Kalarippayat is the Malayalam word defining the martial art methodology of Kerala which originated from the Sanskrit word Khaloorika. The lexical unit of Kalarippayat comprises two parts ie. Kalari which means the space of training or the space of action and the later part payat denoting the action involved in a training, performance or a combat. Originally Kalarippayat evolved and developed as a warfare technology during the medieval times. The heritage of this martial art form encapsulates largely the unique mytho-historical traditions of Kerala.

Historically it is believed that the present form of the Kalarippayat practice was evolved during the 18th century and the verbal commands said in the practice were correlated with and developed linguistically during that period of time, too. It is assumed, in the social dimension, that Kalari is the arena where this particular traditional psycho-physical discipline helps to cultivate mental, physical and spiritual benefits to the participant. Kalarippayat constitutes a holistic-physical culture which is beneficial to the present-day sportsmen and other physical activity practitioners. Generally speaking, this scientific heritage inherits and promotes the technology of the body through which self, agency, power, and behaviour develops in a right manner benefiting the individual as a whole.

The practice space, ordinarily called Kalari is constructed in accordance with the traditional belief systems as well as the classical form of the architecture science of the Kerala region commonly known as Vasthu sasthra. The dimensions of this space commemorate the construction requirement of a sanctum sanctorum of a hindu religious shrine. The Spiritual installation of this space is technically arranged in terms of the tantric understanding of a shrine. The special dimensions of the space, the consecrated installation of divinity, rituals performed are all understood and performed according to the tantric texts and belief systems. The Kalari learning space is a rectangular cave like an arena constructed by being dug under the ground level. The general dimensions followed are 7 feet depth, 21 feet width and 42 feet length. The Kalari learning space prepared under the ground level is locally known as Kuzhi- Kalari. This space is set towards the east-west direction with the entrance facing the east. The floor of Kalari is usually made by tampering the mud systematically ensuring sturdiness and proper grip.

Poothara constitutes an important divine place designated in the south-west corner of Kalari where the guardian diety of Kalari called Khaloorika Bhagavathy is ritually consecrated. It is a principal structure in shape of a seven step platform, which is worshipped on a daily basis. The very basic and initial Kalarippayat practice called poothara vandanam (salute Poothara) is performed towards the direction of Poothara. Each and every practice within Kalari begins and ends with the salutation of Poothara. The meaning of the word poothara is a platform of flowers. Essentially the guardian deity is worshipped with flowers. The other devine spaces in Kalari are Ganapathi thara (a platform for Ganapathi),Naga thara (a platform for a snake god) Guruthara (a platform for the late teachers), Anthimahakalan thara (a platform for Anthimahakalan), Bhadrakali thara (a platform for Bhadrakali), Vettakkorumakan thara (a platform for Vettokkorumakan). The rectangular space within Kalari is divided into 12 parts following the astrological understanding. Each of the division is known as Rashi. Poothara is considered to be placed in Kanni rasi locally known as kanni moola, which is the second on the list of twelve. Although the divine installation seen in a Kalari space may differ in various traditions of kalarippayat, Poothara constitutes a principal and unchanged symbol of the kalarippayat tradition set in every Kalarippayat training space.

Guru/Gurukkal is the chief mentor and the trainer of kalarippayat who is considered to be the chief of the whole system. He is the controller and initiator of the entire happening in the kalarippayat system. The learning process starts and continues with a complete bond between the disciple and the teacher. He is the one who represents the entire system to his student. A trustly and compassionate bond between them is very essential to accomplish the proper training in Kalari.

In general, the kalarippayat training process starts at the age of seven and progresses over some period of time. The initiation of the training starts on an auspicious day like vijaya dasami. A usual Kalari training begins early in the morning and lasts from one to two hours.

Although it is thought that Kalarippayat is the indigenous warfare technology developed in Kerala, similar combat systems can be found in other parts of India for example such as Garadi. A similar variation of this combat form is practiced on Sri Lanka called Angam poru. The Silambam tradition of the Tamil culture is another example to trace the similarities between the techniques. A different martial dance form can be seen in India known as Chavu dance etc.

The influence of Kalarippayat on the art form of Kerala is very much visible in its enactment. Kalarippayat is very often exploited as a physical theatre training tool as well as it is incorporated as itself in various art forms of Kerala. The ritual art known as Theyyam is a good example for it. The other classical art form such as Kathakali also applies the technology of kalarippayat to shape the presentation. The folk art form such as Poorakali etc. is influenced by the kalarippayat, too.

