Kalaripayattu – training in the ‘Kalari’ playing field / arena – is supposedly one of the oldest martial art forms in the world and the ‘Mother’ of all other martial arts. It is believed that the Chinese martial arts was first taught by Bodhidharma, the Buddhist Monk of India and founder of Zen. With references found in Vedas, this art form is believed to be taught to ‘Parasurama’ by Lord Shiva after his battle with King Daskha. With mentions found in various ancient texts Kalaripayattu is predominantly practiced in Kerala and some parts of Tamilnadu. While in Tamilnadu the Kalaripayattu finds mention as warfare techniques used by the Cholas, Cheras and Pandyas, history of Kerala is replete with tales of ‘Thacholi’ Udayanan and ‘Chandu’ who are synonymous with Kalaripayattu.

The greatness of families associated with the Kalaripayattu and their heroic feats have been theme for many a ballads, novels, movies etc. As with any art form the northern style of Kalaripayattu varies in form from the southern style. It is believed that the northern Kalaripayattu was by Parasurama and the southern form was initiated by Rishi Agasthya. Pada Nairs and Chekavas were the group who practiced Kalaripayattu in the northern Kerala. Many Vadakkan Pattukal – northern songs – sing praises of these warriors and so are classified as ‘Thacholi’ Pattukal – Thacholi songs – which are about the Nair ‘Thacholi’ family and ‘Puthooram Pattukal’ – Puthooram songs – about the Ezhava Puturam family. In the southern Kerala, Kalaripayattu was practiced by the Nadars.


A scientifically precise martial art form, Kalaripayattu has unique features like the different stances, steps, forms and approaches used in the combat. Though called the same, Kalaripayattu differs in the forms as ‘Kaluyarthipayattu’ ( Kal – leg, uyarthi – raised, payattu – feat), ‘Kaikoottipayattu ( kai – hands, kooti – folded, payattu – feat). Similarly as per the mode used too, the styles of Kalaripayattu are classified as ‘Hanuman’ – where the speed is focused, ‘Bali’ – where strategies to overcome the opponent are devised, and ‘Bhiman’ – here strength is used mainly. The structure of Kalaripayattu is strongly influenced by the wildlife and is evident in the stances or ‘Karana’s. There are six Karanas : ‘Simha’ – Lion. ‘Matsya’ – Fish, ‘Marjara’ – Cat, ‘Pasu’ – Cow / Bull, ‘Sarpa’ – Snake, ‘Garuda’ – Eagle.

Kalaripayattu Weapons

Kalaripayattu is a wholesome system wherein practitioners follow strict lifestyle. The training encompasses not only combat techniques but also inculcates peaceful and balanced existence. The training also imparts knowledge of some specific aspects of the age old medical knowledge of Ayurveda. Seasoned practitioners of Kalaripayattu are adept in not only defeating the opponent with their skills but also can induce paralysis like injury which they themselves can cure too. This branch of knowledge is known as ‘Marma vidya’ : Marmam – nerve points, vidya – knowledge. The body of the one who practices Kalaripayattu is made supple and young by the traditional oil massage which helps them in their postures. The body is deemed as a precious one and strict regimen are followed to keep it healthy and agile.

Kalaripayattu is imparted in the age old fashion of Guru-Shishya parampara. So all the practices of that tradition are followed while a student learns Kalaripayattu. The student is imparted all the skills and techniques needed to become a holistic healthy individual. To that extent strict discipline is followed by the students as per the yama and niyama (rules and regulations) for a student. These include Brahmacharya (abstinence from vices), avoidance of unnecessary gossips / habits / company, respect for the Guru, fellow learners and the Kalari (school as also the practice ground), and traditions which are followed at the Kalari.


The routines in Kalaripayattu are classified into
Prarambha Vyayamam (beginning / basic exercise), Vadivukal (forms/postures), Kaalukal (leg
positions and uses), Chattangal (jumps), Karanankal (somersaults), Amarcha (wherein the posture of the body is flat and close to the ground) and Adavugal ( techniques).
The training of Kalaripayattu happens on four aspects :
1. Meythari (postures and forms of the body), wherein how the different postures and body is used in the combat is taught
2. Kolthari (with wooden staff) – how to use the staff and fight with it is taught here
3. Angathari (metal weapons) – skills to use the metal weapons like sword, spear, dagger etc,
4. Verumkai (empty hand) – how to use our own hands as weapons is taught in this.

Once these trainings are imparted all the accessories become part of the students personality and he uses all the knowledge judiciously as and when required.