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Derived from the Sanskrit word Khalurika, meaning “battlefield”, “threshing floor” or “military training ground”, kalaripayattu is one of the most ancient forms of martial arts still practiced in the world. The earliest documented evidence of kalaripayattu are in the form of palm leaf manuscripts with drawings of fighters, found in Kerala c.200BCE, but it is possible it is several hundred years older than that. The Dhanurveda, an ancient Indian text on Military Science, tells us that Kalaripayattu is one of the 64 art forms existing in Indian Mythology. The Dhanurveda is one of the Vedas, the ancient Indian ethical and moral teachings. The Vedas were passed down in oral form and are thought to have originated in about 1500BCE, being committed to written form much later.

Kalaripayattu has acquired the title, “Mother of Martial Arts.” Of course fighting styles have existed since time immemorial, but the difference between a martial art and a fighting style is its focus on self-discipline, respect and the strong connection to a greater spiritual power. Martial arts shows people to retain these values even in the midst of battle so as not to slip into mindless brutality.

This brings us to the story of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma is believed to have been born in near Madra He was well versed in thes, India. Belonging to the warrior caste, Bodhidharma would have been well versed in Kalaripayattu. After his teacher’s passing, he went to China to spread the teachings of the Buddha in China, as this was his master’s last wish. Upon arriving in the area of Shao, he encounterd monks living there. He bagan to teach them his style of dhyana meditation only to discover the monks did not possess the stamina of body to continue. He then showed them the breathing techniques and Kalaripayattu body conditioning and fighting exercises to help the monks increase the levels of Prana in their bodies. Prana is the “vital energy” present in all life. Also called Chi, Qi, or Ki. So the combination of Kalaripayattu practices and meditation techniques brought to China from India by Bodhidharma has given him the title of “father of martial arts” and India, it’s “mother”. From these practices, the monks of Shao created the Shaolin temple and the martial arts known as Kung Fu.

Kalaripayattu history in Kerala


According to legend, there was a famous Brahmin warrior called Parasurama, who was also said to be one of the avatars of the Lord Vishnu, the Hindu god of cosmic balance. After a battle, Parasurama threw his mighty axe into the sea, and a strip of land rose where it sank. This land was Kerala, or Parasuramakshetram. Parasurama taught the art of kalaripayattu to twenty one disciples in order to provide protection for the newly-created land.

There is a story in connection with the origin of Kalaripayattu in Kerala. Lord Siva and his wife Parvathi, during their stay in a dense forest, watched the fight between a furious lion and a gigantic elephant.They observed the fight closely and learned many of the self defense techniques adopted by both the animals. The curved club known as Otta which is so vigorously used by the Kalaripayattu fighter was one of the weapons created to mimic the trunk of the elephant which was used so effectively in the fight against the lion in the fight observed by Lord Shiva. Kalaripayattu exists in various forms in Kerala. A few masters are of the opinion that Kalaripayattu evolved naturally in the human being but was then developed more scientifically and practically for the well- being of the human race.

When there is heavy storm and violent cyclone in nature, small trees and plants don’t resist, they simply surrender to it. Likewise,in Kalaripayattu, a defender simply goes with the force and never against, so that he may be victorious in an encounter with any opponent.