Kalarippayattu, considered to be the mother of all martial art forms in the world, is a priceless asset to Kerala's heritage. An intricate blend of physical prowess, mindset, martial techniques and indigenous medical system, this form of armed, close quarter, hand-to-hand combat is unique to this State.
The Kalari is a practice ring or training centre on the lines of a gymnasium and Payattu is a duel. Hence, Kalarippayattu means martial skills learnt in a ring or training centre.
The CVN Kalari Sangham in Thiruvananthapuram was established in 1956 following the lifelong dedicated efforts of C.V.Narayanan Nair, C.V.Balan Nair and Kottackal Karunakara Gurukkal, who popularised the art which was on the verge of dying. They succeeded, by staging demonstrations, collecting information and establishing Kalaries all over the State.
The CVN Kalari is built in an East-West direction about 4 feet below ground level, and is closed on all sides except for a small door on the Eastern side. This cocoon-like traditional Kalari architecture is greatly suited for the tropical, humid climate of Kerala. There is not much light within the Kalari other than the light from the traditional wick lamps or nilavilakku.
Since Kalarippayattu is considered a sublime martial art, certain deities are placed in the Kalari and devotional rituals performed before every session to obtain their blessings. The main deity is Kalari Paradevata, or the Goddess of Kalari. Idols of Ganapathi, Naga (the serpent god), Bhadrakaali and others are also placed along with. The rites of worship are a part of the Kalari tradition.
Rigorous training and perseverance creates a Kalari fighter
The Kalari fighter depends only on his alertness and agility, and the use of various stances and swift movements for attack and self defence. Long years of systematic and rigorous training hone these reflexes even while cultivating mental abilities like concentration, confidence and courage.
The training usually starts at the age of seven for both boys and girls. For most Kalari exponents, the training becomes a way of life. Besides the physical aspects, the Kalari training includes meditation and Ayurvedic oil massages. The massages are of prime importance in conditioning and making the body supple. This is done by the Gurukkal or the Master Trainer himself.
The training is imparted in four stages. First the Chuvadu or stance. This is followed by Vadivu or body postures which are eight in number: gaja (elephant), simha (lion), aswa (horse), varaha (pig), sarpa (serpent), marjjara (cat), kukkuda (rooster) and matsya (fish).
The trainee who masters the Chuvadu and Vadivu goes on to Meyppayattu (the use of the body in fighting) which aims at perfecting neuro-muscular coordination. Then begins the training with weapons. Commencing with cane weapons, the trainee graduates to using the Cheruvadi (small stick), Ottakkol (poles), Gada (mace) and Kadtaram (steel dagger), and then the most glamorous of combats - fighting with the sword and shield.
Another weapon is the Urumi, a long, springy, double edged, coiled sword which can even recoil and hurt the user if not wielded with skill. Fighting with spears is the last in the weapon training syllabus. The spears called Kuntham are long poles made of cane, bamboo or wood with a sharp double edged metal tip.
An entire system of medicine evolved around the art
Kalari Chikitsa, or Kalari treatment is an integral part of the Kalari tradition. It is mainly used to treat sprains, fractures, wounds and other injuries. Performers of other traditional arts of Kerala also undergo the Kalari Chikitsa to improve the suppleness of the body. The masters of Kalarippayattu are extraordinary healers adept at curing physical ailments with the ancient Ayurvedic system of massages and herbs.
Kalari performances at CVN Kalari
Performances are organised both in India and abroad on request. Lecture demonstrations are presented to interested groups at the Kalari in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode. The timings are usually 0600 to 0900 hrs and 1700 to 1900 hrs.
The CVN Kalari Sangham has recently published a book written by P. Balakrishnan titled Kalarippayattu both in English and Malayalam.
Nearest railway station: Thiruvananthapuram central, about 1 1/2 km
Nearest airport: Trivandrum International Airport, about 6 km