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Kalarippayattu is the oldest form of  oriental martial art  encapsulating Kerala's unique cultural mytho-historical heritage. Here the term Kalarippayattu is derived from the combination of two words as 'Kalari' which means the training place and 'Payattu' means the  training. Kalari is considered as the arena where a traditional psycho-physiological disciplines practices of which cultivate mental, physical and spiritual benefits. The Kalari legacy is also considered as a scientific system of physical-culture training beneficial to the modern sportsman and physical culturist. If the 'lived body' in its concreteness is the site of experience and source of knowledge for the practitioner, contemporary discourses and representations of the body and martial practice play a crucial role in shaping the fundamental assumptions of Kalarippayattu practitioner has about his body and the experience of practice. So this particular scientific heritage inherits the technology of the body through which self, agency, power, selves and behaviors develops in a right manner.


The arena of practicing this spiritual art is called as Kalari which literally means a place where the knowledge is being taught. The oriental architechtonic science "VASTU SASTRA" determines the architecture of the Kalari space in a scientific manner.

The Kalari space is a hand made pit dug out the ground about five feet deep with a pounded earth floor with a thatched roof. To the south-west corner of the pit, is the Poothara, a seven tiered platform where the guardian deity of the Kalari resides. The Kalari arena posses a spiritual height of a  temple where there is many sacred rituals are carried out in a daily basis and as in a special day's order. So the Kalari arena is a center for training and healing and also served as a temple.

It is widely accepted as Kalarippayattu is the martial art form of Kerala. after a long set back during the colonial rule, the Kalari system in Kerala are being revived and revitalized with new enthusiasm, thanks to the efforts of some traditional families of Kalari masters a well as the encouragement offered by the cultural organizations and the government of Kerala.

    The kalarippayattu tradition

Kalarippayattu is usually described as an indigenous martial art of Kerala but the similar cultural traits and institutions are found in other regions of South India and Sri Lanka. The 'Garadi' of the tulu speaking South canara is an example. But the system of Malabar traits is considered as the highest mode of training and setback. Studies in the Sri Lankan martial traditions have shown that a good deal of reciprocity of relations are traceable in the cultures of Kerala and Sri Lanka. A number of words such as angam, paniker, caia, sevakam, palisha etc. occurring in the Sri Lankan language in the context of medieval 'angam' fight suggest their relationship with the system which prevailed in Kerala in the middle ages.   

Historical backgrounds

The institutions of Kalari is generally traced to the period immediately after the disintegration of the Perumals of Kodungallur in the first quarter of the twelfth century A. D. It was an integral part of the socio-political system of medieval Kerala. Politically the land of Kerala was divided into a number of principalities and minor chieftaincies. The alignment and enmities of these power centers resulted in constant warfare. Small scale skirmishes and large scale fighting were not uncommon among these local and regional authorities. In such a set up each power center was forced to maintain a body of fighters at the beck and call of it. Systematic training and strict rules of discipline for fighters were indispensable for an effective working of that system. It was in such circumstances that the Kalaris which provided the institutional base for the body building and training in combat became not only necessary but essential too.

But it should be born in mind that the martial training in the middle ages was not invented by the medieval principalities. During the Cera Period ( C.800-1125 A.D.) there were in Kerala several Salais- which were institutions for imparting training in letters, weaponry and many other branches of medieval learning including traditional sciences, black magic, etc. The Salais were attached mostly to temples. These institutions enjoyed liberal patronages from the ruling houses. The members of the Salais were Brahman students who played an important role in upholding the rights of their royal patrons. These Salais can be equated with the Ghatikas which were in no significant way different from the Salais. Thus, the tradition of south Indian Martial training with its institutional support can be traced back to the early medieval period.

At the same time we cannot follow a unilinear and evolutionist method without taking into consideration the changes which were taking place at the basic strata of society. It was these changes occurring at the base that influenced the super-structural elements of ideological and cultural life. This observation is applicable to Kalari system also.

The shift of importance from the early medieval Salais to the medieval Kalaris implies a transference of emphasis from the temple oriented brhman settlements to the newly developed agrarian settlements which gave importance to cash crops production and trade. One of the characteristic features of these medieval agrarian settlements is their relative isolation of goods and services. Local dialects, cults, cultural expressions and such other traits of different sub-regions in Kerala sprang up from he above mentioned socio-economic formation.

Medieval principalities and chiefly families maintained military groups of their own. This practice maintaining local militia can be tracked back to the period of Naadu formation in Kerala during the Perumal rule. The Perumal had a capital force of thousand groups of soldiers under thousand Nayakas of Nair captains. Each of these groups consisted of ten soldiers similarly the Naadu chieftains had the hundred organization 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 the principalities in the name of Changatham, Chaver, Lokar, and Akampati janam. It is believed that these bands of soldiers longing to  different communities 'in the middle ages must have risen out of such companions of honor, originally conceived as bodyguards of the rulers and local authorities and developed into a landed aristocracy supporting the established order with military power.

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