Aromal Chekavar – Kadathanadan Kalaripayattu Warrior (Part 3)
On the day before Aromal had to leave a party was thrown at the Puthuram household to send him on his way. While all of his friends and family were there and there was plenty of music and dancing, Aromal could not enjoy himself. He was nervous about his first angam and, more pressingly, Chandu still had not arrived back from the blacksmith with his weapons.
Dawn arrived on the day before the angam and still there was no sign of Chandu. Aromal could delay his departure no further and decided to set off in the hopes of meeting Chandu on the road to the location of the fight. Saluting his family and all of his friends and neighbours, Aromal departed from his home accompanied by a grand procession of one thousand and one Nair warriors to celebrate and guide him on his journey.
As he had hoped, Aromal bumped into Chandu on the way. He carried Aromal’s weapons with him, wrapped in a silk sheet. ‘Chandu! Where have you been? I was worried that you were never going to turn up with my weapons.’
‘I’m sorry Aromal,’ said the devious Chandu, ‘the blacksmith was away when I arrived so there was a great delay in getting your weapons repaired.’
Aromal thought that he saw a look of guilt pass over Chandu’s face. He seemed fidgety and couldn’t hold his gaze for long. But Aromal was a trusting man and assumed that Chandu was just nervous about the angam. He took his word and forgave his lateness and together they journeyed on. Aromal wondered if he would ever undertake the journey back home.
The following morning Aromal and his entourage rose in the cool dim light of dawn and walked the remaining few miles to the location of the angam. As the sun rose behind him, Aromal could feel its warmth growing on the back of his neck, giving him strength as if he was absorbing the energy straight from the sunlight. As they got close to the meeting point they became aware of a faint buzzing noise, like a huge beehive was humming in the distance. Every step they took brought them closer to the source of the sound until they were deafened by it. It echoed through the forrest making their own skulls vibrate with the sheer volume of the sound. They stepped beyond the tree line and into a clearing and were greeted by no less that one hundred thousand men, women and children, all screaming, chanting or clapping, all there to see some bloodshed. The immense crowd was split roughly down the middle. Half stood on the North side of the arena singing songs of support for Unnichandror and his warrior Aringoder. Some held signs with hastily written comments of admiration and encouragement. Most of the fans in the North block seemed just as thuggish as Aringoder himself. The South side was occupied by the fans of Unnikannar and his champion Aromal Chekavar and produced similar signs and accompanying chants.
Aringoder was sat on a stool next to the raised stage in front of his fans looking relaxed and arrogant. Upon Aromal’s arrival in the clearing one thousand and one kathina firecrackers were set off one by one to mark the beginning of the event. The crowd were sent into an even bigger frenzy than before sensing that the display of skill and violence was close to starting.
Aringoder approached the stage and as he walked towards it a ladder appeared from out of the crowd. His fans placed it against the stage and, once he had climbed up onto the ten feet high platform, they removed it and it vanished back into the teeming mass of people.
Aromal looked to his fans for a ladder of his own but none appeared. They had forgotten to bring one. Turning to the spectators on the North side, where the ladder had just been, he appealed to them to lend him the ladder. The boisterous crowd only offered jeers and howls of derision and, when Aromal turned to Aringoder for support, he merely shrugged his shoulders as if the matter was out of his hands.
‘Right then,’ Aromal thought to himself, ‘my father has fought in seven angams in his life and not once has he needed a ladder. I will not need one either.’ With that he approached the stage, gauged its height, took a few steps back and then, with a short run up, he flung himself onto the stage, landing on his feet before Aringoder. The wily Aringoder smiled at Aromal but it looked like he had lost at least some of the confidence that he had previously displayed. The display of Aromal’s explosive speed and athleticism had rocked him slightly.
Unnichandror then climbed on the stage using the same ladder as Aringoder that had mysteriously reappeared. ‘Friends, family and fans of Kalaripayattu,’ he shouted above the restless crowd, ‘thank you for coming here today. This angam marks the culmination of a debate between my dear brother, Unnikonnar, and I. Let it be known that the man whom the victor of this fight represents shall be declared the winner of the debate, and publicly and legally recognised as the elder brother. I hope you all enjoy the fight and may the best man win!’
