Options may be many. But kalaripayattu is finding a place among summer classes

The arena at the Hindustan Kalari Sangam, Kozhikode, is emptying out. Students perform the winding up movements to Shatrugnan gurukkal’s vaythari (oral commands). Young Ardra arrives with a box of sweets. The gurukkal is proud when he mentions his student’s top grades in the class 10 examinations. “She is a Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancer too,” he says. Ardra first attempted kalaripayattu a few years ago at a summer class. The mission was to enhance her stamina at dance. But the youngster realised the takeaways were more. “It built stamina no doubt, but it also nourished the way I am, my character. I am bolder now and kalari has improved my concentration levels,” Ardra is eloquent. The changes she perceived within her after a two-month summer course encouraged her to continue. She squeezed in time for kalaripayattu in an academically taxing year.

Shatrugnan says students like Ardra are on the rise. Summer holidays now translate to summer camps. However, a traditional martial art form like kalaripayattu is managing to have a slice of the pie too. Earlier, summer classes meant clichés — dance, music and painting. But kalaripayattu trainers say parents are thinking out-of-the-box to keep kids engaged now.

Thanks to renewed interest, kalaripayattu is bouyant, says Sunil Kumar, gurukkal at CVN Kalari, Nadakkav. It was not so about 20-30 years ago, he adds. “Awareness about kalaripayattu has grown. Also, when outsiders come seeking it, we realise what we have,” says Sunil. Films, choreographed shows, theatre and even reality shows have given the ancient art form a filip, he says. This has generated interest among parents, says Sunil.

Now acknowledged a handy skill, kalaripayattu is considered the first step to healthy living and also a natural self-defence technique. Sunil says the present system of education makes crash courses inevitable. With children leaving early for school and getting back tired, summer classes grow to be the best option. For parents shopping for skills, kalaripayattu becomes an interesting stopover.

Both Sunil and Shatrugnan say summer kalaripayattu classes have become popular in the past five years prompting them to curate short-term courses. “Here we offer one and two month courses for children above the age of seven,” says Sunil. At CVN, the classes are held for Rs. 200 a month, while at Hindustan, the two-month course comes for Rs. 500.

For many parents, kalaripayattu is the ticket to a healthy child. “Parents are concerned about obesity in children as most of them remain physically inactive,” explains Sunil. Health perks are adefinite draw, agrees Shatrugnan. “Children apart, even middle-aged women are now coming to learn,” he says. “Though the starting age is seven, the summer classes have those aged till 25,” adds Shatrugnan. At Hindustan, summer classes are a batch while at CVN it is held in four batches.

Both the trainers say a considerable number of students from the vacation class become regulars. “Out of 50 learning now, 20 will continue. They will find time for it,” says Sunil.

The crash courses give a peek into the ancient world of kalaripayattu. It’s “discipline,” say the trainers, can be a virtue.

Kalaripayattu demands discipline. It is bound by the guru-shishya bond and the atmosphere inside a kalari is spiritual,” says Sunil. The beginners learn a set of body control exercises, flexibility and concentration enhancing moves and animal postures. Kalaripayattu as a weapon of self-defence especially for girls is the latest lure. “Girls in the age group of 15-18 are now coming to learn. Even the regular steps of kalaripayattu are natural self-defence,” says Shatrugnan. “The number of girls wanting to learn has definitely grown, the ratio would be 40 girls to 60 boys,” says Sunil.

For now, dawn and dusk at the kalari has grown busier with many young ones finding a firm footing in this ancient art.