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In the late evening, we arrived at Sreerangom CVN Kalari, where we were supposed to train kalaripayattu.
This place turned out to be a hospital! Fortunately, close by was a small building, where the kalaripayattu training takes place. We were the first foreigners who came here to train Kalaripayattu in the last couple of years!!!
How the Kalaripayattu training was organized?
The kalaripayattu training takes place every morning (even on Sunday) from 6:30 till 7:40 for local children and adults. We received private lessons afterward at 7:40 (1h 30min or longer), and in the evening from 5:30 till around 7:00.
Accommodation in Sreerangom CVN Kalari
When everything about the training was clarified, it was time to check out our room. The other surprise was awaiting us. Our room was in the hospital!!! It was not the nicest room, but it had everything we needed.
It was weird at the beginning to sleep in the hospital. However, pretty soon, we saw many advantages connected with it, including:
- regular room cleaning,
- clean water and water with herbal medicine (purifying blood) are available anytime for free,
- cheap, tasty food, which we could order directly to the room.
The next day we were ready to train. But, not that fast.
KALARIPAYATTU INITIATION CEREMONY
Before our kalaripayattu training started, we needed to attend a traditional ceremony of introducing us to the Gods, past Gurus, and living Guru. We needed to give a special fruit, called areca nut (similar to the lemon) and symbolic money wrapped in a betle leaf to the Guru, master of this place. He was an older Indian man, who I couldn’t really imagine training. Afterward, we gave respect to the Gods and past Gurus protecting the training area.
KALARI – A PLACE WHERE WE TRAIN
Entering the Kalari, the person sees an altar with different Gods and kalaripayattu past Gurus.
The left corner (southwest direction) is dedicated to Kalari Poothara, which means “a platform of flowers” in Malayalam. It is made of 7 semi-circular steps narrowing towards the top. The seventh step is a lotus-shaped Kumbha (pot) placed at the top.
It is also said that Kalari Poothara represents seven abilities that each person should acquire:
- Vignesva (strength),
- Channiga (patience),
- Vishnu (power to command),
- Vadugashcha (posture),
- Tadaguru (training),
- Kali (expression)
- and Vakasta – purushu (sound).
Kalari Poothara represents Seven Mothers, who look after the world:
- and Chamundi (Also Chandrika).
The other interpretation says that 7 steps of Kalari Poothara are relevant to 7 Chacras from the Yoga system:
- The Root Chakra,
- The Sacral Chakra,
- The Solar Plexus Chakra,
- The Heart Chakra,
- The Throat Chakra,
- The 3rd Eye Chakra,
- The Crown Chakra.
Our Gurrukal (teacher) said that Kalari Poothara guards the Kalari, and although it refers to the female energy in the form of Durga, we need to remember that this Hindu Goddess is undivided from Shiva (the male energy).
Gods Present In Kalari
On the right side of Kalari Poothara stands a decorated stool, which represents a God of snakes – Naga. Next to him is Hanuman – a monkey God and Ganapathithara (Lord Ganesha) – known as the remover of obstacles.
In the right corner of Kalari (west – north direction) resides Bhadrakali – the fierce form of Durga. The northeast corner is reserved for Mookambika – another form of Shakthi (Durga).
Whereas the east-south corner, the last place, where the respects are given, represents Ayyappa – God of growth, the son of Shiva and Mohini (again another form of Shakthi – Durga).
Kalaripayattu Past Gurus
Also, among God’s figures, there are two decorated stools reserved for the kalaripayattu past Gurus (Guruthara). Among the three photos in Sreerangom CVN Kalari temple, the middle one is reserved for C.V. Narayanan Nair with his teacher Kottackal Kanaran Gurukkal. C.V. Narayanan Nair contributed greatly to rebuilding the Kalaripayattu technique after it was banned under British rules.
