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The students receiving greetings from the audience


Kalaripayattu is the oldest living martial art in the world. It originated in Kerala, the southern state of India, more than 1,500 years ago. Impressed by its unarmed self-defence techniques, Budhist monk Bodhi Dharma took it to China, from where the present day Karate, Kung Fu and Tae-kwon-do evolved. The IGNCA hosted a Kalaripayattu lecture-demonstration on June 7, 2004, as part of its activities to promote Indian arts. 

The Folkland International Centre for Foklore and Culture, Kerala, brought its team of Kalaripayattu students under the leadership of V. Jayarajan. Kalaripayattu literally means ‘acquired skill of art. Kalari means school or arena and payattu is skills training, exercise or practice. In Kalaripayattu, the chief is calle the gurukkal

The art form has 10 stages of learning and it could take upto 3-5 years to master one stage. Normally, children are put into training at an early age, so that their body, being supple, yields to training. The traditional Kalari or the gym, or arena is dug three feet into the ground. It is 45 ft long east -west and 21 ft wide. Its construction is based on vastushastra

The Kalari is traditionally lit by oil lamps. Kalaripayattu is not a mere martial art, training the body. It is also a spiritual experience. Meditation, worshipping the ground, weapons, the Kalari and seeing god in the teacher are all part of the early training. The teachers of Kalaripayttu are also expert masseurs and bone doctors. In fact, Kalaripayattu is considered a branch of Ayurveda, dealing with the intricate bone system and its problems and remedies. 

The art form has cure for arthritis, broken bones and joints. Kalaripayattu helps systemize the flow of energy in the body. Kalaripayattu encompasses an invigorating Ayurvedic herbal treatment for chronic ailments like arthritis and spondylitis and a massaging regimen which repairs physiological damages and helps the body stay young and supple. 

The Sword Fight

The fracture treatment system developed as a corollary of the rough and tumble world of martial art, does away with X-rays and plaster-cast. The Kalaripayttu system is divided into four sections :

  1. Melthari (Body Control)

  2. Kolthari (Training with wooden sticks)

  3. Ankathari (metallic and heavy wooden weapons)

  4. Verumkaiprayogam (unarmed combat)

It is the most comprehensive personal combat training skill anywhere in the world. The training includes exercise to develop sharp reflexes for unarmed combat and techniques of combat using mace, spears, daggers, sword and shield etc. There is also unique Kerala weapon -- the lethal flexible sword called the Urumi which can be concealed as a waist belt. In olden days of kingship in Kerala, the kings patronized various Kalaris or gyms. Rivalry between kings were sought to be settled with a match between two schools. The Nair community of Kerala considered it their preserve and prestige to be experts in Kalaripayattu. Now, of course, the form is open to all. Twenty four students of the Folkland International Centre participated in the lec-dem, flying about in the lawns of the IGNCA with stunningly controlled body movements.


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