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Martial Arts of India: Kalaripayat


New Delhi [India] April 25 (ANI/Mediawire): There are some martial arts that are about absolute defence. They are about prevailing, about victory. Others are as much for the mind, as they are for security. They are methods to elevate ourselves and to transcend.

In our ongoing exploration of Indian martial arts, this sophisticated, powerful and agile Hyundai Creta has brought us to the southernmost tip of our country. We are in search of what is called by many as the ‘mother’ of all martial arts. It’s a form that has deep roots and long branches into history, philosophy and spirituality. It’s an art form that blurs the line between dance and damage.

The martial art, as you may have read above, is the famed Kalaripayat, from God’s Own Country, Kerala. To know about this evergreen art form we had to get this evergreen SUV. While it is available in various powertrain combinations, the Creta with us is in a conventional SUV (diesel engine/manual gearbox) form. It is as grounded as it gets – easy to overtake with, go long distances and above all, offer great fuel efficiency. It is as wholesome a car as most of India would want.

Our journey has brought us to a two-decade old institution – Ankam Kadathanad Kalari owned by a former school teacher and long-time Kalari practitioner,64-year-old Suresh Gurukkal. With over four decades of deep understanding of its techniques – passed on over many generations – he runs this quaint thatched-roof institute in Vadakara, a small town along the coast in Kerala’s Calicut district.

“As a kid I had a strange affinity to watch Kalari but I never practiced it,” recalls the guru, “When I was around 14-years-old, I happened to find out that my father who I had lost when I was very young, was a Kalari artist himself. That was enough motivation for me to start.” And he has never looked back since as he learnt and then imparted the knowledge alongside his day job as a Physics teacher at a local school.

Being such an ancient art, Kalari has evolved and spawned into various styles influenced by those who achieved god-level mastery over it. Nearly half-a-dozen variations exist and one can notice differences can be seen in the form they go about preparing and performing. For example, the one taught here is a North Kerala style, which is known to be more expansive in its approach, and tackles movement holistically. In contrast, the southern-style is more martial – direct and effective, to be used in combat for territory.

The arena is a rustic mud pit the size of a medium-sized swimming pool covered by a thatched roof. There is an elaborate display of weapons at one end with numerous lamps. It all starts with an elaborate step-wise salutation seeking the lord’s permission to enter, followed by an ode to their respective gurus and ancestors. Then there is a prayer, usually to Lord Shiva who is considered one of the patron gods of Kalari. It is rounded off by paying obeisance to the weapons and worshipping Naga (the snake god).

The salutations are followed by a series of exercises called Meypayuttu. These are postures and exercises for conditioning the body at the beginning of the training, just like warm-up before hitting the gym.

“Traditionally, all the people of this land, irrespective of gender and caste, were imparted the knowledge of Kalari, through the guru-shishya method,” says Nambiar. Most students start around the age of 7 years. While most learn a single form of Kalari from one guru, a few venture out to learn other forms but at different institutions as one place or coach cannot teach different forms of Kalari.

Quite against the norm, students here pick up weapons much before they begin to learn unarmed combat. There is a deep reason for this. Usually weapons are supposed to aid your fight. If someone can fight unaided it means you are obviously much stronger and capable. It spate also means that it is the final straw and calls for a final push which will be beyond the opponent’s capability. In which case it will be down to individual skill and body’s strength is all that matters. “This requires more training, a lot of patience and maturity, So, it is taught last,” reveals Nambiar.

This advanced stage of Kalari is the one based on an extremely deep and subtle understanding of the human body, its energy pathways, and its pressure points. This core science of Marma can be used for healing as well as disabling. Interestingly, this is also used in Ayurveda therapies which not surprisingly, Kerala is quite well known for.

Kalaripayat is a deadly, effective, and extremely old martial art, but that is not its real purpose. They say that the true aim of its practitioners is to be able to access spiritual depths beyond boundaries and to realise the small-ness of human existence. Good Kalari artists turn out naturally humble, naturally radiant and naturally evolved. It’s a holistic martial art that has enabled fighters, dancers, stage actors as much as gladiators. Through this entire journey, we have seen many different forms of fighting, each with its own reasons and purpose. Only apt that we sign it off with this little gem from where it all began – in God’s Own Country.

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