Kerala – God’s own country is of course, another heaven on earth. Due to its geographical features, greenery, back waters, cultural heritage and traditional elements, Kerala is famous worldwide and is most recently chosen as one among the best 10 tourist destinations of the world. Among those unique features – Ayurvedic treatments and martial art form, Kalari payattu are those two attributes which catch tourists’ eyes easily. Kalaripayattu is a traditional fighting system and martial art that combines many facts evenly and it includes some health elements and fitness mantras as well. Through this article, I would like to briefly explain how Kalaripayattu can give you health benefits, body flexibility, along with self defense from enemies and dangers.

Now it is vacation time for kids and people are interested in summer camps and fitness clubs this season. Most recently, Kalari payattu has become popular among common man and modern life style has prompted a lot to adopt traditional methods to provide health and fitness to body parts as well as mental ailments. For many reasons, may be due to tourist promotions, many Kalari centres have peeped out as mushrooms, both in Malabar and south Kerala solely to promote this traditional art form by making common man aware of the health benefits of Kalari payattu. For these reasons, people belonging to all age groups, young and old, both males and females come forward to learn this art form, on entertainment basis as well as health benefits.


It’s really an eye-catching sight to watch men or women with traditional weapons like vaal (sword), kathi (knife), urumi (flexible sword), paricha (a defense weapon) or without weapons, fighting each other with pre-determined steps similar to dancing steps. They fill the whole air with a strange ethnic feeling of a periodic atmosphere – a time when kings used to rule the kingdoms and forts were built all around. In most cases, well physiques used to display their strength, body fitness and flexibility when the rise to air with weapons in hand. They are interested in massaging their whole body with ayurvedic oils before they resume and their flexible bodies shine under glowing sun at noon. They rotate their swords and urumi (flexible lengthy sword with both sides sharpened as knife) in the air many times so fast, before they land down the soil. With their unique motions and dancing steps, they use to draw circles of different sizes on ground and during the whole performance, the most important thing to note is that their eyes will be fully fixed on opponent’s movements only, with full concentration and it seems they have made their full body ‘the eyes’!

Brief history and summary of Kalari payattu before I further proceed

According to legends, it’s believed that Kalari payattu is a part of Yudha shastra. Stories revolve around Parasurama and Saint Agatsya. A story says that Lord Siva gave its lessons to Parasurama. A few others believe that Agasthya is the patron saint of Kalari payattu.

According to stories of ‘Vadakkan paattukal’ (Folk songs about warriors of north Kerala, also known as Malabar), Kalari payattu was used to solve dispute between two people or groups. Those fighters were known as ‘Chekavar’, who fight each other; each chekavar belongs to each group respectively. They were well-trained people of Kalari payattu and the place where they fight each other is known as ‘Angathattu’. A lot of people will be gathered around when the fight goes on, supporting a particular group. The winner gets a lot of money as prize while the loser may lose his own life too. Winner of the side may not with justice, but the decision made by this fighting is mutually agreed by both parties. Usually, disputes of land, money and decisions are solved by this manner and it’s the physical strength that wins at last!

kalariLater many Acharyas (Kalari Gurukkal) who teach Kalari payattu came forward to teach ordinary people, this marital art form. Such Gurukkals coded correct instruction sets and steps to teach people this marital art. Among those gurus who have given great reforms to Kalari payattu in Malabar style, the name of C.V.Narayanan Gurukkal of Kozhikode is taken with great honour. Later his disciples started Kalaris at different parts of Kerala that purely followed Malabar style of this art form.According to scientifically written rules, Kalari payattu has four distinct stages – Meythari, Kolthari, Angathari and Verumkai. First phase is Meythari that gives benefits to body as whole. It teaches quick responses and stimulations of body parts, movements, flexibility etc. It is a no.1 stretching exercise too. Second stage – Kothari is also known as Vadipayattu and Kolpayattu. It teaches the sudden drift and shift of body parts to weapons and opponents, speed use of weapons and hands etc. In the third stage Angathari, methods to use weapons like gada (mace), knife, spear, shield and urmi (flexible lengthy sword) will be taught. Fourth and final stage is verum kai, which literally means ‘Empty handed’. Here hand techniques and ‘Marma vidya’ based on Siddha shastra are taught. As this stage is the most dangerous one, Gurukkal teaches ‘Marma Vidya’ only a few students whom he chooses and trusts most. There are certain points and locations in every human body that are considered as ‘marmam’ (power stations or tender parts of body where whole power of body is concentrated) and if properly knocked using fingers, it can collapse the person as a whole and only an expert can bring him back to original position. It’s very dangerous and to avoid its misuse, gurus teach those simple techniques only a few whom he believes most or have special interest. Till now I have provided a brief history of this marital art form of Kerala. Now let me explain its advantages, both physically and mentally.

