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Home » South india » Kerala » Other attractions » Kalaripayattu
Kerala Places to see KALARIPAYATTU

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Location : Kerala

Significance : Important martial arts

Period of flourishing : Period between ninth and twelfth centuries

Kalaripayattu is a form of martial art that has been practiced in Kerala since centuries. The art is very popular and has remained an inherent part of its culture. The word "Kalari" means a gymnasium meant for imparting physical training. "Payattu" stands for an exercise or training in the form of combat. This Cultural heritage went through a low phase during the colonial rule but gained popularity after independence.

History of the art :

The practice of maintaining local military groups by medieval societies was a common practice in Kerala. Each of these groups comprises of ten soldiers. Some of the organizations that were in full vogue at that time were Munnurruvar, Ezhunuttavar, and Arunuttuvar, depending upon the number of organizations under them. These organizations initially acted as guardians of the rulers but later became part of the aristocracy.

Functions : The military organizations had several functions including acting as a mediator between warring parties. Utilizing the services of fighters for settling judicial disputes resulted in the formation of "Ankam" which means a combat. Money collected from the two parties was spent on maintaining these Ankams.

Revival of Kalaripayattu was the result of the efforts of "Kalari" members and Kerala's government.

Objectives : There are several objectives at which Kalaripayattu is aimed.  Some of them are listed as follows:

  • To make the body alert along with the alertness of mind.

  • To propagate the art of combat among masses.

  • To help people aid in their self-defense

In addition to these, this martial art aims at developing four types of powers in human body.


These are Mankaruthu i.e. mind's power, Meikaruthu i.e. bodily power, Ankakaruthu i.e. power to do combat and Ayudhakaruthu which means ability to wield weapons.

Kalaripayattu involves taking deep breaths and can revitalize the body functions so that both mind and body get properly tuned.

Legends and believes associated with the art :

This art form developed and evolved during a span of four centuries, starting from the ninth century. A number of stories have been popularized by the exponent of the art. Some of them believe that it was a creation of the saint Parasurama who is supposed to have laid the foundation of more then 100 kalaries in Kerala. According to some others, Kalaripayattu originated from the curse of Shiva when he, in a fit of rage, tried to disrupt the yagna of Daksha Prajapati. His disciple Parshurama popularized the art to his followers. There are no historical evidences to prove these stories.

First evidence about the growth of this martial art was propagated by Elamkulam Kunjan, according to him, this exclusive art evolved from the 100 years war that took place between Chola and Chera dynasties. Due to the lack of any evidence, this theory has also been rejected.

Spread of the art :

Though the art is indigenous to Kerala, but its similarity to a number other organizations in other parts of South India have indicated its presence there. Tulu system was popular in Malabar. Some masters of Kalaripayattu have traced their roots in Tulu speaking regions. In addition, there are several words like "angam", "carika", "palisha" etc. which are used in the marital art prevalent in Srilanka.

Socio-cultural Impact :

The art of Kalaripayattu has influenced the society of Kerala in several ways. It has affected the social, political and cultural aspects of the state. Numerous dance forms have evolved its form since centuries. The traditional dances like Kathakali involve toning of the body through a number of exercises that make it flexible and toned. The limb and movement of other parts of body have to undergo vigorous exercises in the martial art. It makes it easier for the dancers to adapt themselves to different steps. The famous Tandava dance requires skill and discipline which can be achieved through Kalaripayattu. The ritual art called Teyyam is also influenced by this magical art. In Teyyam, the transformation of the artist from human to divine form is represented and involves movements.

Training :

A number of physical exercises are involved in this special training. One has to do a rigorous practice to achieve the excellence in this art. Application of oil to for massage is one of the essential features. Trainees are taught a number of steps and gestures. They have to arrive at the venue on empty stomach. They are made to wear traditional cotton attires. Among the therapies and massages that are part of Kalaripayattu, Pizhichil, Yoga, Marma, and Bone setting are quite popular.  

This art form of Kerala has become the inherent part of its culture.

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