In the region of Kerala, various forms and practices of Kalarippayat have survived. Mostly, however, the tradition is divided into the Southern (Tekkan) and the Northern style (Vadakkan). Within this division, there are also various forms existing with changes of various nature. The present trend happening around can be seen through the perspective of heath care practice, theatrical practice and other different forms. Evolution taking place in the system is impressive and permissive.


The available historical evidence of former Kalarippayat training centers dates back to the 12th century AD. During that period the kalarippayat training centers were one of the major important institutions serving various socio-political demands of Medieval Kerala. It was also related with the reforms of land and power disintegration of Perumals of kodungallur Amsam. During the medieval period the land of Kerala was divided into numerous provinces which provided major and minor power and resources. It is historically stated that there were always various forms of wars and disputed situations arising among the provincial rulers, which required trained soldiers and fighting personalities to support the rulers. For the warfare need, the king and rulers of the terrain put avid interest to develop numerous training facilities deeply rooted in the vedic knowledge system and regional ideologies necessary referring to the topographical and geographical needs of the country and its terrain.
During that period many various institutions were established to impart learning systems including traditional architecture sciences, medicine, grammar etc. Thus, the tradition of the South Indian martial training with its institutional support can be traced back to the early medieval period.

The shift of importance from the early medieval institutions to the medieval Kalari implies a transference of emphasis from the temple oriented brhman settlement to the newly developed agrarian settlement which gave importance to cash crops production and trade. One of the characteristic features of that medieval agrarian settlement is their relative isolation of goods and services. Local dialects, cults, cultural expressions and other traits of different subregions in Kerala sprang up from the above mentioned socio-economic formation which also influenced the kalarippayat institution in various ways.
Medieval principalities and mainly families maintained military groups of their own. That practice of maintaining local militia can be traced back to the period of the Naadu formation in Kerala during the Perumal ruling. Perumal had a capital force of thousand groups of soldiers under thousand Nayakas of Nair captains. Each of those groups consisted of ten soldiers; similarly the Naadu chieftains had hundred organizations under them. Medieval inscriptional records speak of such military organization like the Munnuravar, the three hundred, Anjuttuvar, the five hundred, Arunuttuvar, the six hundred, Elunuttuvar, the seven hundred, of different Naadu divisions. This local militia with some of their old features continued to exists in the subsequent period of principalities in the name of Changatham, Chaver, Lokar, and Akampati janam. It is believed that those bands of soldiers belonging to different communities ‘in the middle ages must have risen out of such companions of honor, originally conceived as bodyguards of rulers and local authorities and developed into a landed aristocracy supporting the established order with military power.

Social Function

The fighter’s function was not only about the rivalry among political authorities. Often they were called to settle disputes between the ordinary people. That practice of using fighters for judicial purposes resulted in the appearance of a peculiar institution of Ankam, a single combat. Interestingly this institution of Ankam with the same name was prevalent on Sri Lanka, where it was developeded around the Kandyan country in the middle ages. The subject matter of a moving folk narrative in Malayalam is the tragic story of an Ankam fighter who loses his life while fighting for settling a dispute over the property management between two members of a family. Ankam was a source of income for fighters as well as local and regional political authorities. The regular income to the treasury during the rule of princely state in Kerala included the fees levied on Ankam combats, which was to be collected from the disputing parties. Thus the martial spirit of Kerala was actively participating in the social and political life of Kerala in the middle ages. It is in this socio-political context that the institution of Kalari became important as the centre of imparting military training to the local militia.

Social Base

Medieval travelers left behind their observations on the Kalari system in Malabar. Writings made by foreigners generally contain the idea that Nairs formed groups of soldiers of the Rajas on their own. It is true since the majority of them came from Nair families. It is very important to note that caste restrictions were not applied in Kalarippayattu. The social groups of Kerala who practiced and mastered the techniques of kalarippayattu included, besides Nayars, the Izhavas, Pulayas, Paravas, Christians and Muslims. The Tottam invocation songs of the Teyyam performance of North Malabar refer to some Pulaya heros who conducted eighty Kalaries in different parts of the region. Heroic lays of the Central Travacore mention a Paraya hero ‘Chengannoore Ali’ who was a master of the technique of Kalarippayattu. Some of the celebrated heros of Malayalam folk songs belong to the Ezhava community. They are usually called Chekavar. There were Muslim Gurukkals who were masters in the Tulu techniques. The Chritians of Kerala had their own military men, too. The native records of principalities mention some Christian local chieftains and their soldiers who were well-versed in the traditional warfare.
This system continued uninterruptedly until the occupation of Malabar by an English East-India company in 1792. The company was particular about destroying the traditional military character of the Malabar community. Thus, the major Dow, one of the commissioners, wrote:
‘It would be stipulated by the term of agreement with different rajas and chiefs that they on no account retain above a certain number of armed followers and those merely to support their ideas of dignity. By these means that the civil and military fabric, the feudal system injurious to the prosperity of a country would be gradually subverted and in the end annihilated’.