Now Kalaris have become fitness centres

Computer professionals, school kids and house wives – now Kalari payattu is not solely meant for men or those interested in body building activities. Now, many people regard it as ‘fashion’ too, in the modern times to go to Kalaris and learn Kalari payattu a little. That’s the reason why Kalari payattu has gained popularity even among youngsters and ladies in the recent times.

myKalariJumps, steps – forward and backward, turning around quick and using weapons, they are stepping forward to a new fitness centre – Kalari. A new strategy to train the body to make it ‘inner eyes’, a single and last treatment to many health related discomforts, a mental exercise to cool the mind and bring it under control and attain concentration, a physical exercise to each and every organ of the body to give it enough strength, flexibility and stiffness – Kalaripayattu can give you all these things if you are patient enough to learn all its phases, taking time. For those who believe in the myth that fitness mantra is the increase in number of body muscles, Kalari payattu is the silent response given in traditional measurements. Now people are going to Kalaris (where Kalari payattu is taught) to reduce obesity also. A few choose Kalaris for mental peace and ailments while a few others for physical fitness and body flexibility.

Best response to gyms

In modern exercises, each and every organ is given workout separately. Concepts of Kalari payattu is just opposite. Instead of seeing body as distinct units, Kalari payattu integrates the human body as whole. It is a balancing mechanism that gives a straight path to keep both mind and body in equilibrium. It improves the functioning of different body parts, increases memory power and blood circulation, gives enough flexibility to body parts and reduces its stress too, induces nervous system – merits of Kalari payattu can’t be numbered. It’s proved that those people who practice Kalari payattu regularly will never be attacked by back pain. As all movements are solely based on back bone, it adds strength to back bone as well as its flexibility.

Self confidence and concentration

Kalari payattu has a few other merits, comparing other exercises. Most important is that it benefits mind, along with body parts. Kalari payattu induces a strange feeling inside one’s heart about his body and body parts. Thus it increases both self confidence as well as concentration and invisibly, gives a control on one’s mind. It makes us adore and care our own body thus attributing a lot to self care and maintain proper health and fitness.

Many experienced gurus say that kalari payattu can help physically and mentally challenged kids a lot and can help them to improve their skills to overcome their defects considerably. It’s always better to start learning Kalari payattu from early childhood in the case of normal kids. It provides them discipline as well as development of a healthy personality, comparatively at a younger age. It improves concentration and learning skills too.

Oil massage to protect body from injuries and fat deposits

Northern and southern Kalaris have their own set of rules and in many instances, they differ a lot. With another set of rules it is practised in middle Kerala too. According to Malabar/Northern methods, oil massaging before learning is very important. It is known as uzhichil in Malayalam, which is a good practice to remove fat deposits of the body and make your skin glow too. Gingelly oil or any sort of medicinal oil prepared by boiling herbs is used for this purpose. First process is also known as ‘Thaila lepanam’ where the oil is spread on all parts of body. This oil has a lot of defense power and it helps the body to drift from many knocks and injuries. It also acts as a medicine to protect the body from minor injuries; cures also. Second step is known as massaging (uzhichil) that removes excess fat deposits. It gives strength, stiffness and flexibility to body parts too. This step is not found in southern Kalari payattu. They begin with warm up similar to other exercises. In all the 64 steps they follow, they have their own set of rules for warm ups – in southern style. In northern style, they do a part of their steps in a simple way, as a sort of warm up before they actually begin.

