Kerala

Legend of combat

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Mastering Kalaripayattu, Meenakshiamma has broken many stereotypes

If Unniyarcha, warrior queen of yore in the northern ballads (Vadakkanpaatukal) of Kerala, mastered Kalaripayattu to protect her boundaries, Meenakshiamma has done so now to protect the martial art. Untiring efforts of the likes of Meenakshiamma have won national and international recognition for this art. Though the ballads hail the courage of Unniyarcha, there are very few women Kalaripayattu practitioners. Meenakshiamma is a rare persona in this field.

At 77, she wakes up at 4 a.m., takes a bath, says her prayers and gets into the kitchen to cook for her family. As the clock ticks, children with bodies glistening with oil enter the hall of Kadathanadu Kalari in her homestead in Vadakara, 60 km from Kozhikode city. Meenakshiamma, with her sari tucked up, welcomes her disciples. One by one, they gather around a puja corner, and she helps them do vandanam (invocation). Slowly, the class picks up pace and Amma, as she is called by the children, watches over her disciples, correcting when they stumble.

From 6 a.m. to 8 a.m., she is busy with the classes, and then, there are patients waiting for Marma treatment, a traditional practice of medicine that Kalari masters engage in. It’s then back to housework for her.

By evening, another 50 to 60 children arrive. She pulls on with help from her son Sajeev Gurukkal (master) and disciple Sajil Gurukkal.

The rest of her time is taken up by public performances and visits to various Kalari schools. After receiving Padma Shri in 2017, Meenakshiamma is much sought after for public programmes.

Why this interest in Kalaripayattu? “Indeed, we all just need to live life the Kalari way so that other things will fall into place; there in the Kalari, we know what we are worth of, and in reality, our worth is beyond our imagination — that the Kalari and Amma help us know,” Nidhi Sahsi from Chandigarh, a disciple, says.

One motivation is fitness and good health. In the Kalari, you can even see three-year-old children working out for two hours — optimising physical and mental strength and getting charged with the vital energy of life.

There are more than a dozen Kalaris in Vadakara and neighbouring villages, the martial art helping make society achieve peace and tranquillity.

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