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Kalarippayattu is a martial art practiced in Kerala, a state in South India and in parts of Tamil Nadu. It combines self-defense techniques, religion, and has elements of "martial dance" as in Capoeira.

The word "Kalarippayattu" literally means 'martial training inside the gymnasium'. The word Kalari has been derived from a term in the Sanskrit language, which translates to a military training ground. Kalari in common terms means school or training centre.

The traditional training of Kalarippayattu is always done inside the Kalari in the Vadakkan system,which is a specially constructed practicing area. You will see Puttara (Seven tired platform) in the South-West corner of every Kalari. Here is where the guardian deity is located. Flowers, incense and water is given to the deity every day. Before each person starts practicing they pray to the deity. Not only is the Kalari a temple of learning, it is also a temple of religious worship with a cult and ritual of its own.

In the thekkan or southern system, training usually takes place in a piece of land adjacent to the Asan or Guru's home. This type of kalari is called tharakkalari. Thara means ground or floor.

The Kalarippayattu training aims at something more at the ultimate co-ordination of mind and body. The weapon is only an extension of the body, controlled by the mind and the use of these both in attack and defence attain a very high degree of perfection.

Main divisions of Kalarippayattu

* Vadakkan Kalarippayattu ("Northern style"), which is associated with the Naboothiri, Nair and Ezhava communities of the Malabar region

* Thekken Kalarippayattu ("Southern style"), is the style practiced in the Travancore area of Kerala. Roots can be traced back to the "Sanghom" period, when the southern parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu were part of old "Thamizhakam". This is associated with the Nairs of South Travancore and also with the Tamil speaking communities of Maravars, Nadars and Vellalas there.

Vadakkan style involves more elaborate graceful body movements and southern style involves very rapid economical and yet powerful movements.

Thekken style are the Tamil martial arts practiced in the princely state of Travancore in the southern part of Kerala and the Kanyakumari district of neighboring Tamil Nadu that variously go by the names "ati tata" (strike/block), "ati murai" (way of hitting), "varma ati" (Tamil)/"marma ati" (Malayalam) (hitting the vital points), These arts claim descent from the rishi Agastya and, compared to vadakkan kalarippayattu, place more emphasis on empty-hand techniques and less on weapons.

History of Kalaripayattu
The earliest reference to Kalarippayattu occurs in "A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century CE" by Duarte Barbosa, indicating that kalarippayattu had already developed by this time.

Phillip B. Zarrilli, University of Exeter professor and one of the few Western authorities on kalaripayattu, estimates that Kalarippayattu dates back to at least the 12th century CE.

The historian "Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai" hypothesizes that Kalarippayattu was a product of the battles between the Cheras and the Cholas during the 11th century CE. This theory was reiterated by later writers without question. Today, as the concept of the war has been questioned and rejected, the theory of the origin of Kalarippayattu during this war has lost its ground.

As stated earlier, the oldest suggested existence of Kalaripayattu date back to the 13th century CE. 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 CE. It has recently been reinvigorated in the last few decades due to the general worldwide interest in martial arts.

There have been recent theories attempting to connect Kalaripayattu with Shaolin Kung Fu through the legend of Bodhidharma, considered in Shaolin mythology as the founder of the Chan(Zen) buddhism. This is not accepted by contemporary historians as the legends of Bodhidharma are conflicting and evidence exists for the existence of martial arts in the Buddhist temples in China prior to the purported arrival of Bodhidharma. For information on these disputes please read the article "Disputed history of Kalarippayattu".

Cultural influence
Vadakkan 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".

Thekkan kalari marmma treatment is much more sophisticated than the vadakkan uzhichil and the the science of vital points and the treatment related to them are being kept as secret knowledge, accessible only to the Guru, his family and his most trusted students. This treatment and the attacking of vital points are based on the Tamil palm leaf manuscripts of Sage Agasthya and his deciples.

Source: Wikipedia

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