is an Indian Martial art from the southern state of Kerala. One of the oldest fighting systems in existence, it is practiced in Kerala and contiguous parts of Tamilnadu and Karnataka as well as northeastern Sri Lanka and among the Malayali community of Malaysia. It was practiced primarily by groups among Keralite castes such as the Nairs and Ezhavas and was taught by a special caste named Kalari Panickar
Kalari payat includes strikes, kicks, grappling, preset forms, weaponry and healing methods.Regional variants are classified according to geographical position in Kerala; these are the northern style of the Malayalis, the Southern Style of the Tamils and the central Style from inner Kerala. The northern style was practiced primarily by the Nairs, the martial caste of Kerala, and Ezhavas as well as some Mappilas and Saint Thomas Christian. The southern style, called adi murai, was practiced largely by the Nadars and has features distinguishing it from its other regional counterparts.Northern kalari payat is based on the principle of hard technique, while the southern style primarily follows the soft techniques, even though both systems make use of internal and external concepts.
Some of the choreographed sparring in kalari payat can be applied to dance and Kathakali dancers who knew Martial arts were believed to be markedly better than the other performers. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate kalari payat as part of their exercise regimen
Oral folklore ascribes the creation of kalari payat to the Hindu Gods,] It was first documented around the 11th or 12th century AD by the historian Klamkulam Kunjan Pillai, who attributed its creation to an extended period of warfare that took place between the Chera and the Chola dynasties in the 11th century,
The art was disseminated through schools known as Kalari which served as centre of learning before the modern educational system was introduced. Still in existence, kalaris served as meeting places for the acquisition of knowledge on various subjects ranging from mathematics, language, astronomy and various theatrical arts. More specifically,Martial artas were taught in the payattu kalari, meaning fight school,
Kalari payat became more developed during the 9th centuryand was practiced by a section of the Hindu community, warrior clan of Kerala, to defend the state and the king. In the 11th and 12th century, Kerala was divided into small principalities that fought one-to-one wars among themselves. These duels or ankam were fought by Chekavar on an ankathattu a temporary platform, four to six feet high, The right and duty to practice martial arts in the service of a district ruler was most associated with Nairs and Ezhavas The Lohar of north Kerala were Buddhist Warriorswho practiced kalaripayattu.The traditional astrologer caste Kaniyar were the teachers of martial arts to young Nairs,Hence they were known as Panichar and Asans.A legendary belief had existed in connection with assignement of this duty to Kaniyar class by Parasuraman in Keralolpathy.
The Mappila Muslims adopted and practiced Kalaripayattu as their own. The ballads of North Kerala refer to Muslims trained in Kalaripayattu. For instance, the hero of the northern ballads Thacholi Othenan bowed before Kunjali Markkar, the Muslim commander of the Zamorin. and offered him presents before opening his kalari. Some Mappilas were trained in Hindu institutions known as Chekor Kalaris.The Paricha Kali is an adaptation of Kalaripayattu, and the Mappila tradition of this art is called Parichamuttu. The participants typically wear white shirts, green skullcaps, and sing Mappila songs after praying to Allah, Prophet Muhammad and the Pirs.
The Saint Thomas Christians also practiced Kalaripayattu and most Christian settlements had a kalari, that was usually run by a Christian panikkar (officer). In the Jornada, it is mentioned that some Christian panikkars had between 8,000 to 9,000 disciples, who were trained as fighting forces for the local rajahs One of the most prominent Christian panikkars was Vallikkada Panikkar, whose kalari was located at Peringuzha on the banks of the Muvattupuja River He is an ancestor of Bishop Geevargis, one of the founders of the Syro Malankara
The writings of early colonial historians like Varthema, Logan and Whiteway shows that kalari payat was widely popular and well established with almost all people in Kerala transcending gender, caste and communal lines. It is said to have eventually become as prevalent as reading and writing. Among some noble families, young girls also received preliminary training up until the onset of menses. It is also known from the vadakkan pattukal ballads that at least a few women of noted Chekavar continued to practise and achieved a high degree of expertise, The most famous of them was Unniyarcha of Keralan folklore, a master with the Urimi or flexible sword.
Various kalari styles as specified in Vadakan Pattukal
- Kadathanatan Kalari
- Karuvancheri Kalari
- Kodumala Kalari
- Kolastri Nadu Kalari
- Kurungot Kalari
- Mathilur Kalari
- Mayyazhi Kalari
- Melur Kalari
- Nadapuram Kalari
- Panoor Madham Kalari
- Payyampalli Kalari
- Ponniyam Kalari
- Puthusseri Kalari
- Puthuram Kalari
- Thacholi Kalari
- Thotuvor Kalari
- Tulunadan Kalari
Students begin training at approximately seven years old with a formal initiation ritual performed by the gurukkal. On the opening day of the new session, a novice is admitted to the Kalari in the presence of the Gurukkal or a senior student and directed to place their right foot first across the threshold. The student touches the ground with the right hand and then the forehead, as a sign of respect. He is then led to the guruthara, the place where a lamp is kept burning in reverence to all the masters of the kalari, to repeat this act of worship. He then offers the master some money as dakshina in folded betel leaves and prostrates himself, touching the master’s feet as a sign of submission. The guru then places his hands on the pupil’s head, blesses him and prays for him. This ritual – touching the ground, puttara guruthara and the guru’s feet – is repeated everyday. It symbolizes a complete submission to and acceptance of the master, the deva, the kalari and the art itself.
