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Kalaripayattu, The Mother of All Martial Arts

23 March 2016

Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art form of India dates back more than 2000 years and is said to be the basis of most Chinese martial arts. So, why is this the Mother of all martial arts?

Photo by Leelavathy B.M


Photo by Rajib Ghosh

Photo by Rajib Ghosh

The story goes this way: the Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma spent a lot of time in India learning this martial arts form. When he thought he had learnt all there is to know, he returned to China with the priceless knowledge.

Movements of Kalaripayattu are said to originate from the Dhanur Vedic texts, written by the Vishnu Purana, symbolizing one of the eighteen traditional branches of knowledge. It is important to know that this martial art form comes entirely from the state of Kerala in the South of India. According to legends, the warrior saint, Parasurama (an incarnation of Lord Vishnu,) has created Kalaripayattu by throwing his axe into the sea, saw that the sea reclined right to the point where it fell. He then decided to create forty-two Kalaris, and then proceeded to teach twenty-one masters the martial art form so they could protect the lands that Parasurama created.

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Kalaripayattu is rooted in psychology, too; it combines Kerala’s mythological history and a scientifically accurate system of physical training. When observed closely, one can find elements of the Dravidian martial practices and a large portion of Kalaripayattu is influenced by the Aryan Brahman culture. We can discover two different “types” of Kalaripayattu: the Northern and Southern schools.

When it comes to the Northern school, the emphasis is put on the steady progress from simple body exercise forms to combatting with weapons. The last “level” is combatting without the help provided by weapons. The Southern school is somewhat more spiritual: the patron saint of Kalaripayattu, otherwise known as the sage Agastya, is famous for his powers and strength embedded in meditation. Legend has it that when Lord Shiva married Goddess Parvati, all the other goddesses and gods went to attend the wedding in Kailasa in the North. Because there were all these gods in one place (and gods weigh a lot,) the world tilted. The sage Agastya was sent to the South quickly to restore the balance.

The Sage Agastya. Photo Credit: Wiki

The Sage Agastya. Photo Credit: Wiki

Agastya was also mentoring Lord Rama to help him in defeating Ravana, the demon king. The Southern school of Kalaripayattu teaches the trainee to put emphasis on the movement of the feet, while concentrating to strike on the 108 points on the opponent’s body that are incredibly vulnerable, sometimes even lethal.
Anyone who wants to learn this ancient martial art form can do so for free; they must first register, and then be assigned to Kalaris according to availability. The only thing that is asked of trainees is that they make appointments in advance with the Gurus. Oh, and even better: usually on Thursdays, you can receive spiritual guidance from gurus, too!

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About the Author


Vera graduated from McDaniel College Europe with a degree in Political Sciences and International Relations. She loves to write about anything that interests her and she has a mania for baking - she also has a baking channel. She is an avid organizer, recording everything in her Filofax. An active person, she runs a lot and has to go to the gym on a regular basis, otherwise she would go craaaazyy.