Kerala is renowned for its varied martial arts such as Kalarippayattu, Parisa Kali. Velakali, Valeru, Kuntheru and Njaninmel Kali.


Kalaripayattu is the weaponry art of Kerala. ‘Keralolpahi’ says that Parasurama, the creator of Kerala distributed 108 ‘nalpatheeradi’ positions with Kalari Godesses to the Brahmins. However, it was the Nairs and Angachekavars who excelled in Kalaripayattu. In general, Nairs were good at payattu and weaponry. The stories of Thacholi Othenan and Aromal Chekavars reveal this fact. Even women were not behind in this field. Unniarcha is one of such heroines in the history.

Kalarippayattu combines self-defense techniques. The word "Kalarippayattu" means martial training inside the gymnasium. Kalari in common terms means school or training centre. Kalari is not only a learning centre, but a temple of religious worship also with ritual of its own. History of Kalarippayattu can be traced back to the Sanghom period. Communities of Nair, Maravars, Nadars, Vellalas of this region practiced the martial art of Kalarippayattu. Duarte Barbosa recorded that the earliest reference to Kalarippayattu in a description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the beginning of the 16th Century A.D. He described that kalarippayattu as an already developed martial art by that time. Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai, renowned historian theorized that Kalarippayattu originated as a consequence of the battles between the Cheras and the Cholas, which continued all along the 11th century.

The training of Kalarippayattu is done in the Kalari. The Kalarippayattu training aims at the ultimate co-ordination of mind and body. Vadakkan Kalarippayattu (Northern style) is associated with the Nair and Ezhava communities. Thekken Kalarippayattu (Southern style) is the style practiced in the Travancore area of Kerala. Vadakkan Kalripayattu has the influence of Ayurveda system of medicine and Kathakali. Kalarippayyattu teachers provide massages with traditional medicinal oils to their students in order to increase their physical flexibility. Such massages are generally termed "Thirummal” 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. This treatment and other vital points are based on the Tamil palm leaf manuscripts of Sage Agasthya.

Chavutti thirummal


Training on Kalaripayatti

A student has to begin his Kalarippayatt training at an early age of 7 or 8 with a formal initiation ritual performed by the Gurukkal (Master). According to Vadakkan style, the training is mainly divided into 3 parts consisting of Meythari, Kolthari and Angathari. Apart from these, one more stage exists called Verumkai. In the Thekkan style the training starts with Chuvadu (solo forms), Jodi (partner training/sparring), Kurunthadi (small pole) Neduvadi (long pole), Katthi (knife), Katara (Dagon), Valum parichayum (sword and shield), double sword and Marmma and Kalari wrestle. The master is called as Kalariasan. A complete Kalarippayattu training is incomplete without learning the medical aspects. The practitioner who has completed martial training will be taught how to treat physical injuries with traditional medicines.

The Parisa Kali of North Malabar and Velakali of Travancore are two other martial art forms of Kerala, which involve considerable physical training and knowledge of the use of the arms. Velakali represents the battle between Pandavas and Kauravas at Kurukshetra, and is played out during the temple festival at Ambalapuzha and Sree Padmanabha Swami Temple at Thiruvananthapuram. There are other martial arts forms like Valeru (sword throwing), Kuntheru (sphere throwing) and Njaninmel Kali (rope walking).