Kalaripayattu: The Way of the Malabar Warrior

Kalaripayattu warriors

“I hope martial artists are more interested in the roots of martial art and not in the different decorative branches, flowers, or leaves.” — Bruce Lee

A tribute by experts to Kalaripayattu says that it is the ancestor of all Asian martial arts. It is one of the oldest surviving martial arts. These experts are of the opinion that Buddhist monks and even the bodharmi founder of Zen Buddhism, who introduced martial arts to China and Japan, studied Kalaripayattu.

The word kalari denotes a battlefield and an arena for training in weaponry, while payattu means the art of fighting or performing fighting (self-defence) techniques.


Parashurama, the mythological warrior sage, mastered the art of armed combat and archery under Lord Shiva. He is credited with having opened the first kalari, and along with his 21 disciples, it is believed that he opened 108 kalaris across Kerala.


Historically, the origin of payattu is shrouded in mystery. There are various theories, but no one is able to produce evidence to substantiate them. Some information on Kalaripayattu is available on the palm manuscripts, Ranga-byasam and Verumkaipitutham, at the Oriental Manuscript Library in Chennai. No mention is made about the authors or the periods of these manuscripts. Some of the exercises mentioned in Ranga-byasam and those of the Arappukkai style of payattu are similar. The dronamballi style and literature on it are available in the university library of Trivandrum.

Historians, Tamil literature and anthologies hold that Kalaripayattu evolved between BC 200-600 AD, and it reached its acme of popularity in Kerala between the 14th and 17th centuries. The decline started with invasions by the Moghuls, British and Portuguese. The British banned it, and it was forced to go underground until 1947. It is only post-independence that we are seeing a resurgence of Kalaripayattu.

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Stanislaus Louis

Stanislaus Louis is a Ketsugo blackbelt, 4th degree Unarmed and Armed Combat.