Kalaripayattu Martial Arts – The Ancient Battle Form

Kalaripayattu History

Kalaripayattu fight is one of the famous ancient Indian martial art forms. The art originated as a style in Kerala, South India. The word Kalari was narrated in the Tamil Sangam Literature, belonged to 300 BCE to 300 CE. The word Kalarippayattu means the battlefield or combat arena. During the Sangam era this Kalari Martial art used in the wars. Every warrior received this martial art as the military training. The form of the fight originally practised in Kerala and Southern parts of Tamil Nadu. This is one of the oldest surviving fighting systems still exist in the world.


This ancient Kalari was formed before 3 rd century BC. and also discussed in the Akananuru and Purananuru. These books described the use of Kalaripayattu weapons like spears, swords, shields and silamban in the Sangam era. Kalari which means martial feat, this word appears in the verses of Purananuru and described in Akam.

Kalaripayattu Basic Steps 

During the Sangam era, every citizen of the kingdom received regular military training like horse and elephant riding and practising targets. Everyone specialized in at least use of the weapons like sword, shield and bow and arrow throwing and practised regularly the Kalaripayattu Basic steps. In 2nd century AD, the Sangam literature book ‘Silappadikkaram’ described the silambam staff and their importance in defying the enemies. These combat techniques introduced at the early period of Sangam era. These techniques became very famous as ancient martial art. This martial art composed by adopting Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the finger movements of the nata dancers. Especially most of the South Asian fighting styles were closely connected to Yoga, dance and performing arts.

Kalaripayattu Techniques


Kathakali dance movements also have some similarity with this martial art. The dancers who learned basic steps of the martial art can perform the Kathakali dance with a magnificent performance. Another vela kali art form was inspired from Kalari and performed by the warriors in Hindu epic Mahabharata. Still, this art of performance is a part in Southern part of Kerala. The Chhau dance artists well learned profoundly this martial art. Anyway, still, some Indian classical dance schools are giving practice to the dancers in Kalari to bring good performance in the dances. Up to the 6th century, the soldiers learned the ancient exercises and techniques of this martial art. Later the 6th-century new warfare techniques introduced in this martial art.

Kalaripayattu Classes

The classes are different according to the geographical position in Kerala. In Malabar region, North Kerala, the art is in Northern style. In inner Kerala, this art follows central style. The Thiruvitankoor warriors follow the Southern style. This fight performance follows kicks, strikes, grappling and flexible movements. Even the Northern Kalaripayattu was the combination of flexible movements like Jumps and Weapons training. The Southern Kalaripayattu follow the Adi Murai style, based on hard impact techniques. The warriors used this art form mostly with empty hands. The Northern Kalaripayattu fight has more flexible movements and is similar with Kathakali dance movements. Most believe that Vedic sage Agastya was the founder and patron of this fight.