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T. SARAVANAN, traces the history of traditional sports and the importance accorded to them right from the days of monarchy.

FROM TIME immemorial sports have been the part and parcel of Tamil lifestyle. Some of the sporting events have enjoyed royal patronage with kings and queens showing keen interest in the development of sports. Some of them are loved for aesthetic presentations while some of them for their violent overtones. But generally people loved to witness and be part of any sports as these events were considered the main source of entertainment apart from art and cultural performances.

In olden days the frequency of wars was more but during the `off-season' (season without wars) the time was used to recruit hands for the army and train the soldiers. To cash in on the youth power the royals involved them in religious and royal festivals by organising sporting events, which included mock fights and taming the bull, where youths displayed their valour to attract royal attention. In due course it also ended as an alliance-fixing exercise, where women had the opportunity to choose the most valiant person as their grooms.

Later, it developed into various sporting events such as `silambam,' `sedi silambam,' `kuzhu silambam,' `maan kombu,' `padai virattu,' `pandham,' `arival paadam,' `kathi paadam,' `porval,' `parangu,' `surul,' `kara thandavam,' `pidi varisai,' `malyudham' and `lesam,' that provided a rich and varied fare for martial art lovers.

Fire fighters too joined the bandwagon, later on. During any festival, the long procession included all these martial art experts who exhibited their talents on the move.

Earlier, the `silambam' fighters used only bamboo sticks but at present, to add more attraction, they are using `canes,' which are more flexible. "Cane sticks are more popular now among the fighters as they can bend it according to the needs. Further, it never breaks," says A. Appannasamy, a veteran silambam fighter.

"The most popular parts of silambam skills are the `padai veechu,' `kodangi suthu' and `chakara suthu.' After the late charismatic tinsel idol M. G. Ramachandran popularised a particular style of silambam fighting it came to be known as `M.G.R. suthu,'" he says.

According to him, the `surul vaal' (spring sword) is a risky proposition, as the sharp thin iron blades have to be handled properly otherwise they might cause permanent injuries to the fighter himself. "Generally, the rotating techniques of `surul vaal' are quite easy to follow but extreme concentration is essential while performing with the `surul vaal'. While performing this art fire sparks come out when the spring comes into contact with any concrete structure, which makes this art truly attractive. But spring sword is only a later addition," he says.

Fire fighting is also equally destructive, as it has to be handled very carefully for the fire might engulf the spectators also. "The `chakkara chuthu' mainly deals with fire. Fireballs are hung on all the edges of the star-like equipment and then it is rotated. Sometimes the fireballs get snapped from the main equipment risking the safety of spectators," explains Mr. Appannasamy.

There are also other manly sports like `jallikattu,' `manju virattu,' `rekla race' and `puli attam' that attracted huge crowd during festivals.

"It is said that it was during the Nayak period these art forms flourished and people say that just for the excellent performance of `puli attam' by the artistes of Paravai village, the Nayaks donated the whole village to the performers," says N. Sulaiman, Assistant Director, Regional Centre for Art and Culture.

Besides the rural sports also included sprint and swimming competitions which had good fan following.

Still these arts are being performed in many parts of Tamil Nadu and most of them are organised during the Pongal festival. For, after a good harvest the next best thing people could add to the festive spirit is a sporting event.

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Metro Plus    Madurai   

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