The spectators exploded into new levels of volume as Aringoder and Aromal drew their swords and began to circle the arena like a pair of eagles patrolling the skies. It had begun.
From the very beginning the two great warriors put on a show of fantastic speed and skill. Their swords flashed in the morning sun and clashed together with the sound of thunder. Sparks flew with every collision of sharpened steel, each one drawing cheers and shouts of excitement from the audience. Some times Aromal seemed to be on top, sometimes Aringoder. With each change of momentum came great surges of chanting and applauding from the respective fan bases.
During the epic fight, eighteen different techniques of Kalaripayattu were used by both of the fighters. The fierce men seemed to move as fast as cheetahs at first but as time went on Aringoder began to tire. His movements became slower, his strength began to leave him and the force behind his sword became less with every swing. Aringoder knew he was in trouble and that, unless a miracle happened, he would soon be killed by Aromal. Just as he was preparing himself for his inevitable violent death Aromal’s sword snapped.
For a moment Aromal just stood there, looking at his broken blade in shock. He couldn’t believe it, it had only just been serviced by the blacksmith and delivered to him by his loyal cousin and dear friend Chandu. Now the length of the blade was reduced to just a few inches, the rest of it lay on the floor at his feet.
He looked up at Aringoder expecting him to offer to stop the fight while a new sword could be brought to the stage. To Aromal’s horror Aringoder swung his sword at him with renewed vigour and the fight continued.
“Quick Chandu!” he shouted down from the stage, “Throw me your sword!”. Chandu looked up with a cold look in his eyes and calmly replied: “I’m afraid I can not do that Aromal. A Kalaripayattu warrior must never share his blade with another. I might need it for myself.”. With these words he turned his back on his cousin, friend and old Kalaripayattu training partner, and disappeared into the crowd. In that instant Aromal realised what the devious Chandu had done and while it broke his heart there were more important matters to attend to.
He turned back to Aringoder just in time see him lunging at him with his outstretched sword. He dodged and rolled to the other side of the stage. As he took a step forward he felt a sharp pain down his side. Looking down he saw a red patch on his shirt, blossoming outwards and growing fast. He had been stabbed by Aringoder’s blade in the side, underneath his ribs.
This was the last straw. “Aringoder!” he shouted across the stage, “You are my father’s age, you should be mature enough to know the unspoken rules of the Kalaripayattu warrior! You should have done the honourable thing and ended the fight as soon as my blade broke but you continue to try to take my life. You are a coward and a disgrace to Kadathanadan Kalaripayattu!”.
With that Aromal played his final card. In a final act of desperation he hurled his broken sword across the stage towards Aringoder. It flew past him in a flash of sunlit steel and dropped to the ground. Aringoder stood there motionless with the same arrogant grin that had been on his face before the fight. Aromal despaired for he thought he had missed. Then, suddenly, Aringoder’s smirking head tumbled from his shoulders and landed with a thud on the stage. His body collapsed and Aromal, exhausted but relieved, fell to his knees.
As the crowd went wild and Unnikonnar whooped and cheered, Aromals limp body was lifted off the stage and taken to a tent with a cot in it. There he lay, too tired to move and sank into a deep sleep, safe in the knowledge that he had won his first Angam. The betrayal of Chandu hadn’t even crossed his mind.
As he lay there sleeping, a figure entered his tent unseen. It crept towards Aromal without making a sound and picked up the lamp holder next to the cot. The end of the lamp holder was sharpened to a point so that it could be stuck into the ground. The figure raised the holder above his head and, with the sharp end, stabbed the sleeping warrior through his chest.
Aromal’s eyes opened in shock just in time to see his treacherous cousin Chandu fleeing from his tent. He let out a cry and his father came running into his tent. He looked down at his beloved son and knew that his wounds were fatal. Aromal, as he was being held in his father’s arms, managed to spit out a few final words. “It was Chandu.” He whispered into his father’s ear. And then the great warrior took one last breath and died.