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Kalaripayatu - The Martial Art of Kerala



Kalari (a word in the Malayalam language spoken in Kerala, South India) word, for a special kind of gymnasium, in which the martial art known as Kalari Payattu, is practiced.


Uzhichil, or the massage with the Gingli oil, is used for imparting suppleness to the body, but only persons with a thorough knowledge of the nervous system, and the human body, conduct the 'uzhichil'.


Body exercises or Maippayattu includes the twists and turns of the body, leaps and jumps, and poses, designed to gain control over various parts of the human body.

Sticks of Kolthari:

This is the next stage where training in handling various staves of wood or canes of different lengths are imparted. The long stick is kettukari and the short one, kuruvadi.


A Weapon for the 'coup de grace'. The Otta is an 'S' shaped staff, with a knob at one end, made of the toughest portions of the tamarind tree.These sticks, which are about 2 feet long, are specially suitable for attacks on the nervous system.

Metal weapons or Anga Thari:

Weapons of various metals are used in training and combat sessions, like the sword, sword and shield, two types of knives, daggers, the spear and the 'urumi'. Various exercises are performed with these weapons.

Puliyankam (Sword Fight):

Wielding the sword in an efficient manner, is considered to be the peak of perfection in Kalari Payattu. Various methods in the use of the sword, as a weapon of offence and defense, are being practiced today, but the most awe-inspiring of these, is the Puliyankam, where the combatants fight like tigers, propelled by powerful fuels - extraordinary elan and agility.

The Spear vs the Sword:

In this combat, one contestant is armed with a sword and shield, and the other with a spear. Due to the length of the spear, the swordsman faces a disadvantage, but if he knows how to exploit all the weak points of the spear-man, and take advantage of all the opportunities, that come his way to get under his opponent's guard, he can easily triumph over his opponent.

Barehanded Fight or Verumkai:

In unguarded moments, there are some special ways of getting out of a tight situation, by using one's hands or a piece of cloth or a rope. Locks and blows are in vogue. Attacks on the nervous system by the edge of one's palm, are enough to paralyse the opponent. Various types of blows with different effects are, therefore, practiced to perfection.

Character, Fitness and Sheer Courage:

india_martial_kalarippayatThese three are the demands of Kalari Payattu, which has about it a distinct spiritual and mythical aura. To succeed in this martial art, one needs plenty of fire in the belly, energy, drive and fierce commitment


It is the most extraordinary weapon of Kalari, unique in the world. This double-edged flexible sword which the old-time masters used to wrap around the waist to keep coiled in one hand, to suddenly whip at the opponent and inflict mortal blows, is hardly used today in trainings, for it is much too dangerous.


Psychic powers invoked by using certain mantras was also used to fight against the enemy, called choondu marma (Choondu means to index, they can even transfer subtle powers through their index finger pointing it to the major marmas, through which enemy can be made motionless) was mastered in the past is now totally ignored because of its tough practices.

Causes of its degradation:

Kalari payatt was banned by British in 1793. Secrecy is maintained in regard to many things , because of selfishness due to narrow view point (involves own relatives, castes, politics, religion etc.) Or because of the incompetency of man to pursue it properly.

Kalarippayatu Today:

This indigenous martial arts, under the name of Kalari or Kalaripayit exists only in South India today. Kalarippayat is said to be the world's original martial art. Originating at least 1,300 years ago, India's Kalaripayit is the oldest martial art taught today. It is also the most potentially violent, because students advance from unarmed combat to the use of swords, sharpened flexible metal lashes, and peculiar three-bladed daggers. More than 2,000 years old, it was developed by warriors of the Cheras kingdom in Kerala. Training followed strict rituals and guidelines. The entrance to the 14 m-by-7 m arena, or kalari, faced east and had a bare earth floor. Fighters took Shiva and Shakti, the god and goddess of power, as their deities. From unarmed kicks and punches, kalarippayat warriors would graduate to sticks, swords, spears and daggers and study the marmas—the 107 vital spots on the human body where a blow can kill. Training was conducted in secret, the lethal warriors unleashed as a surprise weapon against the enemies of Cheras.

Presently Kalaripayatt is practiced in many parts of Kerala. Different styles / methods of Payatts exists, among them Vadakkan style's Thulunadan is considered as the highest.

Kalarippayat, southern Indian state Kerala's martial art form, aspires to spiritual transcendence, disciplining and stretching the combatant's mental and physical resources to ever-new limits.

Combat situations demanded an extremely agile, strong and supple body, which would instantly obey the signals of an alert and sharp mind. For the ancient martial arts exponents, uzhichil orkalari massage was one way to prime the body and sharpen reflexes.

Today, this form of massage is the focus of renewed interest as growing numbers of people are attracted to its healing and rejuvenating effects. There is a whole science behind the unique techniques employed by skilled masseurs trained in the art of kalari massage based in ayurveda. Ayurveda works at stimulating the self-healing mechanics of the body, using herbal medicines, medicated oils and massage. Kalari massage, which not only affects the body but also the mind, involves physical exercises, yoga therapy, pranayama and meditation.

Kalari massage includes techniques of balancing the chakras or energy centers and saptha dhatu (seven tissues in the human body—plasma, blood, muscle, fat, bone, bone marrow and semen), stimulation of nadisuthra points (ayurvedic acupressure), working with marma or vital points, and the awakening of prana.

Regular kalari massage increases body flexibility and reduces fat. The veins and arteries become more elastic, the skin begins to glow and the body becomes more efficient. Massage improves blood circulation and clears the body of toxins. Organs like kidneys, rectum, and lungs are strengthened and work more, efficiently, as is the case with digestive organs like liver and small intestines. Bone, joint, muscle and nerve centers also work better after massage.

The inability to handle stress can cause a breakdown in the body's defense system, leaving one prone to illness and disease, By reducing tension and calming the mind, kalari massage can improve mental alertness and attention span, and by helping body organs function efficiently, it can keep one disease free and in a state of positive health.