The System

The kalarippayat training system works in accordance with a unique set of principles rooted in various scientific sources such as Ayurveda, Yoga, Tantra and Jyotisha. The minimum age required to start training the Kalarippayat is said to be seven. The training is usually initiated on an auspicious day. The student is initiated to enter the spiritual place by respecting the space touching the Kalari ground with his right hand. Then he is taken in front of the principle diety, Poothara and says the prayer to the deity. The guru of the institution blesses the student by applying the sesame oil on the crown of his head. The training starts with the poothara vandanam ie. the salutation of the khaloorika bhagavathy. The whole process of the poothara salutation comprises various steps stances, moves, turns and postures.

It is essential for a trainee to apply oil before he starts his every day practice. It is believed that among the three energy forces governing the internal metabolism, the vata energy is responsible for the movement attributes of a living body. The self oil application helps to potentiate the efficacy of the vata energy to receive its optimum benefits to the practitioner. With the constant practice the physic and psych of the practitioner become more agile and potent. It is said that ”the body becomes the eye”. The verbal commands of the Guru are called Vaithari. They have to be strictly obeyed and repeated till the body movement is grasped and understood. These commands comprise types and combination of body movements including different steps, stances, postures and movements. The whole sequence of a practice is composed of Vativu, Chuvadu, Kaal, Chattam and Advu. Vativu denotes various posture of kalarippayat training, Chhuvadu means various leg stances, the term Kaal includes various leg movements, Chattam denotes various jumps and leaps and Adavu means the combination of various movements and poses.

Stages of training

The training pattern of kalarippayat consists of various stages which happen in the following order: Meipayat, Kolthari, Ankathari, Verum kai. Each of the four stages includes various different subdivisions and practices.

Meipayattu (Body exercises)

Meiayat constitutes the initial training regime of Kalarippayat. It is also known as Mei Irakkam. The term mei means body and payattu means training or practice. Meipayat is considered to be the significant training part of the entire structure of the training. It combines unique body movements based on the integrity of the spine and the development of grip and postures of the body. The vigorous exercise regime helps the participant in developing higher consciousness about himself and leads him to achieve higher levels in the practice. This physical practice is very essential for the next stages of the training. Various stances and poses included in Meipayat bear some resemblance with the postures of the wild animals such as lion, cat, boar, snake, cock etc. Different moves practiced during this stage are derived from various combinations of body movements.

Kolthari (Wooden weapon training)

Kolthari is the second stage of Kalarippayat training. The usage of various wooden weapons is initiated and practiced during this stage of learning. In Kalarippyat the weapons are considered to constitute the extension of the body, whereas the body itself is perceived as the prime weapon. Various wooden weapons used in the stage of Kolthari are, Kettukari (Long stick), Cheru vati (Short stick), Otta (Curved Stick) Gada (Mace).


Ankathari is the major stage in the training sequence as the heavy metal weapons are used. The term Ankam means a combat or a war. The real military or warfare training is chiefly based on this stage. The metal weapons used in this stage are the same weapons used on the war field. It is considered to be the longest and most important training stage among the four. This stage requires strength, agility and precision in rendering the practice and delivering the combat. To the principle weapons belong Vaal (Sword), Paricha (Shield), Kuntham (Spear), Kattaram (Dagger), Urumi (Flexible sword).

Verum kai.

Verum kai prayogam is the fourth stage of training when bare hand fighting techiniques are learnt by the student. In the tradition of kalarippayat the techniques are practiced along with the knowledge of Marma Saariram. Marma sareeram is the knowledge about the vital points of the body. It is considered that there are 108/109 vital points in the body where the life energy is concentrated. Injuring a vital area defeats the opponent. This system of practice is the integral part of the fourth stage of Kalarippayat training.

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About Us

Hindustan Kalari Sangam, is a ancestral Kalarippayattu training center and Ayurvedic healing praxis established during the year of 1950, under the patronage of Guru Veerasree Sami Gurukkal. From the inception of the center the school is being stand for its valuable service in the field of Kalarippayattu training and Ayurveda healing. The center functions as a resource centre for learners from all over the world who are interested in ancient Indian scientific heritage, culture, and aesthetics in all its depth and dimensions. Kalarippayat is considered as a time honored physical practice essentially resulting in physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing of every individual, who is practicing it. The Kalari Marma Chikitsa expertise of the center provides unmatched healing facility for the ailing people since long time. The orthopedic and sports injury management proficiency of the Kalarippayat tradition is well known for its efficacy in treating various disease conditions.