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Kalaripayattu Based Arts

There are several performing arts that exist in Kerala that incorporate the weapons and movements of Kalaripayattu. Most of these arts are based on the commemoration of a specific war or conflict.  

Kadhakali – Internationally Recognised Kalaripayattu Based Arts

kadhakali kerala kalaripayattu arts
Kadhakali

Kadhakali is a classical art from Kerala that is recognised at an international level and is heavily influenced by Kalaripayattu. It originated with the ancient Kings of Kottayam and Kottarakara who used to have their own warrior train and perform in the art. 

A performance resembles a rare combination of arts based on Kalaripayattu and Natishastra (classical Indian dance) and many Kalaripayattu movements can be seen in the routines. Specifically kicks, stretches bends and somersaults from Maipayattu and the sword and shield fighting are instantly recognisable aspects of Kalaripayattu that appear in Kadhakali. Training has an emphasis on flexibility and so makes a lot of use of the Kalari style massage that uses the foot. 

Theyyam

Theyyam Kerala art from kalaripayattu
Theyyam

A Theyyam is an artistic performance that could be described as a mix between dance and Kalaripayattu. Usually it is performed at temples and its participants dress up and pretend to be the gods and goddesses of the hosting temple. Accompanied by a chendra (a traditional Kerala drum that, legend says, is impossible not to dance to if heard) the costumed performers dance while holding weapons of the Kalari. Swords, shields, spears and urumi are often used. 

Training to become a Theyyam performer begins at around eight years old. Most performers of the arts also train in Kalaripayattu because the movements used are based on those of the Kalari and the weapons are the same.

Most Theyyam routines are based on famous warriors. For example there is a Tacholi Othenan Theyyam, which features an urumi, and a Kathivannur Veeran Theyyam.

Konganpada

Konganpada based art from Kalaripayattu
Konganpada

The Konganpada is a festival that occurs every year around February or March in the village of Chittoor. The festival focuses on a performance that aims to represent the events of a historical war that occurred in the area in the 17th Century. The war was started when a nearby kingdom called Konganad, ruled by a warlord called Kongan, attempted to invade Chittoor. Everyone in the area rushed to defend Chittoor, grabbing whatever tools they had that could be used as weapons. Prayers were sent to the local temple, dedicated to the goddess Badrakali who, legend has it, came to fight alongside the Chittoor warriors on the battlefield. 

When the people of Chittoor eventually won the war and fought off the invading Konganad army they dedicated their victory to Badrakali and held a huge celebration in her honour. This celebration has been repeated every year since to commemorate the event. The festival is celebrated as a symbol of the resilient spirit of the people of Chittoor and their loving community values.

Traditionally the battle reenactment is performed by the youth of Chittoor and the surrounding villages. The performance requires several months of training and practice in Kalaripayattu since all of the choreography of the art is based on Kalaripayattu fighting techniques. 

Ochira kali – Kalaripayattu Based Arts Festival

ochira kali kalarpayattu linked art
Ochira kali

The Ochira kali routine is also symbolic of a historical conflict. Performed once a year at the Ochira Parabramha Temple the artistic performance is carried out in remembrance of a war fought in ancient times between the Kayamkulam people and the kingdom of Chambakasery. 

During the annual celebrations two large teams, representing the armies of each kingdom, fight against each other in a choreographed battle. The fighting techniques focus on group coordination and the routine does not feature one on one combat. Instead the armies attack each other as one in waves.

The performance used to be done using heavy blunt swords and was a genuine competition rather than a routine. Participants used to get badly hurt while competing in the festival. Today the movements are planned and it is more of a group dance than a fighting match. The movements and weapons used make it one of the arts most heavily based on Kalaripayattu.

Onathallum Kaiporum

Onathallum Kaiporum

Onathallum Kaiporum literally translates to ‘hand fighting festival’ and is a major event that involves competitive weapons-free fights between Kalaripayattu warriors. It involves one of the most important sporting arts in Kerala – Kayamkali, also known as Onathallu. The exact origins of the sport are unknown though it is thought that it was invented in the time of Sauthri rule as entertainment for the armies in Kerala. The sport was used to keep the warriors’ morale high and boost their sense of bravado.

