Reinventing The Ancient Art Of Kalaripayattu

Reinventing The Ancient Art Of Kalaripayattu
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Kalaripayattu is an ancient Indian martial arts which originated in Kerala. Kalari means battlefield. According to ancient folklore it’s also believed that Lord Vishnu’s incarnation Parsurama was the founder of Kalaripayattu. Lord Parasurama is said to have taught Kalaripayattu to his 21 disciples eventually opening 108 Kalaripayattu schools in Kerala.

We also find reference of this classic martial arts in Rigveda and Atharvaveda, while there is also a theory which depicts the invention of Kalaripayattu in forests when hunters captured the fighting techniques of different animals and therefore many animals poses, “Vadivu” named after it.

There are two prominent types of Kalarippayattu preached all across Kerala and India namely the Northern and Southern styles. The synchronized movement of the body, the quick reflex manoeuvres and the elegant swerves and leaps is what makes this ancient Indian martial arts a visual treat and a dynamic self defence technique of all.

There is also a brief reference of the Chinese Kung fu martial arts being derived from Kalaripayattu which was later preached in China’s Shaolin Temple.

Though it has its origin in Kerala, it’s popularity has spread across the globe. We talk to such a Kalaripayattu Guru Shinto Mathew who runs Kalari Kendram institute in Delhi for last 5 to 6 years, preaching both Northern and Southern styles of Kalaripayattu.

He has 10 to 12 years of experience in teaching this skill.

Mathew has visited China to demonstrate the Indian self defence technique of Kalaripayattu.

Mathew started teaching northern as well as southern style of Kalaripayattu under the lineage of Vijayan Gurukkal from Calicut Kerala.

He says that initially he faced the language barrier, when he had to translate the commands called “Vaytari” in Malayalam into Hindi or English, but now his students have become well trained in execution of Kalari skills as per his commands in Malayalam.

Mathew elaborates that there isn’t any significant difference in the northern and southern styles of Kalaripayatu, except some moves. Northern style of Kalaripayattu emphasizes on flexible movements, evasions, jumps and weapons training, accentuated by

” Meipayattu” or full body massage to increase the flexibility of the practitioners. While the southern style of Kalaripayattu involves use of weapons like dagger, sword, shield, sticks and knives. Mathew says Kalaripayattu includes intense training and practice which is divided into four stages- Meythari, Kolthari, Ankathari and Varum Kai Prayogam.


The first stage consists of body conditioning to increase the flexibility and agility to perform the movements and boost the physical stamina and stability. It involves quick jumps, twists, leaps, stretching and bending into animal postures like elephant pose, lion pose, horse pose, snake pose, fish pose and peacock pose, which help to train the body for defence and attacks by altering consciousness.


It is the training using different kind of wooden weapons like Kettukari and Cheruvadi otta. even a small wooden stick can transform into a great weapon of self defence for the practitioner.


This stage involves wielding of metallic weapons like sword, dagger, knife, long flexible sword and spears to attack or defend the enemy with instant reflex and swinging movements.

Varum Kai Prayogam-

This stage involves fighting with bare hands applying various types of punches, leaps and locks by targeting the enemy at their vital marma points.

The first stage is crucial as it prepares the body for the following stages. The person who is adept in Meipayattu can do any exercise swiftly and rhythmically.

The Urumi sword (flexible sword) in Kalari payattu has been in practice for many years which like any other weapon is used is applied with precision.

Mathew says it depends on the capability of a person to determine the duration of his training session, some pass 1st stage in 6 months well few students take 2 years to finish. There are no grading systems in Kalaripayattu as such except the different stages which accomplish one’s self defence techniques. For instance if someone has a stick that means he or she is in the Kolthari (second stage) of Kalaripayattu.

Mathew also implicates Kalaripayattu as an appropriate self defence technique for women to protect themselves from potential threats, only if she is strong and confident. In his class Mathew trains men and women in similar batches for experience.

Asking of Mixed Martial Arts Mathew states, every martial arts has its unique styles, so he feels that it’s good to follow one particular martial art than learning different styles.

His advice is to learn few techniques with 100 % perfection instead of practicing various styles without any end results and Kalaripayattu has every technique we need for self defence.

He advises his students to stick to simple home cooked, protein rich diet like dal, rice, veggies and rotis while practicing Kalaripayattu and abstain from fast foods like pizza burgers and processed foods.

Right now Kalari Kendram offers classes thrice a week with monthly charges of Rs. 2500.

Please find the inset videos for the interview held with Shinto Mathew and different styles in Kalaripayattu below-



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