Within the borders of the rapidly developing Port city – Cochin, amidst the hustle and bustle of metro-life, along a serene stretch of the backwaters, an ancient village – Nettoor- preserves a traditional Kalari, the sacred place for practicing authentic Kalarippayattu – the ancient martial art of Kerala.
The ENS Kalari in Nettoor, owned and safe-guarded by a Tulu Brahmin family, continues to provide the training, strictly adhering to the customs and rituals to be followed to experience the full benefits of the practices.
The Gurukkal of the ENS Kalari is a priest by birth, a teacher, choreographer and also a specialist in Marma treatments. All bundled up on a noble and humble inner-self.
Kalari (The institution for training Kalaripattu)
Kalari – The traditional institution giving training in Kalarippayattu,’, has a unique and simple architecture. It is an enclosed space facing east-west, except for small entrance at the eastern side, levelled mud ground, high roof and the features to maximise air-circulation, light, and cooling. It is maintained as sacred as a temple of worship. The area for the training in below the ground level by 4-6feet in some regions.
The south-west corner of the Kalari is considered as divine space. The seven-tiered structure-Poothara, symbolizes seats of the seven divine mothers: Saraswati, Mahesvari, Karttikeyani, Lakshmi, Varahi, Indrani and Chamundi, and also, they represent the six stages of life before attaining Moksha-Salvation. One foot away from it, and towards the north, is considered as the Guruthara-the abode of several generations of Gurus who have initiated the training and passed down the knowledge from generation to generation. The student has to follow the rituals, seeking the blessings of mother earth and the Guru. Kalarippayattu training helps in inculcating discipline and virtues in life in addition to the learning of skills for self-defense and offense to survive in a complex society.
The Gurukkal (Master), the Head of the Kalari takes care of the rituals to be performed to preserve the sanctity of the Kalari.The daily rituals include cleaning the Kalari, lighting the lamp, offering flowers and paying obeisance to the powers of the Universe, the forefathers and the Gurus.
Kalarippayattu – traditional practices for self-defense and offense
The Kalarippayattu training in the Kalari begins at a very young age (5-6 years) with an initiation ritual performed by the Gurukkal so as to acquire humility, discipline and concentration.
The custom of paying respect to Almighty, the mother earth and the Guru has to be followed before and after the daily practices.
Before practicing Kalarippayattu it is required to prepare the body to gain flexibility for different types of movements. Herbal oil massages by hand and foot are given to relax the muscles and ease the blood circulation through the joints.
Elaborate exercises are prescribed for the legs, hips, torso, and arms, and even for the eyes so as to boost the stamina , stimulate reflexes and sharpen alertness.
The Gurukkal (Master) is well-versed not only in various practices but also in healing orthopedic injuries, spasmodic, headaches, depression, orthopedic injuries and spasmodic diseases. The herbal oil being used for massages is prepared by the Gurukkal, following the knowledge handed down through generations.
The Kalarippayattu practices being followed at ENS Kalari is a mix of the two distinct styles which are prevailing in Kerala.
The northern style of training involves practices for revitalising the physical and mental strength and the techniques of fighting using wooden or metallic weapons.
The four stages of this style of training are Maithari, Kolthari, Ankkathari, and Verum kaithary.
Meythari, the first stage, is a sequence of practices to stimulate quick reflexes, enhance suppleness of body and for the easy movements of the body.
Kolthari, the second stage of the training is for fighting with wooden weapons such as 12 span staff, 3span stick and ‘S’ curved stick.
Ankathari is the training in using metallic weapons such as dagger, sword & shield, spear, Mace, Axe, knife, and long flexible sword.
Verum kaithary is the training for unarmed fighting by attacking the Marma of the enemy.
The southern style of Kalarippayattu training is about attacking the pressure points of a body using hands and foot. There are 64 types of attack by hand blows and locks and 84 types of strikes to attack the nerve centers (Marma).
Relevance of Kalarippayattu in the modern day
The traditional Kalarippayattu, which used to be patronized by the feudal lords to train warriors for safe-guarding their territories, has evolved through centuries of socio-political changes. Today, the concept of the Kalarippayattu has been refined to match the need of the day, when physical fitness and mental well- being are of prime priorities.
The ritualistic and spiritual atmosphere in the Kalari plays an important role in empowering the young minds at the early stage of life. Many schools have incorporated Kalarippayattu in the school curriculum.
Traditional Kalaries like ENS Kalari are authorised by the Government to conduct various certificate programmes of 1week to 1year duration.
In addition to the practices required for combats, the Kalarippayattu training is about understanding of the vital points (Marma) of nervous system, the symptoms of physical and mental illnesses caused by disruption in the blood circulation through them and gaining the skill in regularising the blood flow by appropriate massaging of these points using indigenous practices. The Marma treatments in the Kalaries have proven to be effective in curing several health issues for which modern medical system has no satisfactory solution.
The 78-year-old exponent of Kalarippayattu Ms. Meekshikutty Amma, who is honoured with the prestigious national award, Padma Sri, is a living image to demonstrate the relevance and effectiveness of the authentic Kalarippayattu in maintaining and calibrating a healthy body and mind. Having initiated to Kalarippayattu at the age of 7 years, Ms. Meekashikutty Amma is still practicing and training around 150 children. Inspired by her, more and more girls and women in and around her remote village, are taking the training in her Kalari.
The traditional Kalaries of Kerala which had undergone slumber during the colonial era, revived eventually and is in the lime light now thanks to patronage of the heritage enthusiasts of the modern days. Defense personals, performing artists, choreographers, sportsmen, medical professionals and fitness enthusiasts, who appreciate the virtues of the indigenous health care practices, spend their time to imbibe the inherent spiritual values as well as the physical skills for enjoying harmonious style of living. Celebrities from across the globe visit Kerala to experience the authentic Kalarippayattu practices at the traditional Kalaries. Inspired by these development, nowadays common people from different walks of life are also pursuing the training for their wellness. Thus, the traditional Kalaries have regained their past prominence, going forward along with modernity.
How does one experience Kalarippayattu – The Traditional Martial Art Of Kerala?
RV Vaikundam offers an expedition form of cruising on the Backwaters of Kerala. RV Vaikundam is a 9 cabin (1 Deluxe Cabins and 8 Superior cabins) motor vessel offering a seven-night eight-day rendezvous, from October to April.
The 7 night North-South Itinerary from starts at Kochi and ends in Alleppey in the State of Kerala, while the 7 night South-North Itinerary starts from Alleppey to Kochi in the State of Kerala. Airport connectivity is available at Kochi. All inclusive price starts from USD 250* per person per night for base category cabins. *Terms and conditions apply.
The Itinerary is subject to weather and river conditions or if we are faced with any political challenges. The tourism season is from October to April.