If you have decided to learn instant Kalari payattu for one or two month vacation, Gurukkal will choose Meythari for you. As I have told earlier, meythari is the first step of this marital art form. Learning meythari, our mind comes under our control and obesity dissolves rapidly. Its main advantage is that after the course, you can do those steps at home as a sort of daily exercise.

Kalari payattu for body stamina of theatre artists

Stamina attained through traditional methods of Kalari payattu is natural – it’s the opinion of many experts of this art form. So, Kalari payattu is really advantageous to theatre artists and dancers who need to perform live on stage for hours. Drama and dance need a lot of body control and in many ways, Kalari payattu serves those artists. That’s the reason why many theatre artists from foreign countries come to this small state to complete their learning with this marital art form. Foreigners belong to Chile, Denmark, Finland and Italy too. They see such marital art forms as a part of their learning syllabus.

Kalari movement therapy

In addition to fitness, Kalari payattu is a good therapy for many diseases. Some steps of Kalari payattu are used for the treatment of certain diseases in traditional Ayurveda method. Such steps are known as ‘Vadivukal’ (stances) and ‘Nilakal’ in Kalari payattu terms. Such steps are originated from certain postures used in the fights between birds or animals. There are 8 ‘vadivukal’ in this art form of which Gaja vadivu of elephant, Sarpa vadivu of snake and Singha vadivu of lion are a few most common.

Certain stances in Mey payattu are best for persons who sit for prolonged hours for working. Practicing it for 15-20 minutes is a great relief for office staff and IT professionals. But it’s not easy to draw a common exercise plan for all. According to body shape and structure, chosen stances may be different. ‘Kalari movement therapy’ is a recently formulated set of steps for treatment of joint pains and similar discomforts. As the name suggests, certain steps (chuvadu) and stances are used for this treatment and is used to cure diseases related to muscles and bones. Thus Kalari movement therapy gives a solution to many diseases like disc prolapsed, knee pain and similar joint pains. Uzhichils (massaging with medicinal oils and hot bath) are also a part of such treatments. Aksharakettu (writing letters) and Akkakettu (writing digits) types of uzhichils are most commonly used in ‘Kalari movement therapy’. Movement therapy is given in addition to medicine and kalari treatment.

Flexibility for dancers and cine artists

If a dancer, cinematic, western or classical is well trained in Kalari payattu, those features will be surely exhibited in their dancing steps. According to many cine artists who have learnt this marital art form, their dance steps will attain a little more perfectness and they can dance with easiness and flexibility. Many artists even agree the fact that learning of Kalaripayattu has helped them to learn other dance forms and perform with ease. So, Kalari payattu is enough to provide basement to many art forms, provides flexibility to body and increases stamina and level of self confidence.

Nowadays Kalari dances are quite popular. Kalari steps are used in fusion dances, cinematic and contemporary dance forms. Already many movies have included Kalari payattu steps in their choreography. A few instances are Asoka and Dil se of Shah Rukh Khan, Indian of Kamal Hassan, Raavan of Vikram and Abhishek Bachchan and Urumi of Pritviraj. The movie of Jacky Chan ‘The myth’ has also used many of Kalari steps in its action sequences. 

Self defense and sixth sense response to situations

There are a few more advantages – self reform through spiritual method, self defense for ladies and if spend years to reach each and every phase of this learning, your sixth sense with open wide. Another advantage is that, though you are not well prepared, under circumstances your body will automatically react to negative situations and enemies as if it’s a reflex action. You need not prepare for that; your mind and body do the defense mechanism long before you prepare yourself. Such experiences can give you a lot of self confidence and can help ladies in many situations.

Kalari as treatment

 massageWhile practising or performing this art, if students get injured kalari guru treats it. Slowly this type of treatment grew as a branch and has become popular. Thus kalari has been used from ancient times for treatment of bone dislocation, bone fractures, cramps and similar muscle problems and blows to ‘marmam’ of body parts. Literally ‘Marmam’ means delicate points of body parts, where whole power of human body is concentrated.

