As we drove up from the Periyar river to our hotel, Shankumar told us of a Kalaripayattu show which was held in this area every day. We’d heard that the martial art form of Kalaripayattu is at least 2000 years old. The dating is based on the fact that it is mentioned in the Tamil literature of the Sangam period, which lasted from about 300 BCE to about 300 CE. The form is said to have been elaborated in the 6th century CE. Subsequently it fell into obscurity, and was rediscovered in the 1920s during the Indian reawakening. Our little snippets of knowledge was due to the great interest in this art form generated by the fact that it has been used in several Bollywood films in the last decade or so.
We found the show completely engrossing. It is bit of theatre, with set pieces being worked out. The main instruments seem to be the hand, a sword or a dagger, a long staff, and a long piece of cloth. The stunning acrobatics and leaps are apparently a feature of the northern Kerala style; the southern style concentrating more on contact and unarmed fighting.
The set pieces showed each of the weapons paired against another. The purpose of the lessons seems to be that no weapon is intrinsically less powerful; the skill with the weapon is what matters. We saw examples of an unarmed fighter disarming a person with a staff. Even more interesting was a long piece of cloth, either a turban on a cummerbund, being used to disarm a swordsman. The fights took place in a small sunken arena, the kalari.
But eventually, more impressive than the combat skills were the demonstrations of athleticism: the high leaps and the crawls along the ground. There was an exercise where an adept stood on his two legs, holding two swords in two hands, and leaning back to pick up a flower placed behind him in his lips. My abs ached just watching this!
As we exited, one of the boys asked me to put my pictures on the social medium of my choice. Here is my pingback to Kalari Kshethra, in Chithirapuram near Munnar.