Kalaripayattu – A Forgotten Heritage of Indian Martial Arts

Did you know that Martial arts of China were bloomed from an ancient Indian martial art and the TRAVEL made it possible for Chinese to take it from India centuries ago?

Kalaripayattu is the forgotten martial arts of early times. This form of martial art is the ancient (more than 3000 years old), holistic, physical discipline combining the dynamic skills of attack and defense and the power of the secret knowledge of the body. This system also includes a scientific system of healing and therapy based on combined disciplines like Ayurveda.

The word Kalaripayattu is a combination of two words, namely, ‘kalari’ and ‘payattu’ which mean training ground and fight. Kalaripayattu is an ancient art form and is considered to be one of the oldest forms of martial art in Indian and across the world. It is believed that a Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma studied the art in Kerala during his travels and took it to China a few centuries after Buddha’s death. And from that bloomed other martial arts.

dsc00819Guru-shishya relation. The disciple offering respect to Gurukkal Skaria before starting the practice

My introduction to Kalaripayattu was through a Kerala Cultural show and I was impressed with this deadliest form of martial art. Deadliest? yes! It is very intense and requires a lot of practice to reach a stage where you perform with real weapons around hundred of spectators and none gets hurt. The speed, agility and strength this martial art needs, is beyond imagination. Fighters jump to heights of almost 6-8 feet in the air almost effortlessly. Sadly, this art is dying. There are very few academies run around Kerala today and CSK Kalari academy in Pala (70 kms from Kochi) is one amongst them. CSK Kalari is a traditional Kalarippayattu institution established 1952 By C. F Skariya Gurukkal. CSK Kalari is currently run by Gurukkal KP Suresh, who has been the best students of Skariya Gurukkal. Gurukkal KP Suresh has been practicing and teaching Kalaripayattu and Kalari Chikilsa for more than 30 years. CSK Kalari has trained a large number of students which includes foreigners.

dsc00843Warm up

I was welcomed by Gurukkal Suresh into a rustic shed with 12 disciples awaiting to perform the martial art. The floor was very rough covered with a layer of mud mixed with Ashtagantha. Ashtagandha is used for its healing property and it is believed that direct body contact with mother earth helps better circulation of energies. The weapons used for the training were stacked in one corner around a symbolic structure that had seven steps with an oval top. Suresh explained me that these are the seven stages of training and oval is a symbol of reaching the perfection. Guruthara (flower offerings on a leaf) was placed near the weapons as a symbol of respect to all the late gurus.

dsc01188Gurukkal CSK Skaria and Gurukkal KP Suresh with the disciples
As narrated by Gurukkal Suresh, Shiva was said to have taught Lord Parasurama the art of Kalaripayattu which arised itself out of Shiva’s war with his Father-In-Law Daksha. Later, Parasurama taught his 21 disciples the art of Kalaripayattu, and then opened 108 Kalari  schools around the Kerala region. Saint Agasthiya Muni a great name in Ayurveda is a renowned frontier of Kalaripayattu and it was during his age the ancient got its significance and cultural license. This is not just about fighting with men. Fighting with men came later. He taught martial arts to a few people just to manage the wildlife when they travelled, and it still lives. While Parasurama taught this art with weapons, Agasthiya Muni taught it without weapons.
Kalari Treatments is a part of Ayurveda renowned for healing problem related with Ortho, neuro, muscular, spinal injuries, fractures, etc. The treatments are mostly comes into fold when Kalari fighters are injured during training and to heal the cuts, cramps; dislocation etc Kalari treatments are performed by expert.
DSC01171.jpgIn action performing Verumkai (Sword and Shield)
DSC01077.jpgThe dagger Practice
dsc01095Vadivukal (Animal movements)Practice

Along with Kalaripayattu, Gurukkal Skaria is known for Marma treatments. They are part of the Ayurvedic system of medicine that focuses on vital energy points on the skin where blood vessels and nerves intersect, primarily used for healing dislocated bones, back pain and long lasting internal bruises. Marmas are 108 energy points where the physical and subtle energy body meets. The treatments are mostly used when Kalari fighters are injured during training and to heal the cuts, cramps, dislocation etc

In the era of nuclear bombs and machine guns, we have forgotten our old martial art that originated for protection and not destruction. There are handful of people like Gurukkal Suresh today who still know the secret of such arts. There are more centers of Kalaripayattu in other parts of the world than India. Gurukkal Suresh’s student has started a centre in France and another one is soon opening in Italy.

Three hours spent with Gurukkal Skaria and Gurukkal Suresh were so enlightening and interesting. I hope more people learn about the secrets of such arts and spread the awareness of our dying heritage.

Have you learnt of a dying heritage of any country?

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