The festival involves individual bouts of one on one fights. Usually the fights are between members of neighbouring villages. Referees called Chaikadenmar are present at the fights and enforce the rules of the sport. 

All of the fighting techniques used in the festival come from Kalaripayattu. The competitors are trained in the Kalari and they salute the Kalari goddess and their guru before a fight begins.

Yathrakali – Kalaripayattu Based Arts for Brahmins

The Yathrakali -also called Sangakali – is an art reserved to be performed only by Brahmins. The purpose of the performance was originally to entertain the people and keep them enthusiastic about war. The performances consist of group demonstrations of choreographed Kalaripayattu routines. Each group is trained in six different styles of arts, each based on Kalaripayattu. It is thought that at least one hundred and eight Kalaris were established for the practice of Yathrakali. 

The performances are usually part of a festival that lasts for three or four days. As well as Yathrakali demonstrations the festivals also include prayer singing, fireworks displays and Sanskrit poetry reading. The demonstrations take movements from Maipayattu routines and Kalari freehand. 

Krishnanatam

Krishnanattam

The Krishnanattam is a classic dramatic performance from Kerala that has been heavily influenced by both Kalaripayattu and classical art. It is believed to have been created by the 17th Century ruler of Calicut (now Kozhikode), Samoothiri Manaveden Raja. Manaveden Raja allegedly wrote a book called the Krishna Geethi which was essentially and instruction manual for the performance of Krishnanattam.

Manaveden Raja was himself a warrior so there are clear links to the warrior tradition of Kalaripayattu in the movements of the performance. Salutations, kicks and other aspects of Maipayattu can clearly be seen in many of the routines. Traditionally it could only be performed by warriors, often at a temple. Training in Krishnanattam involves Kalari massages before training to encourage flexibility. The performance is used as an entertainment piece as well as an opportunity to take a collection from the audience, which goes towards the school or temple.

Kolkali

Kolkali

Kolkali is a traditional piece of entertainment art. It is performed in large coordinated groups and incorporates fast body movements and synchronised jumps set to the beat of a hand beaten rhythm. 

As with Kalaripayattu the training ground for Kolkali is called a Kalari. The size and shape regulations of the Kolkali Kalari are, however, not as strict as in Kalaripayattu. The short stick from Kalaripayattu is also used in Kolkali, often in fast paced routines with dancers holding a stick in each hand. Further similarities to Kalaripayattu include the master being called Gurukkal and and offering of dekshina being offered to the Gurukkal before a new routine is learnt. To become a fully qualified Master of Kolkali one must have experience in Kalaripayattu training first. 

Parija Muttukali

Parija Muttukali

Parija Muttukali could be described as a musical sing-along Kalaripayattu dance performance. Performed in groups of six to eight warriors it incorporated weapons from the Kalari such as the sword and shield. While it is being performed the dancers sing songs that tell stories of legendary warriors and battles of old. Depending on the religion of the dancers the songs are different – Hinduism, Christianity and Islam all have their own stories that can be sung about during a Parija Muttukali performance.

It is usually performed at religious occasions such as rallies, festivals and weddings. Many of the movements and weapons that are used come directly from Kalaripayattu. A Kalari massage is also an important part of training in Parija Muttukali to help improve flexibility. 

Chavittunadakam – Christian Arts Based on Kalaripayattu

Chavittunadakam

Literally translating to ‘stomp performance’ Chavittunadakam is a musical dancing dramatic act that involves stamping heavily on a wooden stage, which acts like a huge drum. Originating in the 17th Century it was created by Christians who had been banned from carrying weapons in performances at religious festivals (Onums). As an alternative they invented a new branch of the performing arts that was based on Kalaripayattu and included some of its weapons. 

Basics in Kalaripayattu must be learnt before one can perform Chavittunadakam, particularly short stick, long stick, sword and spear. The performance consists of two groups of dancers taking part in a choreographed battle. To accompany the dancers songs are sung about heroic Christian warriors fighting in legendary battles.

Tribal Dance

Many unique and individual tribes are scattered across the entirety of Kerala. Most have their own dances that have been influenced by Kalaripayattu. The dances are performed to old songs that tell tales of traditional folklore and Kalaripayattu warriors from tribal legend.

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