Kalaripayattu ::: A traditional Martial Art Form Of Kerala :::  

Kalaripayattu the martial art form of Kerala is regarded as the oldest and more scientific in the world.Kalarippayattu is the only form of the most ancient traditional systems of physical, culture, self-defense and martial techniques still in existence. It is believed to have had its origin in Kerala, the tiny state situated South West of India.The word ‘Kalari’ is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Khaloorika’ meaning a place where weapon training is practiced. The system of physical and weapon training imparted within the Kalari came to be called ‘Kalarippayattu'.

Social Background
Kerala, has made valuable contributions to the world culture and one of them, is the institution of Kalari.
It has a continuity over the centuries and is based on the idea of a sound mind in a sound body. Here, a child along with its learning of reading and writing, was initiated into physical conditioning as in the early civilization of Sparta. Such mental and physical training, starting from childhood, well equipped the child, to face any situation of contingency in life.
Kerala, though separated from the rest of the country on account of her geographical features, is exposed to the continent through the southern and northern plains and a number of gaps in the western ghats. Deep and wide rivers, forests and valleys further segment the land. These territorial divisions formed Nadus, which were administered by a traditional ruling chieftain or Naduvazhi. The Naduvazhies ruled under their respective kings. Each Nadu, under its respective
chieftain, maintained its peculiar customs, manners and local traditions. Each of them acted as a cultural unit of a common heritage. The Brahmin settlements and their concepts of Chaturvarnya, augmented the process of social formation in Kerala. It is believed that the legendary Parasurama, who was responsible in effecting the 32 Brahmin settlements in this region, had taught the Brahmins the art of fighting, archery, etc. Tradition holds that he had established 108 Kalaries in this region.
The Brahmin authority over martial training,  waned away and other caste groups came in. Some of the different Brahmin sects like the Nambisans, engaged themselves in learning and teaching Kalari.
Pazhassi Raja, a king who fought against the British, had his training under one Pindali Nambisan in the last quarter of the 18th Century. Some such teachers belonging to the Brahmin community, taught in the palaces, imparting training to the members of royal families.
A Kalari teacher was very much respected by the society. He was given the title "Panikkar"; derived from the term 'Parinayaka'. According to Buddhist literature, he is a teacher of weaponry or Ayudha Vidya Guru. Later the titleholders identified themselves as a separate sub-sect of the Nayars.

            The Kalari system was a major sociopolitical institution in medieval Kerala. The decadent political and administrative set up made everybody learn defense. This is why different caste groups and the religious communities like the Mappilas and the Christians underwent Kalari training. Gradually Kalari ceased to be the monopoly of any caste or religious group and it became a common institution of Kerala society.
            The number of Kalaries, increased and each community, with the permission of the respective chieftain and naduvazhi, established their own Kalaries. The northern Ballads, sing about Tacholi Othenan obtaining permission from Kunhali Marakkar of Kottakkal, who fought against the Portuguese start a Kalari in the latter's jurisdiction in 1590’s.

Ankam and the administration of justice
             Ankam, in fact served as a method of administering justice. The involved parties in a dispute, after getting permission of the respective Naduvazhi engaged two combatants to settle the issue through a duel. These mercenary fighters fought to the end of their lives and justice was determined in favor of the winner. The family of the slain fighter was compensated with cash payment and the Naduvazhi also was given a payment for his presence. This peculiar system of a duel for the cause of a third party was in vogue in medieval Kerala. If a combatant, rejected an invitation extended by an aggrieved party to settle his case through a duel, it would be a disgrace and dishonor not only for him, but also for his family. Social obligations thus compelled the mercenary fighter to accept any invitation to fight. As the saying goes, "one became a Chekavar only after the fight of an ankam" and that "A Chekavar's food was on the tip of the sword".

           The date and place of such an ankam had to be announced in advance and thousands of rural folk thronged to witness the fight as if it were a festival. It is from this that the saying; "one can see the ankam and collect the shampoo herb ' " came into being. The tragic story of Aromal Chekavar of Kadattanad is recollected in a medieval ballad. The pathetic condition of the hero's wife and his family, is reflected in this song as paradoxes. The anonymous poet both protects a social criticism against the institution of ankam, as well as exhausts the heroic fight of Aromal Chekavar.
           Several heroes were killed or defeated by their enemies. The defeated had to re-establish his honor by the fulfillment, of the vendetta. Foul play too, like instances of unauthorized use of fire arms, sword or shield of the opponent deliberately made to fall apart during the fight, with the connivance of the village blacksmith and bad construction of the ankam platform by the carpenter, on an understanding with the enemy, are seen described in the ballads.
           In reality the medieval political and social institutions popularized the Kalari system and the cult of hero. The institution of Poithu is a peculiar system referred to in the Northern ballads. According to this, a dispute between two villages was settled through a fight between two representative groups of fighters who were invited for this purpose from both sides. Such institutions reveal that development of the social system of Kerala is closely related to Kalari and its practices. Therefore any analytical study on the medieval institutions of Kerala, finally relates to the martial system promoted through the Kalari and its traditions.
          Blood feuds or vendettas, continued for centuries among families, till the British stopped them, after 1792.

Hero Worship and cult
            The society and the state apparatus in Kerala during the medieval period patronized hero worship. The practice culminated in the cult of hero worship and heroism becoming a way of life. The rural bards composed songs of chivalrous deeds and enshrined them in their narrative ballads. The life of a hero or heroine was eulogized. He was enshrined in the minds of the rural folk for generations after generations.
When the hero departed for a fight, his mother or sister usually reminded him:
                               "If you are killed in the duel or in the battle field like a hero, then your dead body shall be brought covered with veerali silk and in a "Pallakku". The funeral ceremonies shall be conducted with pomp and splendor. If you are killed by deceit the enemy or in afoul encounter by his sword, then your dead body shall be carried covered in green palm leaves."

            A society that cherished such a social philosophy of warfare, naturally promoted martial training and compelled each individual to master perfection in its art and craft. This spirit of heroism emerging from feudalistic anarchy and political chaos, compelled the individual to master all tactics of a duel or fight. In fact every one was molded to be a fighter. The entire educational system was shaped to fulfill this social obligation. Heroism as a cult was promoted and propagated through established social practices.
           Material objects, place names, worship centers, shrines, and ruined tharawad structures, help understand how the Kalari institution had promoted heroism and vice versa. The story of Unniyarcha, her bold ness within her beautiful womanhood, is a legendary one. Composition of ballads and their frequent recitals on all occasions, fostered the cult of heroes and heroines. The heroes were nurtured through the Kalaris and the heroes nurtured the Kalaris. It was not only an age of chivalry, but also an age of woes, because of internal warfare, lawlessness, social disorder and disharmony.

Origin and Growth

           The origin of Kalarippayatt is still in the midst of obscurity. Traditional Kalari masters attribute mythological stories and legends to the origin of the art. According to them, Parasurama the mythical creator of Kerala, instituted 108 Kalaries all over the,, land. This legend on the origin of the institution propagated by Keralolpathi, still lingers in the minds of the Keralites. Some masters believe that the Kalari system originated out of the wrath of Lord Siva while in his fury, to destroy Dakshayaga. Parasurama, Lord Siva's disciple, is supposed to have studied this art from him and have handed it over to his 21 disciples in Kerala. All such legends, propagate the theory that this martial art was brought to Kerala by the Brahmins.

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