The Ancient Art of Kalaripayattu: A Journey Through Time and Healing

The Ancient Art of Kalaripayattu: A Journey Through Time and Healing

Author Gurukkal Dr. S Mahesh

Do you know that Kalaripayattu has a unique healing or curing system associated with it, setting it apart from other martial arts?

Do you know that Kalaripayattu encompasses both physical training and a healing system, offering a holistic approach to health and well-being? 
Tracing the roots
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh

Kalaripayattu, one of the world's oldest martial arts, boasts a rich history that spans over 3,000 years, and it is often referred to as the mother of all martial arts. Originating in southern India, its roots can be traced back to the Sangam period, from the 3rd century BCE to the 4th century CE. This ancient art has evolved from the combat techniques used by warriors and hunters in the region, with "Kalari" denoting the training arena and "Payattu" signifying combat or fight, giving rise to the name "Kalaripayattu." 

The evidence of Kalaripayattu's existence prior to the Sangam period can be found in the Sangam-era literature, such as Akampaadal and Purampaadal, which mention terms like kalam, kalari, and kalipokina kalari. It is believed that this martial art culture was deeply ingrained in southern India, as illustrated by references to archery, horseback and elephant-back fighting, various weapons, and shield techniques in Sangam classics. 
Kalaripayattu is not limited to Kerala but finds equivalent forms in Garidis in Karnataka, Silambam or Varma Kalai in Tamil Nadu, and ankam pora in Sri Lanka. Myths and legends, along with oral traditions, also attribute Parashurama as a paramaguru of Kalaripayattu.
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh

In Kerala alone, Kalaripayattu encompasses diverse styles, with Parashurama being the Paramaguru for the northern style and Agasthya for the southern style. The northern style, known as Vadakkan, flourishes in northern Kerala, characterized by highly structured and disciplined training. The southern style places greater emphasis on Marma, focusing on pressure points. Another style called Madhyakerala or central style, Kalamchavittu, and Baali Sampradayam style also have their unique approaches.
Varmakalai, a pressure point-based style, targets the enemy's pressure points for maximum damage. Silambattam, derived from various styles, incorporates elements from different forms. Notably, Kalaripayattu stands out as the only martial art with an associated healing or treatment system, extending beyond self-defense. It promotes the principle of avoiding unnecessary violence and teaches that one must evade attacks and only respond when necessary.
This healing system also serves as a protection system for the community, where Gurukkals take responsibility for the health and well-being of society. Kalaripayattu has been instrumental in shaping the history of the region, fostering a society of warrior leaders that transcended barriers of sex, religion, caste, or creed.

Historical accounts, such as those by the Portuguese traveler Duarte Barbosa in the 16th century, reveal that children in Kerala begin Kalari training at the age of 7, developing flexibility, strength, and weapon skills over their lifetime. The training involves a gradual progression through various stages, culminating in mastering weapons, pressure points, and even healing techniques.
Kalaripayattu: The Holistic Path for Health and Wellness
As Agasthya, the revered Paramaguru of Kalaripayattu, wisely imparts:
"Manamathu semmayanal mandiram japikkavendaam 
Manamathu semmayanal vayuve uyartha vendaam 
Manamathu semmayanal vasiye nirutha vendaam 
Manamathu semmayanal mandiram semmayame" 



In essence, possessing a robust and resolute mind obviates the need for mantras, pranayamas, or meditative sadhanas like Vaasi. A powerful mind, in itself, is the key to acquiring a strong and healthy body.

The wisdom behind these words goes beyond individual well-being; it extends to the broader canvas of society. A strong mind is the cornerstone of a healthy and fearless society. It equips individuals to face life's challenges with resilience and empowers communities to thrive in harmony. As we embrace this age-old wisdom, we are reminded that the journey to health, longevity, and happiness begins with the strength of our minds."

The essence of Kalaripayattu extends beyond combat; it emphasizes the mind's power and its role in both healing and overall well-being. The ancient art recognizes the body's ability to self-heal, with psychosomatic diseases linked to psychological and emotional factors. It underscores the importance of addressing the root causes of illnesses, striving for mental and emotional well-being, and embracing the concept of whole-person healing.

 In an era where the future of medicine embraces whole-person healing, Kalaripayattu's holistic approach to mind, body, and spirit becomes increasingly relevant. This ancient martial art continues to inspire and educate, reminding us that true strength lies in the unity of the mind and the body.


Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh in Treatment

Exercise, when done properly, is not just a means to gain physical health and longevity; it is the pathway to happiness and a powerful body. We have come to realize that the foundation of a strong body is, in fact, a strong mind.

In India, every health practice has always been intrinsically linked to the concept of health and a wholesome way of life. This holistic vision was deeply ingrained in the country's cultural fabric and finds expression in various ancient texts.

According to Ayurveda, an Ancient Indian System of Medicine, it is said:

"Punavritha… punah mitra 
Puna bharya puna mihi 
Ethath sarva punar labhya 
Na sarera punah punah"

This verse suggests that one can potentially regain various aspects of life, such as family, spouse, kingdom, relationships, and wealth. However, when it comes to the loss of one's physical body, it is considered not just challenging but indeed impossible to recover. This reflects the profound value placed on the physical body and the emphasis on maintaining its well-being.

India, historically, was a nation that embraced a vision of health and a wholesome way of life. It was renowned as the birthplace of Ayurveda, Siddha Vaidya, and Kalaripayattu, each of which played a significant role in shaping the lifestyle of its people.


Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh

In 1948, the World Health Organization redefined the concept of health, stating that it is "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of diseases." This definition aligns with the holistic perspective on health that India has cherished for centuries.

Ayurveda Further Elaborates on the Concept of Health, Stating:

"Kshamavan apthopasevi bhaved arogyam,"

which means that when you love and serve others, your health improves. In India, health extends beyond the individual; it encompasses a broader sense of well-being, with a strong focus on unconditional love for society.

Another Perspective from Ayurveda Emphasizes the Importance of Physical Activity:

"Vyayameth labhathe bhagyam, deerghayushyam, balam, sugham."

This verse underscores the belief that through regular exercise, one attains good fortune, a long and healthy life, strength, and happiness.

Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh
Gurukkal Dr S Mahesh


These verses and philosophies collectively underscore the profound connection between health and lifestyle in India, emphasizing a holistic approach that extends to physical, mental, and social well-being.

Gurukkal Dr. S Mahesh


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