Said to be the oldest, most scientific and comprehensive form of martial art in the world today, it originated in South India. It is believed to have originated in the 12th century and was practiced by the Chera warriors against the Cholas.
Training is imparted on specially constructed grounds known as kalari and the teacher is known as the kalari gurukkal. There are various stages of training; Meithari, the initial training of posture, rigorous body sequences ionvolving twists, and complex leaps, Kolthari, the next stage of weapon handling, Ankathari, prepares the combatant for war and, Verumkai, the bare handed technique.
This discipline draws inspiration of fighting technique and postures from the raw power of the lion, tiger elephant, wild boar, snake and crocodile and also involves the training of handling various forms of weapons.
Verum Kavy or bare hands, Vall/Churika or sword, Gadha or mace, Paricha or shiel, Venmazhu or axe, Trisool or trident, Vettukathi or machete, Vadi/Vel or long stick, Kathi or dagger and Urumi or long flexible swords are among the many different kinds of weapons employed in kalaripayyatu.
Integral to this discipline is the knowledge of pressure points which can be exploited to cause pain and injury to the opponent, even death. Marmam or vulnerable parts of the body is taught only to level-headed students to check misuse. There is even an antidote for treatment of injuries called kalari chikitsa, which is taught only to trustworthy and deserving students.
Traditional dance and art forms of Kerala have their foundation in Kalaripayyatu for skill and strength. Besides teaching combat, it promotes mental and emotional health as well.