“Silamban is like a form of meditation”

Seamless coexistence of beauty and strength Aishwarya in a still from the video  

Silambam conjures up an image of moustachioed men in turned-up dhotis twirling long sticks to the accompaniment of insults. Not to forget the multi-coloured underpants peeking out from under the dhoti. This, I must confess, is drawn largely from Tamil movies. So when Aishwarya Manivannan’s silambam video surfaced on social media on National Handloom Day, it was startling to see how graceful it actually was. The beautiful handloom sari that Aishwarya wore only added to the effect.

In a chat during her recent visit to the city, she explains why she made the video. “I love wearing saris and I also love silambam. So I decided to combine the two. I want people to get rid of the idea that saris are just for special occasions. The video was a representation of how beauty and strength coexist seamlessly. I don’t believe that martial arts are just about fighting and self-defence. There is beauty, grace and peace in them. I wanted the video to help people understand what silambam is; for people to reconsider the sari’s dynamic character and also understand the value of handlooms.”

A national and international silambam champion, Aishwarya has won gold and silver medals and the Individual Championships at the National Championship and the Asian Championship held in Malaysia in 2016. Her entry into silambam was the result of her Bharatanatyam guru’s advice that traditional martial arts would help improve her performance. When the physical trainer at her gym introduced her to silambam guru Power Pandian, “I fell in love with silambam so much that I discontinued dance.” Silambam is more than just about twirling sticks, she says. “It can be fighting technique, a performing art and a sport. It involves weapons like vel kambu (spear), maan kombu maduvu (deer horn), vaal veechu (sword), surul vaal (metal whip)…”

While she didn’t know much about it when she started, she now feels the need to raise awareness about the form. “Earlier silambam did not have any grades and was taught in a guru-sishya system. Today, it is a registered sport and, in Tamil Nadu, is recognised by the SDAT. It has a belt system similar to that of Karate. I hold a green belt in silambam. There is also the world federation and an all-India federation that conduct tournaments in the district, national and international levels.”

Aishwarya can wax eloquent on her favourite topic. “With time and practice, the weapon becomes an extension of our body. I see the weapon as a thing of beauty, not of aggression. For me, silamban is a form of meditation due to the need for complete focus and concentration. Also, the practice of movements on the left and right side and training them to be equally strong triggers the functioning of the left and right brain. Being an artist and designer, I see how silambam helps improve lateral thinking, creativity, self-confidence, and wellness.”

With a Master’s in Interior Design from Singapore, she teaches art and design in Chennai’s Loyola College, and also conducts workshops in other colleges. Asked about her roles as artist, designer and educator, she says, “I have always done art and design together and, to me, the line between the two is sometimes non-existent. Since I did my Bachelor’s in Chennai and my post-graduation abroad, I understand the Indian and the international system of art and design education and am able to better understand the gaps in the Indian education system. I now have a certain methodology that I use to ensure that my students fulfil their potential.”

It is this side of her that triggered her love for handlooms. Handlooms are like a piece of art or a painting, she says. “I am fascinated by the fact that every yarn has been put in by hand. I wonder what the weaver’s thoughts are when he is at work; what are his immediate surroundings like. My favourites are handloom pure linen, cotton and silk.”

She thinks initiatives like #IWearHandloom will help create awareness and does her bit to promote local crafts. “People from across the world acknowledge Indian artisans while we don’t value them. I regularly have discussions with students about how difficult it is acquire these skills. Knowing that I support arts and crafts, they also become conscious of it.”

Ask about her inspirations and she lists her grandmother, her parents, her teachers and “the many people I meet and connect with.” Her most recent inspiration is a 65-year-old a watchman in a furniture company that she passes almost everyday. She noticed that he was always busy weaving baskets. So she stopped to talk to him and found that he would collect plastic cord used to tie parcels and make baskets. “He said he didn’t want to sit idle the whole day and wanted to use his time more efficiently. He is as much of a role model as any of the others.”

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 1:11:08 AM |

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