Kalarippayattu is considered as the mother of all martial art forms. It is a part of Kerala’s integral culture and heritage. It is a blend of physical and mental prowess, martial techniques and indigenous medical system. This hand to hand form with arms is not only unique to Kerala but also to the rest of India. The Kalari is a practice ring, or training centre, on the lines of a gymnasium and Payattu means duel. Hence Kalarippayattu means martial skills learnt in a ring. The C V N Kalari Sangham was established in 1956 after lifelong dedicated efforts of C V Narayanan Nair, C V Balan Nair and Kottackal Karunakara Gurukkal. They are pioneers in this field and take the credit of popularizing this dying art. They popularized it by staging demonstrations, collecting information and establishing Kalaris across the State.
The C V N Kalari is built in an East-West direction about 4 ft below ground level. It is an enclosure closed on all sides except for a small door to the East. This cocoon-like Kalari architecture is developed after taking the tropical, humid climate of Kerala into consideration. It is very dark inside the Kalari and the only light there is of the traditional wick lamps, Nilavilakku. Certain deities are placed in the Kalari and rituals are performed before every session. Paradevata, or the Goddess of Kalari, is the main deity. Idols of Ganapathy, Naga and Bhadrakali and others are also placed. The rites of worship are of the Kalari tradition followed since ancient inception.
The Kalari warrior has to undergo rigorous training. Dependability solely rests on the warrior’s alertness and agility. Various postures and swift movements are used for attack and defence. A Kalari warrior has to undergo years of rigorous training that will help him to perfect his reflexes. Kalarippayattu also helps in cultivating and improving concentration, confidence and courage. The training begins at the age of seven for boys and girls. As the training begins at a very young age, it becomes a way of life for all exponents. Kalari training also includes meditation and Ayurvedic massages which condition and keep the body supple. These tasks are performed by the Gurukkal, or the Master Trainer.
Training consists of four different stages.
Chuvadu- means stance. This is followed by Vadivu, or body postures. These body postures are- Gaja (Elephant), Simha (Lion), Ashwa (Horse), Varaha (Pig), Sarpa (Serpent), Marjjara (Cat), Kukkuda (Rooster) and Matsya (Fish). The next segment that comes after perfection in the above stances and postures is the Meyppayattu (use of body in fighting). This perfects Neuro-muscular coordination. The next phase is training with weapons. The trainee begins with a cane and than gradually upgrades to the Cheruvadi (small stick), Ottakkol (pole), Gada (mace) and Kadtaram (dagger). The most glamorous of all combats is the combat with sword and shield. It combines the sheer beauty of agility and speed
Another special and unique weapon is the Urumi, a long, springy, double-edged, coiled sword which can recoil and hurt the user if not careful. The last in the training is the spears. Kuntham as they are known are long poles made of cane, bamboo or wood with a sharp double edged metal tip.
Medicine and treatment are also as important to Kalarippayattu as the training. An entire system of medicine revolves round the art of Kalari Chikitsa, or Kalari treatment. It is a part of the ancient tradition of Kalarippayattu.
This treatment is used to treat sprains, fractures, wounds and other injuries that are a part of the training. Performers of other traditional arts also undergo the Kalari Chikitsa for better body suppleness. The Kalari masters are trained healers. Their expertise lies in curing physical ailments with Ayurvedic massages with liberal use of medicinal herbs.
Kalari performances are organized on request, in India and abroad, Lecture demonstrations are presented at the Kalaris at Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.