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Kalarippayattu

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    Social Function

       The fighters ' function was not in the rivalry among political authorities alone. Often there were invited for settling disputes between the ordinary people. This practice of using fighters for judicial purposes resulted in the emergency of a peculiar institution of Ankam, single combat. Interestingly this institution of Ankam with the same name was prevalent in Sri Lanka, which developed there round about the Kandyan country in the middle ages. The subject matter of a moving folk narrative in Malayalam is the tragic story of a Ankam fighter who lost his life while fighting for settling a dispute over management of the property between two member of family. The Ankam was a source of income for the fighters as well as the local and regional political authorities. Regular  income to the treasury during the rule of princely state in Kerala included the fees levied on Ankam  combats which was to be collected from the disputing parties. Thus the martial spirit of Kerala was actively participating in the social and political life of Kerala in the middle ages. It is in this socio-political context that the constitution of Kalari become important as centre of imparting military training to the local militia.

   
Social Base.

Medieval travelers left behind their observation on the Kalari system in Malabar. These writings by the foreigners generally contain an idea that Nairs alone formed part of the soldiers of the Rajas. It is true, majority of them came of Nair families. It is equally important to note that cast restrictions were not observed in Kalarippayattu. The social groups of Kerala who practiced and mastered the techniques of kalarippayattu included, besides Nayars, the Izhavas, Pulayas, Paravas, Christians and Muslims. The Tottam invocations songs of the Teyyam performance of North Malabar refer to some Pulaya heros who conducted eighty Kalaries in different parts of the region. Heroic lays of the Central Travacore mention a Paraya hero 'Chengannoore Ali' who was a master of the technique of Kalarippayattu. Some of the celebrated heros of Malayalam folk songs belongs to the Ezhava community. They are usually called Chekavar. There were Muslim Gurukkals who were masters in the Tulu techniques. The Chritians of Kerala too had their own military men. The native records of principalities mentioned some Christian local chieftains and their soldiers who where well versed in traditional warfare.         

Each Desam, which was  a unit of  administration in traditional Kerala, had its Kalari and each Kalari was under the supervision of its guru, who was differently known in different areas as Panickar, Kuruppu, etc. Originally these were only names of profession but later it tender to became the names of sub cast. That these were once upon a time names of the profession is further supported by the fact that both these names are found as suffixes not only among Nairs but among other cast group of Ezhavas and Kaniyans and even among non Hindu communities. The Kalaris imparted training literacy, body building, and warfare-weaponry. Both men and women were admitted to the course. Medieval Malayalam folklore bear testimony to the high level of expertise achieved by women in Kerala in the fighting techniques. Members of royal families were trained in Kalarippayattu under their family gurus  who were endowed with property and special status. Thamme Panikkar or Dharmothu Panikar  was the training master of the royal family of the Zamorins of Calicut.

    Subversion of  a tradition

This system continued uninterruptedly until the occupation of Malabar by the English East-India company in 1792. The company was particular in destroy traditional military character of the community of Malabar. Thus wrote major Dow, one of the commissioners: 

'It would be stipulated by the term of agreement with different rajas and chiefs that they on no account retain above a certain number of armed followers and those merely to support their ideas of dignity. By these means that the civil and military fabric, the feudal system injurious to the prosperity of a country would be gradually subverted and in the end annihilated'.

    Kalari- Structural features

Indigenous folk narratives and technical literature furnish long lists of different types of Kalaris. The popular Pattukatha, ballads of Malabar, speak of Anka-kalari, Cheru-kalai, Totuvar Kalari, Tottu-Kalari etc. without giving any details of the structure and function. Technical writings are more specific about the structure and function of Kalari. Nedumkalari, Kurum-Kalari, Totu-Kalari, Cheru Kalari are mentioned by them. A more scientific and specific categorization of Kalaries is in terms of the measurements of the round plan of Kalari structure. Thus, we identified the following types:
 

 

        Aimpatheerati  (52 feet)

          Nalpatheerati (42 feet)

          Muppatheerati (32 feet)

          Pathinatterati (18 feet)

          pantheerati (12 feet)

The nomenclature, which is on the basis of the measurement of the ground informs us that the size of the structure ranges between 12 feet and 52 feet. The most common among these is the Nalpatheerati, 42 ft. in length. All Kalaries expect the Pantheerati bear a which a half of the length. Pantheerati is square  with the same length and breadth. The Kalaris of the northern parts of  Kerala are called Kuzhikkalari. Kuzhi means a pit. Because the soil is digged out from the ground of the structure. Generally a Kalari is 42 feet long and 21 feet wide, the enclosing space dug out to a depth of about 6 feet. It is protected from the heavy rain and the sun by a gabled roof which is thatched by weaved coconut leaves or palm leaves and with earthen tiles. Its sides are also covered  with the same material. The surface of the ground is kept evenly rammed and smooth, Kannimoola, the south-western corner of the Kalari ground is considered to be sacred to the Kalari Paradevaha, the guardian deity of the Kalari . This is demarcated by a Poothara, platform of flowers with varying number of steps in semi circular shape, narrowing towards the top. A place for the guru, preceptor, also is demarcated and this is called Guruthara.

There is a whole metaphysical belief system, according to which the structure of Kalari symbolized the universe. This, along with several other features betrays a layer of sanskritisation or adopting the paradigms of the great tradition of India but the martial art form with all its techniques and expertise is at home in the far south, as a part of ' little tradition' or regional culture.

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