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Kerala, present in the south-western part of India, is known for its vibrant arts scene, mainly because of the much-known ancient martial art called Kalaripayattu, which is also regarded as one of the oldest martial arts to be originated in this part of India, if not the oldest.

Kalaripayattu can be identified by high-flying acrobatics and a mix of fluid movements and weaponry. With oiled-up bodies, Kalaripayattu artists mimic the flowing animal movements that are local to South India such as the tiger, the snake, and the elephant.

Kalaripayattu can be identified by high-flying acrobatics
Kalaripayattu can be identified by high-flying acrobatics

Legends reveal that this martial art, which is regarded as the mother of all martial arts, was originated by Sage Parasurama, who is also known as one of the seven immortal humans in Hindu culture. Also, in the 11th and 12th century AD, it was first documented to be used in the war between the Chola and Chera dynasties in Southern part of India.

The various attacks used in this martial art includes kicking, grappling and striking, which is taught to be done both with weapons as well as without them. The high jumps and the leaps and graceful movements of Kalaripayattu have also caught the attention of the Bollywood Industry, with the art form being used in movies like Asoka, Lajja and even in foreign movies like The Myth starring Jackie Chan.

Kalaripayattu artists mimic the flowing animal movements
Kalaripayattu artists mimic the flowing animal movements

Warriors who practice Kalaripayattu have the ability to knock out or even kill their enemies just by hitting at vital points on the body, which are the same points that form the base of Ayurveda, India’s ancient healing system and are vital in recovery. Since they are aware of this advanced knowledge, Kalaripayattu practitioners are also very skilled in traditional medicine and massage in vital points, which is a very necessary skill for them to learn so that they can use the knowledge when necessary.

In the local Malayalam language of Kerala, “Kalari” means a school or a gymnasium. “Payattu” means to fight or to exercise. The martial art of Kalaripayattu is embedded in the history of the region, where these fight schools churn out warriors who use martial art to defend the king as well as the kingdom.

So next time when you visit Kerala do visit some famous academy to watch this oldest ancient form of martial art!


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