The Wild Boar pose – Image source: Kalari Lab (Koh Phangan)
Martial arts are often attributed to East Asian countries. However, they all find their origin in Kalaripayattu (shortened as Kalari). Kalari is a complete practice that includes fighting, weaponry and healing methods. It is also related to Yoga.
Kalaripayattu comes from the Tamil words kalari (‘training area’) and payattuka (‘to practice’ or ‘to train’).
The 143 year old ban on the possession of weapons and weapon training between 1804 and 1947 by the British occupiers of India almost succeeded in destroying the knowledge of Kalari.
The British confiscated weapons, killed those trained in Kalari, and outlawed the practice. As a result, today, Kalari is is taught mostly in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka in India and is not yet fully explored.
A spiritual discipline
Kalari is both a yogic, healing and martial art. It balances male and female energies, and connects with elemental and animal forces. It is the oldest martial art in the world, and was founded by Lord Parasurama and Rishi Agastya.
In Kalari the human body is trained to perfection. It gives total control and limitless power to the body. The Kalari masters are also often healers that use marma chikilsa (massage of the vital points of the body).
The place of martial training is also known as a Kalari. The Kalari is considered as a temple where the guardian deity is Shiva-Shakti.
The 4 types of practice in Kalari
1. Maithozhil – Body exercises that form the foundation needed for body control, foot control, firm steps and mind control. These are conditioning and foundation exercises. The simple exercises gradually move on to more complex ones.
2. Kolthari – Defense with shaped sticks of different lengths and shapes. The exercises in kolthari also help as foundations for wielding sharp weapons such as Pandeeran (a 5-foot long cane), defend and attack with Kettukari (12 span staff), Muchaan (3 span staff) and Otta (a curved wooden weapon).
3. Angathari – Practice with sharp weapons like sword and shield, spear, dagger and the flexible sword (urumi). Urumi is swung with a slashing circling action around the head, warding off opponents from any direction.
4. Verumkai – Defense without weapons. It teaches how to defend with bare hands an attack with knife and how to use shoulder cloth for defense. Various kinds of blocks, cuts, thrusts, kicks, leaps, throws and sideways swinging movements are used.
The 4 Levels of practice in Kalari
• Meithari – The beginning stage with rigorous body sequences involving twists, stances and complex jumps and turns. Includes 12 meippayattu exercises for neuro-muscular coordination, balance and flexibility follow the basic postures of the body. The training begins with disciplining the physical body and attaining a mental balance.
• Kolthari – Once the students have become physically competent, they are introduced to fighting with long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is the staff (kettukari), which is usually five feet (1.5 m) in length, or up to the forehead of the student from ground level. There are a total of 3 wooden weapons.
• Ankathari – Once the practitioner has become proficient with all the wooden weapons, they proceed to Ankathari (literally “war training”) starting with metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to their lethal nature.
• Verumkai (bare-handed) – Only after achieving mastery with all the weapon forms is the practitioner taught to defend themselves with bare-handed techniques. These include arm locks, grappling, and strikes to the pressure points (marmam). This is considered the most advanced martial skill.
The first ritual act is to step into the kalari with the right foot first, and touching the floor, forehead and chest with the right hand. These entry rituals both protect practitioners from harm and help them to focus the mind for practice.
Before starting and finishing of any combat, one must do the Kalari Vandanam, a salute to the Earth, Sun, Sky, Guru, Ganesha and Shiva, a succession of steps surrounding the four cardinal directions, ending with salutations to the Master.
The rituals protect practitioners from injury, help to develop a devotional attitude, and contribute to the student’s transformation.
Image source: Kalari Lab, Koh Phangan
Kalari Practice and Marma Therapy
Treatment in Kalari is based on Ayurveda, Astrology, Marma treatment, Massage therapy, Science of the Body, Nervous System and Sanskrit. Kalari treatment is secret in nature mainly because it is related to marma in the human body.
The underlying principle of Kalari chikilsa is that an abnormality to any system of the human body can happen only if anyone or more of the vital spots are bruised. The treatment is all about directing the vital spots affected and curing them to normalcy.
According to Kalari, there are 108 marma points which are extremely vulnerable. Disturbances to the marma points can cause severe pain, deformity and even death. Depending on the degree of trauma to these points, the after effects may vary.
Marma therapy contributes to increase or recharge physical, mental and spiritual energies. Kalari marma treatment is entirely different from Ayurveda and Panchakarma treatment.
Marma can be divided into mamsa marma, asthi marma, snayu marma, dhamani marma, sira marma and sandhi marma according to the place where they are located in the human body.
There are 10 mamsa (muscle) marma, 8 asthimarma (bones) marma, 23 snayumarma (ligament) marma, 9 dhamani marma, 37 sira (vessel) marma and 20 sandhi (joints) marma in the body.
The efficiency of the marma of the body changes according to the development of the Moon. On the Full Moon day, Amrita position is at the top of the brain, and it gradually comes down day by day and reaches the thumbs of the feet on the no moon day (Amavasi).
The person who has mastered in Amrit position only is considered a true Asan (master) of marma treatment.
The 8 Vativus (Basic Postures)
In Kalari, different poses (vativus) are designed and developed to get concentration for perfect power:
1. Gaja vativu (Elephant pose)
2. Aswa vativu (Horse pose)
3. Simha vativu (Lion pose)
4. Varaha vativu (Boar pose)
5. Matsya vativu (Fish pose)
6. Marjara vativu (Cat pose)
7. Kukkuta vativu (Cock pose)
8. Sarpa vativu (Serpent pose)
The 5 Chuvatus
Apart from these vativus are basic foot positions and movements, called Chuvatus, designed to give more power, precision and concentration to the action against the opponent. In Chuvatu, the attention is centered on the role of the feet. The five Chuvatus are:
1. Vatta Chuvatu
2. Aakka Chuvatu
3. Neeka Chuvatu
4. Kon Chuvatu
5. Ottakkal Chuvatu
The 8 Vativus and 5 Chuvatus are combined to form what are called the Atavus.
Where to learn Kalari
• Kalari Kendram Delhi
• Kalarigram, Auroville
• Buddha Kalari (Sri Buddha Institute of Martial Arts)
• Kalari Academy of Performing Arts, Bengaluru
• Vyshnavie Natya Centre, Hyderabad
• Kalari Lab, Koh Phangan, Thailand – KalariLAB is the only center in Thailand dedicated to the teaching, treatment and research of Kalarippayat and Kalari Chikitsa. Provides intensive 7 and 30 day courses. Daily classes and treatments are available throughout the year.