Main article: KALARI
A Kalari is the school or training hall where Martial arts are taught. They were originally constructed according to Vastu Sastra with the entrance facing east and the main door situated on the centre-right. Sciences like Mantra saastra,tantra saastraand marma saastra are utilized to balance the space’s energy level. The training area comprises a puttara (seven tiered platform) in the south-west corner. The guardian deity (usually an avatar of Bhagavathi,Kali or Shiva) is located here, and is worshipped with flowers, insense and water before each training session which is preceded by a prayer. Northern styles are practiced in special roofed pits where the floor is 3.5 feet below the ground level and made of wet red clay meant to give a cushioning effect and prevent injury. The depth of the floor protects the practitioner from winds that could hamper body temperature. Southern styles are usually practiced in the open air or in an unroofed enclosure of palm branches. Traditionally, when a Kalari was closed down it would be made into a small shrine dedicated to the guardian deity.
Specific commands associated with each exercise are called vaytari.
Kaalkal literally means legs. In the kalari context, it refers to kicks as well as leg-raising exercises (kaal eduppu) to increase flexibility.
- Paada chakram (round kick- inside to outside)
- Paada Bhramanam (round kick- outside to inside)
- ner kaal (straight kick)
- kon kaal (right to left, left to right kick)
- veethu kaal (round kick – inside out)
- ner-kona-veethu kaal (combined kick)
- thirichu kaal (both side kick – kick straight turn around and kick)
- aga kaal (round kick – outside in)
- iruththi kaal (kick and sit)
- iruththi kaal 2 (kick and sit – turn and sit)
- soochi kaal (kick and side split sit)
- soochi kaal 2 (kick and side split sit – turn and side split sit)
Kaikuththippayattu is a compound of kai (hand), kuththi (hit) and payattu (exercise). Originating from the Tulunadan lineage, it has been adopted into most other styles. It consists of punches, leg moves, stretches, twists, and jumps performed in a particular sequence. It is preceded by warm-ups or mukakattu. Like most exercises in kalari payat, kaikuththipayattu is divided into 18 stages and its complexity increases from one level to another..
Chumattadi teaches how to attack and defend against multiple opponents from all sides. Divided into 18 stages, it consists of punches, cuts, throws and blocks. The movements are repeated in four directions. This exercise should be practiced with intense speed and power.
Meipayattu concentrates on flexibility. Also divided into 18 stages, it is said to make the practitioner aggressive and increase battle awareness. This exercise should be practiced with speed and agility.
Marmashastram and massage
Main article: MARMA
It is claimed that learned warriors can disable or kill their opponents by merely touching the correct Marma (vital point). This is taught only to the most promising and level-headed persons, to discourage misuse of the technique. Marmashastram stresses on the knowledge of Marma and is also used for marma treatment (marmachikitsa). This system of marma treatment comes under siddha vaidhyam, attributed to the sage Agastya and his disciples. Critics of kalari payat have pointed out that the application of Marmam techniques against neutral outsiders has not always produced verifiable results. The earliest mention of Marmam is found in the Rug Veda where Indra is said to have defeated Vritra by attacking his marman with a Vajra References to marman also found in the Athar Veda With numerous other scattered references to vital points in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that India‘s early martial artists knew about and practised attacking or defending vital points.Sushrutha (c. 6th century BC) identified and defined 107 vital points of the human body in his Sushruta Samhita. Of these 107 points, 64 were classified as being lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick. Sushruta’s work formed the basis of the medical discipline ayurveda, which was taught alongside various Indian Martial arts that had an emphasis on vital points, such as Varma Kalai and marma adi.
As a result of learning about the human body, Indian Martial artists became knowledgeable in the field of traditional medicine and massage. Kalari payat teachers often provide massages (Malayalam: uzhichil) with medicinal oils to their students in order to increase their physical flexibility or to treat muscle injuries encountered during practice. Such massages are generally termed thirumal and the unique massage given to increase flexibility is known as katcha thirumal. It is said to be as sophisticated as the uzhichil treatment of ayurveda. Kalari payat has borrowed extensively from ayur Veda and equally lends to it.
Techniques (atavu) in kalari payat are a combination of steps (chuvatu) and stances (vadivu). There are five steps and northern styles have ten postures (Ashta Vadivukal). Each stance has its own power combination, function and set of techniques. All the eight postures are based on animals.
||Fish stance (Gurukkal Govindankutty Nayar and the C.V.N. Style)
||Peacock stance (Gurukkal P. K. Balan Style)
Although no longer used in sparring sessions, weapons are an important part of kalari payat. This is especially true for the northern styles which are mostly weapon-based. Some of the weapons mentioned in medieval Samgam Literature have fallen into disuse over time and are rarely taught in kalari payat today.
|Weapons currently used in kalaripayattu
|Weapons historically used in kalaripayat
||Bow and arrow