Kalaripayattu, also spelled as Kalarippayattu is an ancient martial art indigenous to Kerala. The ancient martial art lost its appeal in the last few centuries but is now making a comeback, attracting the younger generation to learning centres and appearing in popular culture, dance forms, theatre, in fitness gyms and in movies too.
Kalaripayattu is considered by some to be the mother of all martial arts. Legend traces the 3000-year-old art form to Sage Parasurama- the master of all martial art forms. Historians believe the techniques originated in ancient South India between 200 BCE and 600 CE, and cresting in popularity between the 14th and 16th centuries.
The art draws inspiration from the raw power and sinuous strength of the majestic animal forms – Lion, Tiger, Elephant, Wild Boar, Snake, and Crocodile. Kalaripayattu laid down the combat code of the Cholas, the Cheras and the Pandyas, dynasties that ruled South India’s golden era. Shrouded in mystery and secrecy, Kalaripayattu was taught by masters who supervised the activities of a hundred and eight ‘kalaris’ or training centres/arenas masters in total isolation, away from prying eyes.
Oral history records the awe with which chroniclers and poets of yore recorded the complexity of the techniques, the liquid beauty of the moves, and the enviable elasticity of the practitioners of Kalaripayattu.
The Chinese martial art of Kung-Fu, popularized by the monks of the Shoaling Temple traces its ancestry to Bodhi Dharma – an Indian Buddhist monk and Kalaripayattu master.