Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala

Martial Arts


Kalaripayattu is the martial art form of Kerala. Kalaripayattu’s influence can be seen in most of the art forms of Kerala. In the past kalaris (combat arena or battle field) formed an integral part of the lives of the people. Without any gender discrimination boys and girls in their childhood would be sent to the Kalaris for practicing. With social life undergoing changes, the position of Kalaris and their influence changed. Today, Kalaripayattu is staged during festivals and other occasions as a showpiece. People are more interested in kalari treatment (as a system of medicine) and Marmachikitsa (treatment of vital parts).

Kalaripayattu has different techniques like meipayattu (physical body exercise), vadipayattu (fight using sticks), valpayattu (fight using swords) and verumkaiprayoga (bare hand exercise). Kalari treatment is a part of the curriculum. In Kalaripayattu, the first exercise is body exercise. Oil massage is an integral portion of body exercise.  The body is well oiled. This is done to fine tune the body for the next step that is payattu (fight). Body movements together with oral instructions are practiced. There are 8 to 16 payattu (fight) during different stages. Physical body exercise is followed by kolpayattu in which sticks of different lengths are used. This involves defensive and offensive techniques. Here also oral instructions are given.

The next stage involves the use of sword, shield, urumi (flexible sword), kuntham (spear) and kattari (dagger). Two or more persons take part in this exercise. The target areas in angathari are head, chest, back, stomach and the portion below the knee.

Verumkaiprayoga (bare hand exercise) is a technique in which weapons are not used. Through this exercise the person gets the will power and physique to deal with armed opponents. Concentration and flexibility are developed through this technique.

Vaythari (oral commands) is the most important stage in Kalaripayattu training. The kalari Asan controls the movements of the performers through Vaythari. Vaythari has a rhythm of its own. Sometimes elder students and others may give Vaythari.

Kalaripayattu’s own system of medicine based on Ayurveda and Kalarichikitsa (kalari treatment) is very unique. Ancient gurus had framed the system. It includes marmachikitsa, thirumal and vyayamachikitsa (physical exercise). There are different branches in kalarichikitsa. Marmachikitsa (treatment of vital parts) maintains a secret nature. This is done so that the chikitsa is not misused. We find a blend of Kalarividya and medicine in marmachikitsa. Kalariuzhichil helps a lot in restoring body and mental peace. Today, no wonder, kalarichikitsa is very popular among the people.

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