I first visited Kerala (a State in South India) in the early nineties, much before the Keralites discovered that they lived in God’s Own Country. And having discovered God’s Own Country, on my own, I have kept returning. Again and again.
But my enchantment with the natural beauty of Kerala blinkered me and I gave the cultural aspects of the place and its people a miss. As a result, I missed out on Kalaripayattu, a martial art form indigenous to Kerala. In Malayalam, the word ‘kalari‘ means a practice ring or a training centre and ‘payattu‘ means duel.
Although I had come across some pictures and references to Kalaripayattu in travelogues and magazines, for some unfathomable reason, the thought of attending a performance never entered my mind.
In fact, when I was invited to attend a demonstration at the Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, Niligiris, South India, last May, my initial reaction was to decline. But the fact that my father-in-law was the chief guest for this program ensured that no was not an option. Still I kept hoping that inclement weather would ensure the cancellation of the show. But the skies cleared and off we drove to the parade ground at the Centre.
However, once the program started, we sat enraptured. I tried to take some pictures, but the shutter speed of my camera was not fast enough, as the members of the team flew across space in a blur; swords striking swords or shields blocking swords or spears or staffs knocking away swords.
Then I realised why all the pictures in the travelogues had left me cold. None of these pictures can ever capture the sheer speed, agility and the courage of the kalaripayattu artistes.
A few months later, in October, we got another opportunity when we visited Kumily. Courtesy the events manager at the Tuskers Trails resort where we stayed, we got a real ringside view of a kalaripayattu performance at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
This time, I did not even carry my camera knowing that it was quite inadequate to capture any action. Instead, I decided to sit back, watch and relish the ‘warriors’ in action. However, the ubiquitous cell phone ensured that I got some pics of the arena.
But I was quite unprepared for what followed. Without taking away anything from the army team at Wellington, who put up a performance at short notice, I realised that this was the real thing.
I will not try to describe the performance, as mere words are quite unequal to the task. Instead, I will share with the readers a short video of the another performance by a team from the same centre. Watch below or here.
The artistes wielded the various weapons, viz swords, spears and staffs, without holding anything back. Only the superb reflexes of the warriors prevented serious injury. And the climax of the show was two warriors jumping together, through a double ring of fire.
At one point during the program, some of the artistes climbed up to where the audience were sitting and like consummate showmen, went around shaking hands. After the performance, many in the audience rushed into the arena and insisted on taking pictures with the artistes. These guys have evolved into ‘stars’ and why not?
Today we’re on K of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.
Laxmi Chundi Addanki
None of these pictures can ever capture the sheer speed, agility and the courage of the kalaripayattu artistes.
Your words fill the void Jose 🙂 Kerala is a land of discoveries. Thanks for the informative post.
I agree. Indeed, Kerala is a land of discoveries.
I had never heard of this so thanks so much for sharing. This looks awesome. I think one has to see this live to truly appreciate the art. Will put it on my things to see list.
Yes, the pics can never capture the sheer speed and agility of the artistes. And a video can only serve as a teaser.
We missed seeing this on our trip too. But you are so right. These fellas are faster than the lightning. Caught a few performances on Travel and Living. Awed by the abundance of our own martial arts and dance forms. Yet we look far and beyond for inspiration…..such a pity.
And what a tongue twister of a name! I’m still struggling to get that right.
Its really awe inspiring. And the leap through two consecutive rings of fire makes your hair stand. And two ‘fellas’…. real scary.
I have seen this on TV and this is truly an amazing art…glad you witnessed it live.
Like I said, a video or TV show can only serve as a teaser. You have to see the real thing.
Amazing!! I can imagine the goose bumps you all must have felt watching this live!!
Really amazing. The agility, speed and courage.
Have seen this on so many travel shows that it will now be on the things to do whenever I visit Kerala!
You are right, the speed and skill can never captured on Camera ! Its amazing this martial art a unique combination of mental and physical agility !
Watching martial arts in action is quite thrilling. I’ve never heard of kalaripayattu… I have a cousin who is well into martial arts, he is a black belt Ninja (USA TESTED), and he travels abroad to study the arts several times a year. I’ll have to ask him if he is familiar with kalaripayattu.
I have seen a performance @ Fort Kochi and its mind blowing. I also had a close experience with their varmakalai skills and got my arms paralyzed :-0. This was another time and another location.
Kerala is in my hit list and wow I love India.
Every state is like a new country . these moments make me feel good as I am an Indian. Feel like getting a glimpse of this martial art nw
Will u tell me where did u stay in Kumily?
As for Klaripayattu, am awe by it everytime I see it but theres so much else abt the place n its beauty, culture, food that I identify with this place more 🙂
Great post. It looks like an amazing experience. Thanks for sharing.
Indeed these performers leave you spellbound and breathless. Have watched many a performance, but greedy for more!
Yes indeed a tongue twister of a name …but what a magnificent performance with such lithe grace and agility . We are indeed so fortunate to belong to so many diversities and cultures .Thank you for the post Jose 🙂
Talya Tate Boerner
Again, another history lesson for me!
The video was beautiful and the music as well. Great experience !
Thanks for reminding me about this art. I had lived in Kerala for 12 years before moving to Delhi and seen this performed live, loved it.
Wonderful performance. Stars, they are, for sure. Thrilled!
Never heard of Kumily till now. Adding this to my to-see list.
Cynthia Rodrigues Manchekar
Superb introduction to this martial arts form. The video really served to illustrate just how skilled these guys are. Thank you.
I so want to visit Kerala. But I don’t know when will I! I have heard so much about it’s natural beauty and now you tell me about Kalaripayattu. It seems something that should not be given a miss at any cost.
Have seen this on TV but am sure it must be a fascinating and a mesmerizing experience to watch this art live! Wow!