Kalarippayattu, the Martial Art of India with its roots in Dhanurveda become the forerunner of all martial arts in the world. This is the unique Indian service of warfare which enjoyed a predominant role in the ancient Indian Society. Though this Martial Art prevailed through out India it has become the part and parcel of the social life of Keralities only from time immemorial.


Generally, Kalari means Training centre or school at where physical training for warfare is being taught. It also has got different version. Tamil literature would go to say that the word Kalari derives from Tamil language. Another version is that this word has derived from the sanskrit term ‘khaloorika’. As this a matter of advanced reserch much more description on this matter is not required here.

The uniqueness of Kalari Architecture is well evident from the specialities of it’s structural beauty. The Kalari is normally built East-West in direction, closed on all sides excepet an entrance at the Eastern side. There are many types of Kalaries, Kurum Kalari, Ankakalari etc. 42’ length and 21’ width 16’height are the measurements usually accepted for the construction of KALARI.

Origion and Evolution

It is traditionally believed that Kalarippayattu had been originated from Lord Siva, the great master of all Art form. Lord Siva has taught the wonderful Kalarippayattu techniques to his ablest disciple sage Parasurama, who brought this Martial Art to Kerala. It is also believed that sage Parasurama travelled all the way from north India and threw his mighty Axe to the Arabian Ocean and the sea has withdrawn, thus the Kerala land was formed and parasurama instituted 108 Kalaries and Kalari gurus for the protection of the newly formed land. It is also believed that Agasthya Muni taught this great martial art, marma chikitsa and healing therapy to his 18 disciples.

Rites and Rituals

Rituals play an important role in the study of Kalarippayattu. Rituals begin from the selection of land for constructing Kalari. Manuscripts clearly give us to find out a proper place for the construction of Kalari and the measurements for the construction. Kalari is considered as a temple of learning with religious worship.Kalarippayattu learning is associated with rites and rituals which are to be compelied with most sanctimoniously. In the Kalari there are separate platforms for each deity viz Siva, Sakthi, Ganapathy, Bhagavathy, Hanuman etc. They are the main deities worship in the Kalaries. Poothara is the plat form for the main deity. Guruthara is the representative embodiment of the past Guru or the entire Guru concept. Poojas/rites and rituals are to be performed/ offered before and after practising Kalarippayatttu training.


IGuru concept has got much predominance in the Kalarippayattu culture from very ancient period. The word Guru means great. Therefore the Guru or master should possess great values in life and high qualifications in the field of Kalarippayattu. According to Kalari culture a Guru moulds his disciples to be quite fit to live in hte society. Guru gives mental and physical training by which the disciple acquired mental discipline and physical culture. The Guru makes his disciples to be with good character and highest moral values.

Training for Mental discipline and physical culture

Kalarippayattu training makes a man perfect by moral values. its rigorous training gives physical culture and mental discipline. The training also teach us not to harm others; and keep good morals through out the training period and there after too.

Stages in Kalari Training

There are 5 stages in Kalarippayattu training

Initial training/Meyppayattu/chuvadukal
Unarmed combat/ Kaipporu/Holds&locks
Staff fight events/ vadippayattu
Healing therapy/ Kalarichikitsa/Marma Chikitsa

In the first stage a student undergoes initial training for flexibility and body control techniques. This makes a student to strengthen his body and mind so as to do all the Kalari items. The basic steps and movements for the advanced studies are being taught at this stage.

The 2nd phase is Kaipporu’ (Unarmed Combat). Here training is without using any weapon. This training gives most of the defence techniques to a student, even to escape from a group attack. The 3rd phase of the training is Kolthari/ Vadippayattu. Here all the techniques using short and long staff are being taught. It takes considerable time to attain mastery over vadippayattu. The fourth stage of Kalari training angathari/Ayudhappayattu is very important as well as difficult. Number of weapons are used here for training; such as, dagger, chopper, Sword and shield, Spear, Mace, Urumi (Flexible sword) etc. All the techniques, movements and vadivukal in the preliminary stages are used for weaponry training. This training makes a student to escape even from the group attack using all kinds of weapons by the assailants. So, the weaponary training attract more importantance other than the previous stages of studies. Concentration, precision, skill, courage, speed, agility, reflex action, body flexibility, intelligence etc. are required for the weaponry training. Rigourous and repeated training is compulsory at this stage. Those who do not prossess the above said qualities cannot be a good master in Kalarippayattu. Vadivukal (body postures) such as Gajavadivu, Simhavadivu, Aswavadivu, Sarpavadivu, Marjaravadivu, Kukkuda vadivu, Matsyavadivu, Varahavadivu are mainly the body postures used for weaponry training.

The fifth and final stage of Kalari training is the study of Marma treatment.

The training comes to an end with the study of Kalari chikilsa and marma treatment.

Body massage is also practiced in Kalaries, mainly for body flexibility, maintaining strength, stamina, healing the sprains, muscle pull, dislocation etc. The guru must be fully qualified to treat the student who sustains any injury during the Kalari practice. Without the knowledge of healing therapy no one will be considered as a guru.

Social and Cultural Impact

12th to 18 th centuries saw the art of Kalarippayattu rose to its peak as a force for social and moral perfection. During the peak years, it was observed as a custom that every male child, having attained the age of seven years was made to join the Kalari and undergo rigorous training. This custom was practiced from generation to generation and spread to other states too. Thus the art and study of Kalarippayattu was recognised by the contemporary society as a vital necessity of life; and so received greater respect and recognition than any other art form. Many or most of the innovations of military strategy which was employed by the armies of the small independent states of those ancient days were the result of the training and tactics imparted by the masters of Kalaries in Kerala. It is pertinent here to note that Kalarippayattu has contributed greatly to the developement of the performing art forms of Kerala. Velakali is an art form of Kerala which has its origin in Kalarippayatu, and many other folk dances are base on the stylised movements of this major artistic form of combat. Kathakali the regional art form of Kerala is highly indebted to Kalarippayattu, especially in the matter of movements, steps and stances. Ottamthullal, Theyyam, Padayani, Poorakali and other similar folk arts of Kerala have also borrowed immensely form theKalarippayattu, the indigenous martial art, the forerunner of all most of all important art forms.

Even in the modern time the movements and steps of Kalarippayattu are being scientifically used in the theatrical performing arts of western countries too. The tradirional songs like Vadakkan pattukal and Thekkan pattukal (Ballads) have immensely contributed to the malayalam tradition, language, literature and history.