By Azriel ReShel on Thursday May 12th, 2016
Discover the secrets of Kalari
A mysterious and ancient martial art has been kept alive in Kerala, as part of a closed oral tradition for thousands of years.
The traditional South Indian martial art grew up alongside Ayurveda and Yoga. It is a potent body of knowledge that was created to help individuals bring the soothing balm of peace to worldly conflict; including both internal conflict (of the mind and ego), and external conflict (between individuals and communities).
Kalari, or Kalarippayattu, is steeped in the wisdom of Ayurveda and Ancient Indian indigenous practices and it includes a knowledge of diet, herbs, health, natural systems, moral and ethical behaviour, and religious studies. The whole self is trained through Kalari – the emotions, body and mind, in a lifelong process of holistic self discovery.
So what is Kalarippayattu?
The word ‘Kalari’ comes from the Tamil ‘Kalam’ which means system/enclosed space or school, and ‘payat’ which means to practice. It involves exercise and agility, as well as an understanding of the energy system. It is said to have been created and taught by a revered Vedic Sage, Agastya, who was the first spiritual adept or siddhar possessing the eight supernatural powers.
While it is a physically demanding practice, anyone can learn Kalari.
The key principles include the concept of Siva (masculine) and Sakti (feminine), expansion of sensory awareness, continuous flow of contraction and expansion and the reenactment of the eternal cosmic story of creation and destruction.
– Kalari Australia.
Kalari also has prehistoric shamanic roots and has the tradition of training in a pit dug into the ground, to harness energy and power from the earth.
Martial arts evolved from Southern India. The creator of Kalari, Agastya Muni, was a small man who travelled widely. He evolved martial arts as a system to help fight the wildlife he encountered on his journeys. These were the days when tigers roamed the land in great abundance and he needed to be able to defend himself from tigers and other animals. He taught martial arts to a few people to help them manage the wildlife when they travelled.
Once people crossed the Himalayas, they met wild men who would attack them. So Kalari developed into a means to deal with these attackers and a distinct transformation took place with the martial art. It transformed from a crouching kind of martial art, used on wildlife who walk on all fours, to a standing martial art, which grew in China and South East Asia. Another significant change to Kalari came with the fighting to the death. When using it on animals, they needed to only deter the animal who was looking for food, but when using it on wild men they fought to the death. And so the martial art changed from a form that was a wonderful form of defence used to avoid becoming a tiger’s dinner, to a tool to fight other men that can kill you. We see this transformation from Kalari to Karate.
Another great teacher of Kalari was Parashuram.
He single-handedly slaughtered armies because of his phenomenal martial art capabilities. He taught one school which flowed from the North of Malabar, and Agastya Muni’s school came from the South. Parashuram’s method used all kinds of weapons – hand weapons, throwing weapons, various kinds of weapons – but Agastya Muni’s martial art grew without any weapons, it was all hand.
When the Body becomes all eyes
People know eating, sleeping and simple pleasures, and nothing more about their body. There are unexplored dimensions of the body. You know, some karate masters can kill you just with a little touch. Killing somebody with a touch is not the big deal. With a touch you can make them come awake, that’s a big thing. With a touch you can make them come alive, that’s a big thing. With a simple touch, not even somebody else, yourself simply touching the body in a certain way, the whole system can come awake.
For me, if we were only striving for the spiritual advancement of people, it’s very easy. I don’t even see it as a great challenge. But we want to open up the mystical dimension into human life. This needs work, a different level of commitment, focus, and dedication.
Breath follows movement, not movement following breath, as in yoga. the body is trained in this martial art, in such a way that over time, it achieves perfect knowledge of itself. It has been likened to a martial art hatha yoga.
Kalari and Yoga share principles and terminology. However, there are also obvious differences. Kalari stresses the concept of living in this world, emphasising the expansion and development of the senses, as opposed to the classical practice of pratyahara or going inside. This paradigm is commonly called ‘when the body becomes all eyes’.
– Gerhard Schmidt, Kalari Sangha
The philosophy of Kalaripayat in general can be summed up in the theory of Dharma Yuddha (War of Duty/Tuth). It is symbolized in the ritual practice in the Kalari of touching the floor or the hand of the master with the right hand and then touching the chest and the head (heart and mind). This stands to signify that the fight should only be initiated by the mind if the heart approves of it. The term used in Kalari for self defense is ‘Atma Raksha’ or defence of the soul – to hurt someone is equal to hurting ourselves, the essence of supreme soul, hence an attack is employed only as a very last resort, exemplifying the principle of Ahimsa or non-violence.
– Kalarippayattu Academy, Kerala
The Healing Practice
In Kalari it is said that in order to heal, you must first learn how to destroy. Once a student has mastered the martial art practice of Kalari, they are then taught Kalari Chikitsa, or Kalari healing. The Kalari Healing system has several sources, including Ayurveda, Siddha Medicine (a system of traditional medicine from Tamil Nadu Traditionally, it is taught that the siddhars laid the foundation for this system of medication). Siddhars were spiritual adepts who possessed the ashta siddhis, or the eight supernatural powers.
Kalari chikitsa and Kalari marma involve knowing the secrets of the body and healing the body quickly to keep it in a regenerative mode.
According to Kalari Australia, healers work with the energy channels, or Nadis, running throughout the body; and the points where these energy channels meet, known as Marma. An injury is viewed as a block in energy. Treatment is usually administered with Ayurvedic oils which are chosen specifically for the constitution of the patient.
Another peculiarity of Kalarippayattu, which maintains a very special role both in fighting and in healing, is knowledge of Marma. These vital spots are mentioned in ancient Tamil Siddha scripts. Indian traditional medicine scholars talk and write books on marmas, but they probably did not have the necessary resource to know about Marma in depth.
But, Kalarippayattu practitioners: they know about marmas. They know exactly where they are located they know how to affect them in fighting, how to treat them if injured, how to manipulate them for healing.
– Kalaripayyattu Academy
This is a special, till now secret, knowledge that Kalarippayattu Gurukkal are reluctant to share (also for obvious good reasons), but the knowledge isnunique to India. You do not find it anywhere else. Only Kalarippayattu practitioners are the keepers of this powerful and fascinating legacy of the vital spots.
Kalari treatment works on curing the root cause and not the symptoms of an imbalance. In Kalari Chikitsa, nothing hostile is introduced to the body and nothing toxic is left behind. Kalari Chikitsa releases trauma in the system and clears us on a deep energetic level, bringing flexibility, energy flow, and balance to our entire system – mind and body.
– Kalari London
In its present state, Kalarippayattu incorporates three distinct fighting traditions, originated in North, Central and South Kerala. The northern style is geared towards weaponry, the central style makes use of sophisticated footwork and the southern style is practical and direct, attacking specific targets on the human body.
It seems so many marital arts around the world are indebted to this unique Ancient Indian knowledge that was brought to those countries by South Indian migrants so many years ago. And that, once again, India has given the world a tremendous gift of ancient wisdom for attaining happiness and self-realisation; while living in the world and managing the necessities of everyday life.