On the left side is a photo presenting the son of C.V. Narayan Nair. Whereas the photo on the right side (the man sitting in the chair) represents the student of the previous and the founder of this kalaripayattu school (he is also a father of the main Gurukkal and Chief Physician of this place).
After the ceremony, the regular class started. Our new teacher wasn’t an old Guru, but his son – Sri Nath. He turned out to be a young man of 25 years old.
APPLYING OIL BEFORE KALARIPAYATTU TRAINING
It is also worth mentioning that we needed to put oil on our whole body before each class, which meant twice a day.
In the beginning, we thought that we could apply any oil, and we bought coconut oil. However, Sri Nath immediately corrected us and explained that coconut oil cools the body down. Using oil before training should help the skin be more elastic and the muscles more flexible. Most importantly, it should ensure that the muscles are warmed up properly, which prevents injuries.
This is why the best oil for kalaripayattu training is sesame oil. It has warming-up qualities. Although its smell was not as appealing as the coconut oil’s, it definitely made the body warm.
Applying oil also meant that we had to take a shower and wash the clothes after each class.
To be honest, if somebody asks me what was the most difficult/unpleasant part of kalaripayattu training, I would say – washing my clothes (sports bra, underwear, and pants) twice a day, six days a week. There were no washing machines, and the clothes were all in oil. So you can imagine…
Daniel as a man, didn’t have so much work. He wore langoti, special pants created for guys to train kalaripayattu “comfortably” (I am not sure if Dani would agree with that expression). Accordingly, he just needed to wash a small piece of cloth.
The atmosphere during the training was very relaxed and friendly. We asked Sri Nath many nurturing us questions. Patiently, he was answering all of them.
– Kalari means school, a place where the person learns – he explained. – Its synonyms can be Japanese dojo. There can be cooking Kalari, where you learn how to cook, or dancing Kalari, where you learn dancing. Payattu means practice.
Kalaripayattu is considered the oldest form of martial arts. Even kung fu has its roots in kalaripayattu. It was developed in Kerala. Kalaripayattu training in south Kerala differs from the one practiced in the north. Our teacher said that the most traditional kalaripayattu comes from the north, where we were studying it.
We have learned that kalaripayattu is not only a martial art but also a spiritual path with many rules and rituals, which we could already experience at our first class (the initiation ceremony).
One of the rules, which surprised me the most, was that the girls could not attend the classes during their period. The Kalari (the place where we trained) is considered a temple. The women during the menstruation detoxicate their body, meaning they are impure at that moment. We couldn’t really understand that concept.
Another less controversial rule was entering the Kalari. To reach the entrance, we had to go down the stairs and turn left. When we finished the class, we took the right direction. In that way, we were completing the circle. Every time going clockwise around the “dojo.”
Kalaripayattu training turned out to be pretty difficult, especially because we didn’t do any physical activity for a month. What was awaiting us were high kicks and many horse positions, which is different from kung fu. All these exercises require a lot of flexibility, mobility, and strength.
Already, after the first class, we could feel the muscle soreness. It was difficult to walk. The muscle pain was different than the one I used to get after kung fu training. Now, I felt more gelly. The pain was from stretching and working with the muscles I rarely used.
In the beginning, I was missing a warm-up – running – that I have been doing in Shaolin School. However, after two days, I got used to the new exercise method, and my body started to adapt.
Want to see and know more about our Kalaripayattu adventure in India? Watch the video below
Kalaripayattu is a famous martial art, which has become the centre of attraction for people across the globe. This oldest existing art dates back to 2000 years. Considered as the forerunner of Karate & Kung-fu.
The birth of Kalaripayattu dates back to those times, when people did not understand how to fight each other. They used martial arts to tackle animals. Once, when a group of people travelled across Himalayas to China, the wild men attacked them.
At that time, the travelers used the martial arts that they had learned to fight the wild animals. Once it was used on men, a complete transformation was seen in the martial arts. The art evolved into a standing up type and reached China and other parts of Asia.
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