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Kalarippayattu PDF 

Kalarippayattu (Malayalam:കളരിപയററ്)is an Indian martial art practised in Kerala and contiguous parts of neighboring Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. It incorporates strikes, kicks, grappling, and weaponry, as well as healing techniques.



The term "Kalarippayattu" is a tatpurusha compound formed from the words kalari (Malayalam: കളരി) meaning "school, gymnasium" and payattu (Malayalam: പയററ്) derived from "payttuka" meaning "to fight"

Together these two words in Tamil mean "Practice of arts of the battlefield". Most words related to Kalari are originally from Tamil, including words like "suvadi" ( palm leaf manuscript), "vadivu" (stance/pose), "verum kai" empty hand), "mei payattu" (mei=body).




Kalaripayattu is thought to date from at least the 12th century CE, but may be older or more recent in origin, and likely developed around the region of Kerala where it is currently most widely practiced. Phillip B. Zarrilli, a professor at the University of Exeter and one of the few Western authorities on kalaripayattu, estimates that northern kalarippayattu dates back to at least the 12th century CE. The historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai attributes the birth of northern Kalarippayattu to an extended period of warfare between the Cheras and the Cholas in the 11th century CE. styles of combat, combined with techniquies brought by migration from the north along the western coast. The oldest western reference of Kalarippayattu is a 15th century trav

elogue of Duarte Barbosa, a Portuguese explorer. The Southern style, which places more emphesis on open hand combat has mainly been practiced by the Tamil speaking regions, at least for the last few centuries.

Origins of East Asian martial arts

There are disputed claims that Chinese and Japanese martial arts originated from Indian martial arts via Bodhidharma, some of which name kalarippayattu as the specific art in question. The topic is controversial amongst the martial arts community. While some proponents suggest that the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma may have transmitted some form of martial art to China, detractors point to contrary evidence.


Kalarippayattu underwent a period of decline after the introduction of firearms and especially after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century. The resurgence of public interest in kalarippayattu began in the 1920s in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout South India and continued through the 1970s surge of general worldwide interest in martial arts. Some dance schools incorporate kalaripayattu as part of their exercise regimen.

Styles of Kalaripayattu

Northern Kalaripayattu

Northern kalarippayattu (practiced mainly in the northern Malabar region of Kozhikode and Kannur) places comparatively more emphasis on weapons than on empty hands. Masters in this system are usually known as gurukkal (and only occasionally as asan), and were often given honorific titles, especially Panikkar. By oral and written tradition, Parasurama is believed to be the founder of the art.

Northern kalarippayattu is distinguished by its meippayattu physical training and use of full-body oil massage. The system of treatment and massage, and the assumptions about practice are closely associated with Ayurveda. The purpose of medicinal oil massage is to increase practitioners' flexibility or to treat muscle injuries incurred during practice. The term for such massages is thirumal and the massage specifically for physical flexibility katcha thirumal. Sampradayam, or lineages, or northern kalarippayattu include the arappukai, pillatanni and vattantirippu styles.

Southern Kalaripayattu

In southern styles of kalarippayattu (practiced mainly in old Travancore and the Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu), practice and fighting techniques emphasize empty hands and application from the first lesson. In the southern styles the stages of training are Chuvatu (solo forms), Jodi (partner training/sparring), Kurunthadi (short stick), Neduvadi, Katthi, Katara, valum parichayum, Chuttuval, double sword and Marmma and kalari grappling. The southern styles of kalarippayattu are Tamil and for at least several hundred years have been practised primarily by Nadars, Kallars, Thevars] and some Sambavar.

Zarrilli refers to southern kalarippayattu as ati murai (the 'law of hitting') or varma ati (hitting the vital spots).[ The preliminary empty-hand techniques of ati murai are known as Adithada (hit/defend). Varma ati refers specifically to the application of these techniques to vital spots. Weapons may include long staffs, short sticks, and the double deer horns.. Southern styles of kalarippayattu are not usually practiced in special roofed pits but rather in the open air, or in an unroofed enclosure of palm branches. Masters are known as asaan rather than gurukkal. The founder and patron saint is believed to be the rishi Agasthya .

Medical treatment in southern styles of kalarippayattu—which does include massage—is identified with Dravidian Siddha medicine which is as sophisticated as—though distinct from—Ayurveda. The Dravidian Siddha medical system is also known as Siddha Vaidyam and, like ati murai, is attributed to the rishi Agasthya. Active suppression of Nairs in southern Kerala led to the virtual extinction of their southern dronamballi sampradayam by the mid 1950s.

