The Venad region (southern tip of Kerala) went through tough and tempestuous times in early 18th century when the tussle for power between Marthanda Varma, the sovereign, and the Ettu Veettil Pillamar, the eight aristocrats of the region, reached a flashpoint. The young king succeeded in vanquishing the men who sought to usurp his position and either killed or exiled them. A descendant of one of those exiled aristocrats, Bhargavan Pillai, established a kalari in Kozhikode and gave it his name. That is the reason why the southern style of Kalaripayattu is taught at this centre, located in one of the northern districts of Kerala. The asan (master) who is in charge of it now is S. K. Rajesh Gurukkal. Nearly fifty students are on its rolls, and there are a few who come occasionally for training.
Among the trainees are those who are in their mid-forties. Even girls have joined the Kalaripayattu training programme offered here. Mastery in this martial art is particularly useful to them because they experience a higher level of self-confidence, and are also able to face crowds and interact with the public without fear or shyness. They feel that nothing can upstage Kalaripayattu in helping them in matters related to self-defence.
In earlier times, Kalaripayattu followed a strait-jacketed approach. But of late, it has permitted and accommodated experiments and also allowed the inclusion of certain additional components. The manner in which the kalari itself has evolved over the decades can be perceived by an observant eye. In the initial days, Kalaripayattu was studied solely for the purpose of self-defence from attacks by enemies and even predatory animals. Lances and spears were used more frequently then. Today, few students feel compelled to gain mastery in the use of these weapons. In fact, there are youngsters who sign up for Kalaripayattu training in order to bring some element of discipline in their lives.
Rajesh Gurukkal is of the opinion that Kalaripayattu can be practised by people who follow any profession. His own life is an eloquent example. Rajesh Gurukkal dabbles in diverse fields and has acquired proficiency in playing football and volleyball, sculpting, practising Vaastu, painting and acting. Besides, for the past fifteen years or more, he has been assisting Mafia Sasi, a prominent stunt master in Malayalam cinema. More importantly, he has been lending his professional services in the department of action choreography in Bollywood (Hindi cinema) and Hollywood. Rajesh Gurukkal has even earned a doctoral degree from King’s University, USA, for his study on the importance of Marmachikitsa [traditional massage treatment of the vital spots of the human body] in the field of Indian traditional medicine.
For all this eclectic spirit that he exudes, he is a staunch purist in the field of Marmachikitsa. In fact, the Bhargava Kalari is famous in Kozhikode for the quality treatment it offers. Patients can get themselves admitted here anytime for relief from pains and aches. Besides Marmachikitsa, the centre offers Uzhichil, Chavutti thirummu [a regimen where the masseur uses his legs to massage], Panchakarma chikitsa [a five-fold rejuvenation therapy] and Ayurvedic treatment. Effective treatment is administered to reset broken bones, remove problems like back ache, and cure spondylitis. Although in-patient treatment facilities are already available at this centre, the Kalari is on an expansion drive.
The Bhargava Kalari has been regularly exhibiting Kalaripayattu at Navarasa, the dance-theatre organization that is famous in South Asia. Rajesh Gurukkal himself is an expert at taking on two opponents simultaneously in sword fight, while remaining blindfolded. He goes to Russia and Germany to take classes and conduct performances. Many people from these countries visit his kalari at Kozhikode, either to learn Kalaripayattu or to undergo treatment. The kalari has made arrangements to showcase the traditional artforms of Kerala – like Kathakali, Theyyam, Chendamelam and so on – along with Kalaripayattu performances for the benefit of the foreign visitors.
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