A brief History of Kalaripayattu

Unni Mohanadas Destinations 0

Remember the kicks and blocks and punches from Bruce Lee / Jackie Chan movies from your childhood ? Ever wondered about the roots of Kung fu or Karate? Where all these began?The search will bring you to “Kalaripayattu” – Mother of martial arts. It is supposed to be the longest surviving martial arts form.

Location : Kerala, India

The beginning ( before 3 century BCE)

There are two stories about the origin of Kalaripayattu.The first myth attributes the origin of Kalaripayattu to Parasurama ( the 6th incarnation of Lord Vishnu) from Hindu mythology. He is supposed to create Kalaripayattu from Dhanurveda . He later established 42 kalaris( schools) for training Kalaripayattu and molding warriors for protecting Kerala.

Another myth on origin of Kalaripayattu leads to the Sage Agastya. It says that those times it was difficult for travelling across forests because of the menace from the wild animals. For defending from the wild animals, he created Kalaripayattu. This thoery argues that is why there are animal postures (vadivu) used in Kalaripayattu.

The oldest reference about the Kalarippayattu is in the 3century BCE book Akananuru

Kalaripayattu crosses borders to China (5th-6th Century CE)

Bodhidharma ( founder of Zen Buddhism) a Buddhist monk is supposed to take Kalaripayattu to China. He travelled from South India to China during 5th / 6th century CE . He finally reached Shaolin monastry in China. There he started teaching princliples of Buddhism and meditation to the young monks. While teaching meditation there he saw that the young monks were not physically fit enough to focus on meditation. He ( himself a Kalaripayattu expert) started teaching them the moves of Kalaripayattu to make them stronger. This later evolved into the martial art Kung fu.

The golden era of Kalaripayattu (9th to 18th century CE)

The Kerala state was ruled by several Kings pre -Indian independence in 1947. During the 9th century the Kings put more focuss on creating trained Kalaripayattu warriors to fight for them. By this period, the Kalaripayattu reached pinnacle and the trained Kalaripayattu warriors and Gurus (masters) enjoyed high social status.

There were brave Kalaripayattu warriors during te 16th century. Thacholi Othenan, Aromal chekavar, Chandu chekavar etc are a few to names. One name equally famous was that of a lady “Puthooramveettil Unniarcha”. She was equally famous as her legendary brother Aomal chekavar. These names became part of folk lore and folk songs called vadakkan pattukal celebrates the life and death of these warriors.

British period ( 19 century CE)

The Kalaripayattu was prevalent till 19th century BC when British established their upperhand in Kerala. They were afraid of mutinies and banned Kalaris ( Schools) which taught Kalaripayattu. During this period some Gurus /Ashaans trained their students secretly and it helped to keep the knowledge of Kalaraipayattu pass on to the next generation.

Modern day

Once India became independent from British rule in 1947 Kalaripayattu started emerging again.Now it has been globally acknowledged and lots of students around the world comes to Kerala for learning this sacred art of fighting.

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Photo courtesy: By Angampora – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28301908


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