Bharat had a different sporting culture that was rooted in her soil and civilisation. In present day, though we mainly focus on Cricket, or at the most Hockey, when Bharat and Pakistan play against each other, in reality like our food and festivities, we have had a diverse sporting tradition that needs to be understood and revived. While under the NDA Government, Sports Authority of India (SAI) has proposed a mega event to felicitate thousands of folk artist and to organise seminars and workshops to bring India closer to its tradition of indigenous sports and martial arts, the interest in the traditional sporting culture is on a rise. On the occasion of National Sports Day, Organiser profiles three such sporting traditions popular in Daskin Bharat
An exhibition of Kalaripayattu
Kalaripayattu or Kalari is the science of war, treatment and marma therapy, all in one sport, believed to be one of the oldest existing martial arts in the world
Much before Karate, Kung-Fu and Taekwondo took centre stage as an option for martial sports, Bharat’s very own Kalaripayattu had existed for thousands of years. Kalari is said to be the originator of all other forms of martial arts the world over. Bodhi Dharma, a Buddhist monk and an expert in Kalaripayattu is believed to have travelled to China and taught the art to masters there who popularised it in later centuries through the Shaolin monks.
Kalari or Kalaripayattu is a martial art form with its roots in Kerala. It is believed to have emerged as a form of training in combat and is believed to be the world’s oldest martial art. Legend traced the 3000-year-old art form to Sage Parasurama- the master of all martial art forms and credited to be the re-claimer of Kerala from the Arabian Sea. Initial reference to Kalari can be found in the Sangam literature around 300 BCE. Later records suggest that Kalari was officially recognised as a martial art in 1362 CE in Kerala by the Kings.
Kalaripayattu—The Original Martial Art
Kalari practice at 77!
Martial arts are usually seen as an option for the young. But here is Meenakshi Amma at 77 years who is not just a practitioner of Kalaripayattu but also trains youngsters in it. She is regarded as the oldest exponent of the sport and art form.
Meenakshi Amma born in 1941 was initiated into the practice of Kalari at a very young age. There’s no looking back since then. Her husband who was also an expert in Kalari established the Kadathanattu Kalari Sangham which imparted training to students for many decades. After the demise of her husband in 2007, Meenakshi Amma took over the reins of the Kalari Sangam where she was a tutor herself for over 56 years. Every year, 150-160 students learn Kalari at this training academy. She is well-versed in various forms of Kalari, including the use of weapons like the urumi, which even experts find difficult to master.
Meenakshi Amma’s contribution to the art and in popularising the same was recognised by the Government of Bharat in 2017 when she was awarded the Padma Shri.
In traditional Malayalam, Kalari means threshing floor or battlefield. Training is given on how to perform in the battlefield, where a variety of aesthetic moves, fights and ducks are taught. Kalarippayattu is practised in various forms in different parts of the state, with slight variations. The techniques used in Kalari draw inspiration from animals like Lion, Tiger, Elephant, Wild Boar and crocodiles in using raw power and sinuous strength inherent in all beings. Feats like chattom (jumping), ottam (running) and marichil (somersault) all derived from nature are integral parts of the art form.
The completion of the mastery of Kalaripayattu comprises of five different levels. But even after completing these levels it takes years of regular practice with dedication, discipline and devotion to master the art of Kalaripayattu. Each new level deals with perfecting the previous levels and the introduction of new elements.
Kalaripayattu or Kalarippayattu—the Martial Art form that developed in Kerala
In the basic level, the student learns unarmed techniques that allow mastery over body movements and balance. Forms, combinations and techniques include Chuvadu (Salutation Forms), Adithada (Unarmed Combat), Pootu (Locks), Valivu (Throws). In the Intermediate Level, students learn to attain agility, flexibility and coordination of body movements through the above basic forms, combinations and techniques on a higher level. In Advanced Level, students are taught training in weapons which include blunt weapons like Rad Veesh (Long Session Staff), Neduvadi (Long Stick), Kuravadi (Short Stick), Cheruvadi (Medium Stick), Sharp weapons like Kathi (Dagger), Kadara, Vettukathi.
In the Senior Level, the practice with these weapons advances to a higher level, and the student learns traditional sword fighting. The different types of swords used include Valum (Long Sword) and Churika (Medium Sword). At the highest level which is the Instructor Level, a practitioner gains proficiency in the use of Valum Parichayum (Sword & Shield), a combination of sword and shield, Spear, Maru (Axe), Urumi (Spring Sword).
The sport was neglected due to the onslaught of Chinese and Japanese martial sports; Kalari is slowly making a comeback. Training academies have started in cities like Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai and even Delhi. This renewed interest in the sport is a positive sign of reviving ancient sports of Bharat.