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Ancient Indian martial arts – Kalaripayattu

We all know that India is an ancient civilization so there should not be any surprise that India has its own martial arts but what may actually interest you even more is that the Indian martial arts have influenced many fighting systems around the world.  Huyen langlon from Manipur, Gataka from Punjab, Chhau from Orissa, Kalaripayattu from Kerala, Thoda from Himachal Pradesh are the names of some of its ancient martial arts. And also there is a whole series of different forms of martial arts from Tamilnadu as well like – Kuttu Varisai, Gusthi, Malyutham, Varma Ati, Silambam, Adi Thadi or Adi Murai, just to name a few. They all have an outstanding history and great impact from time immemorial but in this article, I am going to focus only on one of them – Kalaripayattu from Kerala.

India has many indigenous martial arts which have influenced many different martial arts of the world and the good news is that within India, these ancient martial arts are still very much in practice even today.


Kalaripayattu or as called by others – kalari comes from the words kalari which means training ground and payattu which means fight. It is said to be not only the oldest martial art of the world but also the mother of many ancient fighting systems of the world. Shaolin kung fu was heavily influenced from it as the Buddhist monk called Bodhidharma (also known as Dat mo or Damo) who was also a kalaripayattu expert improved the fighting system of the Chinese and made it more complete. Bodhidharma  modified it according to the body types of the Chinese monks.

Kalaripayattu in China evolved into kung fu thanks to a South Indian monk – Bodhidharma who in China was called Tamo or Tat moh.

Stages of kalaripayattu

As I already mentioned, kalaripayattu includes different types of fighting – bare-handed and with the use of weaponry. What may actually surprise you is that during the training, the student learns the weaponless martial art in the very end of the whole process. But even before the real practice starts, students are learning meditation, physical exercises, medicine and oil massages. There are four stages of learning kalaripayattu:

  1. Meithari is the first stage which is about physical exercises which are certainly choreographed in order to make sure that all the muscles and joints are involved and mental balance is attained.
  2. In the next stage – Kolthari the student is introduced to wooden weapons like short and long staffs, canes.
  3. During the third stage – Ankathari, the practitioner is learning the art of fighting with the use of sharp iron weapons like sword and shield, dagger and many other different tools.
  4. After the student completes all the mentioned stages, he may move to the last part – Verumkai which is all about the techniques of bare-handed attack and defense.


So, as we can see learning kalaripayattu makes the student familiar with all kinds of different ways of fighting.

Marmas – pressure points in the human body

When we talk about kalari we should not forget about one of the most subtle yet very effective form of self-defense, and that is a clever manipulation of  – “marmas”. Marmas are pressure points in the human body and when they are manipulated in a desired way, the effect can cause an extreme pain, disability, on spot death or even a delayed death depending on what result the attacker desires. According to the Ayurveda, there are 108 marmas in the body while 64 out of them are classified as lethal marmas. But these can be taught only to the students who are positively assessed by the teacher as one should never misuse this knowledge and learning kalaripayattu is also about having pure intentions.

How  kalaripayattu stayed alive

Kalaripayattu was commonly practiced especially in the southern states of India. For example, in Kerala it was very common to send all the children above the age of seven to the kalaris to understand and learn this unique martial art. But the popularity started to decline during the British Raj as the art of kalari became a huge problem for the new rulers who were scared of some rebellions and that is why they banned kalaripayattu. Those who were practicing it or were keeping the kalaripayattu weaponry were sent to jail. But the people of Kerala still managed to preserve their martial art  and this beautiful martial art still is present in the land of Kerala with many kalaris open and with gurukkals (teacher) teaching the students not only the art of fighting but also meditation, control over your own body, Ayurveda and respect. Kalaripayattu does not only improves your overall physical fitness and teaches you how to defend yourself in case of an attack but also has a positive impact on your concentration as well.

You may also want to watch this movie on Kalaripayattu :

About Karolina Goswami

Hello everyone! Welcome to my blog! I hope you enjoy reading the stuff that you will not easily find on the mainstream media. I am a girl from Poland who is living in India. I am a seeker and I share my thoughts through this medium with the world citizens. For more details, check 'about me' section in the top menu bar. To contact me, write to me on indiaindetails@gmail.com or simply write on the comment section below every post.


  1. The word “fight” itself stemmed on the word “payyattu” and interestingly “war” also likely from ancient tamil term “Vaaral”

  2. Your blog is very knowlegable and true..Where do you know more about ancient India ? If there are any books ..pls refer me

  3. Indian... Keralite

    Its very nice to hear the culture of our country, I likes your motto to bring back that lost love for our country, even from childhood people are running towards foreign culture, it seems better if caste reservation and blaming of lower caste people banned., reservation must on the basis of economy of a person………. Jai hind.

  4. Hi I really liked your about our country , first of all i would like to thank you for letting all know what India exactly is , coming to the point or reason behind my comment . I saw a picture of your in the most beautiful Indian attire SAREE, but there is nothing much written about saree on your blog . Indian ethnic wear is something which is really different and beautiful in its own way and Saree is the top most attire which maximum indian lady carry . I think the world should know about this beautiful attire and how it is made and draped in different ways in different states of India. Thank You

  5. Really nice review – thank you! Bodhidharma, in fact, created shaolin kung fu.

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