Massaging using oil prepared from herbs of medicinal value, applying fine paste of many herbal species on body parts (lepana chikitsa) and medicine kizhi are the most common methods used in kalari treatments. Though Ayurveda forms the basis of such treatments, most of the medicines used in Kalari treatment are contradictory to traditional Ayurveda methods. Also, it is to be noted that each Kalari family has their own set of medicines and instructions and they will never be revealed to an outsider. Such traditional methods are carried forward from one generation to another and will never be obtained by any other method. Also, medicine and treatment methods followed by one family may be entirely different from another. In addition to secret medicines, Kalari Gurukkal has some special tricks too and those tricks are also secretly kept. An experienced guru can use ‘marma vidya’ and make a patient stand in 2 minutes, even if he is suffering from severe pain due to a cramp. Very often they may shake shoulder or body parts to correct such mistakes and such tricks are the ‘secret trademarks’ of such Kalari gurus.

Kalari medicines are less expensive

Kalari treatments are most used in Malabar, particularly during bone fracture or dislocations. If kalari aashan (gurukkal) is an expert, by a simple touch itself he can sense the fracture of bone and its intensity. Kalari treatment is most effective for any type of bone or nervous disorders. Separate treatments are available for ‘marma’ injuries, cervical spondylosis and those who remain in the same posture for prolonged work (IT professionals).

Treatments are fixed on the basis of body structure, type of physical work the patient does, his job profile and the total life span of the disease or disorder. All medicines for the patient will be prepared in the kalari itself. As they are secret medicines, none will be available outside. Very rarely, they may ask a few medicines to purchase from outside. To become a kalari guru who treats patient, one need at least 12 years of experience and he needs to spend these whole 12 years in the kalari to attain this designation. But nowadays, people are often tricked by fake kalari gurus too. Treatments are less expensive and reachable with the hands of common man. In addition to medicine, they may restrict certain food items during treatment period and such restrictions are generally simple in kalari treatments.

An excellent sport medicine

If you are a sportsman and has studied kalari payattu, it will help you a lot to attain body stamina and reduce obesity. Kalari treatment is a good medicine too. But it should be done only under the supervision of experts, who have spent long 12 years in a kalari. So, experience is the primary significant factor. If not, it may adversely affect you too! Kalari treatment is most effective for sports injuries, but only if done by an experienced expert. Such treatments don’t have any side effects – that’s one among its best advantages too. Kalari treatment, known as kalari Chikitsa in Malayalam is very effective for joint pains as well as frozen shoulder, thus helping sportsmen a lot.

If a person has got injury from a fall or attack, marma treatment can be used to bring him back to original stage and it is done by experts using special massaging and knocks at particular areas, an expert guru only knows.


So, we have come to an end of this article. Throughout the article, I have briefly explained the important advantages of learning kalari payattu and the wise use of Kalari for treatments. Kalari treatment is a step, travelling back to Mother Nature’s lap where we leave all artificial things and solely depend on natural methods, herbs and our positive mind and confidence.

But in many instances, Kalari and Kalari payattu need encouragement so that everyone believes in it and its natural principles. Its cost is also feeble if we compare it with expensive gyms and high cost medicines for treatment. Also it gives a natural comfort and a strange feeling of Indian culture and traditional methods to attain health and fitness without any artificial means. It’s also possible that if Kalari payattu is included in the school syllabus of kids and an hour be exclusively reserved for learning this martial art and its principles, no doubt, from preliminary stage itself kids will acquire self discipline, concentration and self confidence many fold. Also, it is the duty of government to provide pension for old gurus who have spent their whole life in teaching and practising this marital art form that has become a part of Kerala’s traditional culture and civilization. If so, more people will come forward to learn and preach this art form, thus giving its lessons to new generations. Already Kerala tourism is promoting this art form and treatment; yet more steps are needed to retain its original beauty without mixing it with artificial components. If so, nothing else is needed for coming generation to learn discipline, mind control and of course, positiveness and a lot of self confidence.

Images – self and Wikipedia

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