Central Kalaripayattu

The central style (practiced mainly in Trissur, Malappuram, Palghat and certain parts of Ernakulam districts is 'a composite' from both the northern and southern styles that includes northern meippayattu preliminary exercises, southern emphasis on empty-hand techniques, and its own distinctive techniques, which are performed within floor drawings known as kalam.


Several componenents make up the basic equipment and training ground of Kalaripayattu. A student begins training in northern Kalarippayatt at approximately 7 years old with a formal initiation ritual performed by the Gurukkal.

Initiation ceremony


At the age of seven, 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 his right foot first across the threshold. The student touches the ground with the right hand and then his forehead, as a sign of respect. He is then led to the Guruttara, the place where a lamp is kept burning in reverence to all the masters of the Kalari, to repeat his act of worship. He then offers some money in folded betel leaves as dakshina (tuition) for the master and bow and prostrate himself before the latter, and touch his legs, as a sign of submission. The guru then places his hands on the pupil’s head, blesses him and prays for him. This worship—touching the ground, Poottara, Guruttara and the guru’s feet—is repeated everyday. It symbolizes a complete submission to and acceptance of the Kalari deities, Kalari master, and the rules and discipline of the art.

The Kalari

The Kalari is a specially constructed practicing area that comprises a Puttara (seven tiered platform) in the south-west corner. The guardian deity is located here, and is worshipped with flowers, incense and water before each practising session, which is preceded by a prayer.


The training is mainly divided into four parts consisting of Meithari, Kolthari, Ankathari and Verumkai.

Meithari (മെയ്തരി)


Meithari is the beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. Twelve meippayattu exercises for neuromuscular coordination, balance and flexibility follow the basic postures of the body.

Kolthari (കോല്തരി)


Once the student has become physically competent, he/she is introduced to fighting with long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is the Kettukari staff, which is usually five feet (1.5 m) in length, or up to the forehead of the student from ground level. The second weapon taught is the Cheruvadi or Muchan, a wooden stick three palm spans long, about two and a half feet long or 75 cm. The third weapon taught is the Otta, a wooden stick curved to resemble the trunk of an elephant. The tip is rounded and is used to strike the vital spots in the opponent's body. This weapon is considered the master weapon, and is the fundamental tool of practice to develop stamina, agility, power, and skill. The training in 'Otta' consists of 18 sequences. 

Ankathari (അങ്കത്തരി)


Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons, he/she proceeds to Ankathari (literally "war training") starting with metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to their lethal nature. The first metal weapon taught is the Kadhara, a metal dagger with a curved blade. Taught next are sword (Val) and shield (Paricha). Subsequent weapons include the spear (kuntham), the flexible sword (Urumi) and the Chuttuval, an extremely dangerous weapon taught to only the most skillful students. Historically, after the completion of 'Ankathari' training, the student would specialize in a weapon of his choice, to become an expert swordsman or stick fighter.

Verumkai (വെറുംകൈ)


Only after achieving mastery with all weapons forms is the practitioner taught to defend his/her person with bare-handed techniques. These include arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the Pressure Points (Marmam), the vital points of the body. The Gurukkal teaches knowledge of Marmam only to those students whom he trusts, restricting the knowledge to very few.

Marmas and Massage

Marmams (vulnerable parts of the human body) learned persons can disable or kill their opponents by a mere touch in a Marmam. Marmam is taught only to the promising and level-headed persons, to forbid misuse of the technique.

Kalarippayyattu teachers often provide massages (Malayalam:uzhichil) with traditional 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 physical flexibility is known as Katcha thirumal.

Kalari marma treatment is as sophisticated as the uzhichil treatment of Ayurveda. This system of marma treatment comes under Sidha Vaidhyam, whose origin is attributed to Sage Agasthya and his disciples.

Kalarippayattu and performing arts

Influence of Kalaripayattu can be seen in major classical art forms of Kerala, mainly Kathakali. Many of the traditional performing art and dance forms of Kerala, like Kathakali, Kolkali, Velakali, etc., have drawn elements from Kalarippayattu during their stages of evolution. Kathakali has borrowed much from Kalarippayattu in its basic body preparative training of the actor not only in terms of technique in practice but also from the body massage for the trainee. Many of the body postures, choreography and foot work of the Kathakali characters are taken directly from Kalarippayattu. Some dance schools incorporate kalaripayattu as part of their exercise regimen. Some of its choreographed sparring can be applied to dance.


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