ‘Payattu’ means training.
Children were trained to be nimble and were taught to dance, take leaps, turn and twist on the ground. This was done till their body became supple. They were then taught to play with weapons made from wood. In the next stage, they were taught to use metal weapons like swords. In the final stage, they were taught to defend themselves with their hands. It takes seven years to master this art.
In the olden days the rulers of Kerala patronised Kalaripayattu and gave it the same priority as was given to reading and writing. The Kalari space is a handmade pit, about five feet deep with a pounded earth floor that is covered with a tarpaulin or straw.
To the south-west corner of the pit, there is a seven tiered platform known as the Poothara that houses the guardian deity of the Kalari. The seven tiers symbolize 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).
Kalaripayattu is believed by many historians to be the mother of all martial arts. Thousands of years ago, Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, learnt this art in India. When he went to China to propagate Buddhism, he introduced this art of fighting to the Chinese. He later incorporated certain changes in the Kalaripayattu way of fighting and gave birth to a new form of martial arts known as Shaolin Kung Fu.
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