“I come from a family actively into Kalaripayattu, so my lessons began early. My father, Swami Gurukkal of the Hindustan Kalari Sangam, introduced me to this art. I don’t remember exactly, but I must have been around seven years of age when I began my lessons. Classes would begin by six in the morning and go on for an hour. On some weekends, father would make us practise till noon.
While initially, I learnt Kalaripayatty because it was part of my routine, I grew attached to it as I grew older. The more deeply I got involved, the more I learnt and the more I grew to love it. For me, Kalaripayattu is spiritual. It may be perceived as a martial art, but for me, the fight happens within. The battle is to keep the mind under control and to stay in good health. The annihilation is of enemies within. But it is years of research and involvement with the form that has led me to this realisation. When you stand on the shore, you see only the waves. But one has to swim in the sea for it to reveal its treasures to you. It works similarly for Kalaripayattu.
Classes at the sangam begin at 6 a.m. and I am in the kalari for three to four hours a day. Over the years, I have seen changes. When I was young and learning Kalaripayattu, there were only couple of girls in the kalari. Now, we have about 35. Increased health awareness is drawing many to the kalari.
It takes a lifetime to have a wholesome knowledge of Kalaripayattu. There are four different stages to learning it — Meipayattu, Kolthari, Angathari and Verum kai prayogam. As someone who started young, I went through these stages while growing up. It will take a student at least 15 months to master each stage. In Kalaripayattu, one has to practise what one has learnt so far each day. One begins with valathu-nere (the right leg up movement) and for every session thereafter, we begin with the valathunere and go through all the movements learnt thus far. This regimented, dedicated practice brings perfection. Since I started young, I never experienced fear, nor did any movement appear daunting. When I do the sword movements, others get apprehensive. But for me, it is something that I have done every day of my life.
Apart from teaching, another important area is treatment. I was taught the finer aspects of kalari treatment by my father and now I am actively into it. People come to us mostly with bone and joint problems. They come from abroad too, curious to know about Kalaripayattu. We also receive a lot of theatre students who are keen to adapt kalari movements into theatre.
I believe Kalaripayattu is performed to arouse interest in people and lure them to this spiritual form. So I don’t consider it exactly a performance-art. But even if one takes it so, the avenues for performance in Kerala are few. It is better outside Kerala. Whenever I have demonstrated outside Kerala, people, especially women, come and tell me how proud they felt to watch me perform.”
A column on the men and women who make Kozhikode what it is.