From Academic Kids

Kalarippayattu (കളരിപയററ്) is an ancient martial art form from India. It is mostly practiced in southern India , and is believed by many historians as probably the oldest still-practiced martial art form in the world. Ancient references suggest that Bodhidharma took this art form to China and imparted it to its monks. This martial art is also believed to have evolved into Kung Fu and other forms of present-day Chinese martial arts.

Missing image
Missing image


Kalaripayattu is practised inside a Kalari (കളരി), which is an arena akin to a gymnasium or a dojo. The word Ppayattu (പയററ്) means "practice". These words are in Malayalam ,a language spoken mainly in the Indian state of Kerala and are derived from Malayalam's root Tamil. Kalari is a derived word "Kalam" from Tamil, meaning battlefield. Also, "Payattu" is derived from the Tamil word "Payirchi" meaning practice. Together these two words in Tamil mean "Practice of arts of the battlefield". Most words related to Kalari are originally from Tamil, including words like "suvadi" (footprint), "vadivu" (stance/pose), "verum kai" (weaponless hand), "mei payattu" (mei=body). This was originally practised by the fighters or warriors of Kerala. In ancient times, arguments between nobles were often decided on the basis of a Kalarippayyattu tournament's outcome.

The oldest western reference of Kalaripayattu is a 15th century travelogue of Duarte Barabosa, a Portuguese traveler. It showed that Kalaripayattu was an integral part of the Kerala society between the 13th and 16th century. However, Hindu religious texts are rife with references as to its ancient origins. Historical texts speak of Bodhidharma, the legendary founder of Chan Buddhism,a Brahmin born in Kacheepuram in Tamil Nadu, in 522 A.D. arriving at the courts of the Chinese Emperor Liang Nuti, of the 6th dynasty, as the person responsible for bringing Kalaripayattu from India to China. He taught meditative and physical exercises to the chinese monks so that they could defend themselves against the frequent attacks of bandits. The very same Shaolin temple where Bodhidharma resided which has been handed back some years ago by the Chinese Government to the Chan Buddhist monks, inheritors of Boddhidharmas spiritual and martial teachings, is now open to visitors. On one of the walls, a fresco can be seen, showing Indian dark-skinned monks, teaching their lighter-skinned Chinese brothers the art of bare-handed fighting. On this painting are inscribed: Tenjiku Naranokaku which means: the fighting techniques to train the body (which come) from India

The first historical interpretation of the origin of the Kalaripayattu system was given by Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai. He points out that this fighting art emerged during the 12th century from the military exigency of the "Hundred Years War" between the Cheras and the Cholas. This theory was reiterated by later writers without question. Today, as the concept of the Hundred Years War has been questioned and rejected, the theory of the origin of Kalari during this war, has lost its ground. As stated earlier, the oldest suggested existence of Kalaripayattu date back to the 13th century. The earliest recorded evidence of Kalaripayyattu date from Portuguese descriptions during the latter 16th-17th centuries and becoming less prominent after the British outlawed it during the 18th and 19th centuries. It has recently been reinvigorated in the last few decades due to the general worldwide interest in martial arts.

Cultural influence

Kalaripayattu also shows a strong influence of Ayurveda and major classical dance forms of Kerala, namely Kathakali. Kalarippayyattu teachers often provide massages with traditional medicinal oils to their students in order to increase their physical flexibility or to treat muscle injuries encountered during practice. Such massages are generally termed "Thirumal" and the unique massage given to increase physical flexibility is known as "Katcha thirumal".


Kalarippayattu has two main divisions : Vadakkan Kalarippayattu (Northern style) and Thekken Kalarippayattu (Southern style). Northern style involves more elaborate graceful body movements and southern style involves very rapid economical and yet powerful movements.


Kalarippayattu training differs from most other martial arts training. Bare hand fighting skills are taught in the end. Since it was originally the martial training given to warriors, the martial art teaches the practitioner to become adept in several different forms of weapons. The stages in which this training is imparted is:


This is the beginner stage where rigorous body sequences comprising of twists, stances and complex jumps and turns are to be mastered. These exercises are termed as Meyppayattu and they impart excellent neuro muscular co-ordination in the practitioner.


