Ritual: Obeisance To The Deities
Although the 'Kalari' is an empty space, for a student, that space has all meaning of life and the supernatural. It is an abode of deities and the several generations of gurus who had initiated the disciples into training from generation to generation.
The student makes a ritual touch of earth with right hand and propitiates the goddess of earth. The touching of the forehead with right hand shows his reverence to the deities of knowledge.
Then ' Lord Hanuman' and 'Garuda' are also propitiated with proper gestures and touches. The deities like seven mothers at 'Poothara' and gods like 'Shiva' are also propitiated. Both peace and destruction are symbolised in the '''Kalari''' space.
After the salutations in favour of the superior elements, the student is given the first system of exercise called 'Angasadhana' for placing the soles of the feet. The firm step on the ground is called 'Akkachuvadu'; and movements of the sole in jumps are known as'chattachuvadu'.
The circular movement is known 'Vattachuvadu'. The student, during his feet exercise moves from eastern side to the western side. The feet and hands are raised and moved according to the sequences and in strict accordance with 'Vaythari' of 'gurukkal'.
These practices including 'Meippayattu' for several months make the student fit for the training in the use of weapons. After imparting the body training, a student is initiated to the use of weapons. The 'Muchan', also called 'Cheruvati' is a smaller stick about 22 inches in length and used to give powerful blows and also to resist the blows from others.
Then, he is initiated to the use of metallic weapons like 'Kathi' (dagger), Sword, 'Kuntham' (spear) and 'Urumi'. The Gada is also practised in some ''Kalaris'. The training in the use of metallic weapons requires more dexterity and agility of the body.
The combatants trained in the use of these weapons were recruited as the soldiers in the medieval and late medieval period in Kerala.
Major Components Of Kalaripayyattu
This pre-set sequence of movements is the rudiment of Kalarippayattu. Actually, it is a body controlling exercise to master balancing in air and ground. There is a hidden secret element in these movements, every imaginable combination of offensive and defensive attacks and movements are included.
This section involves training in wooden weapons.
This is the combat training section of metal weapons.
Self-defence with empty hands. Here a student learns how to face an armed man, using only his limbs, and also learns vital points and locks.
Kalarippayattu masters of yesterday and today are ayurvedic doctors. Marma therapy, massage therapy, Bone setting, Yoga therapy, Pizhichil, Dhara, Kizhi are the important branches of 'Kalari' treatments.
As food is a necessity for an organism from birth to death, so is massage to the human organism. Massage excites the internal resources and provides nourishment in the form of proteins, glucose and other vitalising chemicals, which are within the system.
It also works as a cleanser and helps the organism in discharging toxins out of the body through sweat, urine and mucuous, thus rejuvenating the body.
Kerala, as a distinct socio-political region from the rest of south India, has witnessed a large number of classical and folk art forms. Many of these art forms have an uninterrupted continuity over centuries, as an integral part of socio-religious life of people in this territorial division.
Their origin is shrouded in mystery and it's not possible to trace in the absence of authentic sources. However, most of these art forms had developed during the medieval period when Malayalam language and literature had found their natural growth on account of new historical forces and the interactions made by different ethnic and social groups.
In all forms where the human body plays an important role, one can see the common element of physical culture or body-system. The art forms of Kerala visualise this fact in form and content. The physical culture or body system is a matter of rigorous training that has to be materialised through conscious and constant practices.
Infuence On Dance Forms
For classical arts like Kathakali, or Koottiyattam, the body is the sole means of expression. Therefore, body is to be prepared for this high function through a rigorous course of physical exercise. It can be done only by daily massage with medicated oils, which is intended to develop suppleness and grace for articulating the expressive capacity of the various parts of the human body.
In reality, the artist or the dancer is trained in the 'Kalari' system and taught the body exercises with severe discipline. In foot movements of the body, and the 'Tandava' dance, which is both masculine and vigorous, the artist requires the dynamic skill imparted through the 'Kalarippayattu'. Therefore, even a training centre of Kathakali is known as 'Kalari', being devoted to the development of physical culture.
The medieval period in Kerala had witnessed frequent wars and invasions among the ruling chieftains and these aspects had already promoted the 'Kalari' system and had brought into training, a large number of combatants. The impact of this new development could be seen on performing arts like Kathakali that many of these ruling houses had patronised just as they had patronised the medieval soldiers or retrainers.
The growing awareness for developing a proper physical culture through 'Kalarippayattu' had really contributed to the expression and growth of the classical art forms. In the same way, the body training became an essential requirement for performing many of the folk dances of the region.
These art forms had been patronised by the peasants, artisans and labourers. The common man's aesthetic imagination had greatly subscribed to the growth of these art forms in Kerala. Many of them have a religious and ritual background and are performed in sacred centres or in the local village shrines of gods and goddesses.
One of such art forms widely prevalent in Kasaragod and Cannanore districts is 'Poorakkali'. As an art form, it demands the rigorous training of the artist to develop a strong physical culture of the body with quick movements. Massage and physical exercise as found in Kalarippayattu are essential requirements for performing this art, as the dancer has to do acrobatics while the entire group moves on in circle.
The performance is closely related to the peasant culture of the region. This performance had also originated in the medieval period after the development and growth of Kalarippayattu. Most probably, this art form must have come into prominence to maintain the physical culture and the religious rituals associated with the local shrines.
Effect On Ritual Art Form
Another ritual art form, which is indebted to the 'Kalari' system is the performance of 'Teyyam'. Many heroes are deified and worshipped by the village folk. The heroes like Kativanur Veeran, Mandappan, Pumarutan, Tacholi Othenan and Oor Pazhassi are some of the famous Teyyam deities in North Malabar.
The performance of such teyyams is closely connected to the 'Kalari' system as the dancer or the artist has to present the martial dance also. He imitates the transformation of a hero with divine power and as such performs all actions of a combatant, fighting with sword and shield in the hands.
His footwork and body action demand excellent training as imparted in the 'Kalari' system. Apart from these ritual performances, there are secular art forms like Tacholikkali and 'Kolkkali'.
They also demand excellent body training to make the artist quick in body movements. Like Poorakkali, these arts forms had developed as an integral part of peasant culture during the medieval period. In brief the 'Kalari' system and its growth in the medieval feudal order had greatly influenced the development of classical and folk art forms.
Oil massage, physical exercise, acute body-bending, use of shield and sword are the common features of many of these art forms and Kalarippayattu. In reality the 'Kalari' system has not only influenced the growth of these art forms but it has shaped the trends of medieval culture of Kerala society.
The Revival Of A Great Art
During the modern period, although Kalaripayattu had lost its significance under the British rule, the devoted gurukkals with all their efforts transmitted the tradition from one generation to the other. They kept alive the 'Kalari' tradition and the know-how in the rural areas as a matter of charity and cured many body ailments through physiotherapy.
In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when European circus companies came to Malabar in places like Tellicherry, some of the native gurus, well trained in the 'Kalari' system found it easy to imitate some of the body practices adopted by circus artists.
This new attempt was made under the leadership of late Keeleri Kunhikannan Gurukkal in Tellicherry who initiated several circus groups in Kerala and became the father of Indian circus. In a land, where the 'Kalari' gymnastic tradition was deeply rooted, the new experiments in circus training became a great success.
In reality, the Indian tradition of circus has something to do with 'Kalari' gymnastic training and body culture. After independence, some attention had been given by the Government and other agencies to promote Kalaripayattu and its training. These activities have been responsible to create considerable interest in this physical art form.