KALARIPAYATTU originated in Kerala, is the inevitable fragment of Ancient Martial Art Forms of India. It was derived from Dhanur Veda, the youngest of all Vedas written between the 10th century and 12th century AD. Literally translated, ‘Kalari’ means “threshing floor” or “battlefield”, and ‘Payattu’ means “skill training or exercise”.

This aesthetically – pleasing art form was found by Sage Agastya as a way of defence from wildlife. It evolved further into a fighting system to shield the community and culture from the attacks the invaders. It is practiced according to a roofed (absolute) syllabus, encompassing:

  • MEYPAYATTU / MEYTARI (mey means body in local parlance and payattu, exercise) is the physical training that prepares the body & reflexes to combat tough situations with strength, agility and focus. It includes the basic exercises, acrobatics, and different sorts of flips and kicks for hand, legs and other body parts.
  • KOLTHARI is the art of using wooden weapons such as wooden sticks namely ‘Otta’, ‘Cheruvadi’, ‘Muchan’, etc. Its mathematics and deep stances are taught in 18 sequences after the achievement of an obedient body & mind.  
  • ANKATHARI is teaching of armed combat using the metal weapons like sword, shield, sparrow, katara, kati, belsword, etc. when there is better understanding of the mechanics of movement and coordination. As such, the weapon becomes an extension of one’s body and a further test of one’s skill.
  • Finally, there is VERUMKAI, a unique method of defence and offense without the use of weapons. This unarmed fighting technique incorporates various locks, holds, grips and foot movements to hit the vital points of opponents’ body and disarm them completely.

However, calling it just a Martial Arts form will be unfair. Kalari has a lot of curved, zig-zag and whole body movements, which makes it a ‘moving form’ of Yoga that can ensure a holistic health of body, mind and soul in the theatre of life. Moreover, an inextricable linkage to Ayurveda gives a therapeutic twist to Kalari Martial Arts. Its system of massage can treat various ailments using the different sorts of medicated oils, and stroking the specific ‘marmas’ (energy points or the sacred points in the body). The researchers are still trying to unfold more secrets of this art form.


It is poignant that such a multi-dimensional art form of India is still living in anonymity while the complements, ‘Kick-Boxing’, ‘Kung-Fu’, etc are bagging the international fame. To this, Sumesh P.B, an exponent of Kalaripayattu, said “We should know our history, food and language. We are far away from our history and that’s why we are idly roaming around.” He pointed out to the pages of history when it was necessary for king’s son to learn Kalari in order to inherit the crown, and how the invaders attacked it first in order to settle in. To orient the art form according to present times, he is trying to make theatre out of it. Once the government provides an appropriate space and atmosphere, the art of Kalari i.e. healer, protector and a potential entertainer, would be able to actually bask in the light at the end of this tunnel of oblivion.

-Rishu Jain