Once the student is physically competent enough, he/she is introduced to fighting with a long wooden weapons. The first weapon taught is usually 5 feet in length or up to the forehead of the student from the ground level. The second weapon taught is a short wooden stick of about two and a half feet or three palm spans. This is called the "Cheruvadi" or "Muchan". The third weapon taught is "Otta" which is a wooden staff curved to resemble the trunk of an elephant. The tip is rounded and is used to strike the vital spots in the opponent's body.


Once the practitioner has gained confidence with all the wooden weapons, he/she is introduced to metal weapons, which require superior concentration due to the lethal nature of such weapons. The first weapon taught is the metal dagger called "Kadhara" which has a curved blade. Once the dagger is mastered, the master weapon of Kalarippayattu ; the sword and shield is taught to deserving students. The sword is called "Val" and the shield is called "Paricha" This is probably the most beautiful sequence to be seen in the demonstration of this martial art.

There are more weapons taught including a wooden spear and the famous flexible sword called "Urumi" which is an extremely dangerous weapon taught to the rarest of students.


After all the weapons have been mastered, the practitioner is taught how to defend his/her person with bare hand techniques. These include strikes to vital points of the body, grapples and arm locks.

A complete Kalarippayattu training is incomplete without learning the medical aspects. The practitioner who has completed martial training is taught how to treat physical injuries with traditional medicines. A person who is well versed with all these aspects and becomes a complete master is called Gurukkal.


Kalari uses a number of unique weapons.

  1. Long staff or pirambu or neduvati ( means rattan stick)
  2. Kurunthadi
  3. Knife / dagger
  4. Vettukathi ( a form of machete or Kukri)
  5. Valum parichayum ( sword and round shield)
  6. Churika
  7. Chuttuval (flexible sword)
  8. Kottukampu or Thavikkana

Additional readings

Movies on Kalarippayyattu

  1. Oru Vadakkan Veera Katha - a movie of an ancient tale of a kalarippayyattu warrior called Chandu. Traces his exploits and has some well choreographed fighting scenes.

External links

ja:カラリパヤット nl:Kalaripayattu


Academic Kids Menu

  • Art and Cultures
    • Art (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Art)
    • Architecture (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Architecture)
    • Cultures (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Cultures)
    • Music (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Music)
    • Musical Instruments (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/List_of_musical_instruments)
  • Biographies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Biographies)
  • Clipart (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Clipart)
  • Geography (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Geography)
    • Countries of the World (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Countries)
    • Maps (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Maps)
    • Flags (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Flags)
    • Continents (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Continents)
  • History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History)
    • Ancient Civilizations (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Ancient_Civilizations)
    • Industrial Revolution (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Industrial_Revolution)
    • Middle Ages (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Middle_Ages)
    • Prehistory (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Prehistory)
    • Renaissance (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Renaissance)
    • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
    • United States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/United_States)
    • Wars (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Wars)
    • World History (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/History_of_the_world)
  • Human Body (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Human_Body)
  • Mathematics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Mathematics)
  • Reference (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Reference)
  • Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Science)
    • Animals (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Animals)
    • Aviation (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Aviation)
    • Dinosaurs (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Dinosaurs)
    • Earth (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Earth)
    • Inventions (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Inventions)
    • Physical Science (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Physical_Science)
    • Plants (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Plants)
    • Scientists (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Scientists)
  • Social Studies (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Social_Studies)
    • Anthropology (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Anthropology)
    • Economics (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Economics)
    • Government (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Government)
    • Religion (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Religion)
    • Holidays (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Holidays)
  • Space and Astronomy
    • Solar System (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Solar_System)
    • Planets (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Planets)
  • Sports (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Sports)
  • Timelines (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Timelines)
  • Weather (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Weather)
  • US States (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/US_States)


  • Home Page (http://academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php)
  • Contact Us (http://www.academickids.com/encyclopedia/index.php/Contactus)

  • Clip Art (http://classroomclipart.com)
Personal tools