Existence of Martial arts in India for over 3000 years can be proved by the mention of martial arts in the Vedas. According to ancient folklore, Lord Vishnu’s disciple Parasurama who was an avatar of Lord Vishnu is believed to be the founder of martial arts in India. Kalaripayattu, which is the most popular amongst many martial arts practiced in India, is believed to have been founded by Parasurama. Kalaripayattu is probably the oldest form of martial arts in India. The word kalaripayattu is a combination of two words, namely, ‘kalari’ and ‘payattu’ which mean training ground and fight. Kalaripayattu is an ancient art form and is considered to be one of the oldest forms of martial art in Indian and across the world. During the peak of its popularity, kalaripayattu was used as a code of combat by the South Indian dynasties. Kalaripayattu reach its zenith during the hundred years of war between the Cholas, Pandyas and Cheras. The constant fighting between the princely states helped the fighters in refining the art into a martial art form.
Many martial arts in India have been forgotten due to neglect and lack of proper documentation of their existence but kalaripayattu has stood the test of time. During the 13th and 16th centuries, the art gained dominance and was incorporated into many religions as well. It was customary in Kerala to have all children above the age of seven to obtain training in kalaripayattu. Martial arts in India were considered as a code of life for many. However, during the British occupation, martial arts in India suffered major set backs. The ruling British objected to the tradition of training with and carrying arms. Laws were passed and were implemented with zest to prevent the people from practicing and training in kalaripayattu. These laws were put in place by the British to quell the chances of any form of mutiny or rebellion among the natives. But the British had underestimated the love of martial arts in India and kalaripayattu was secretly practiced and kept alive during the colonial occupation of India by the British. The art was practiced by people in rural areas to avoid an confrontation with the authorities. Thus, one of the main martial arts of India survived the dark times where curbs were imposed on its practices. On being declared independent, martial arts in India were in vogue again as they could now be practiced without hesitation. Lost glory of kalaripayattu was regained slowly and steadily. Many movements and postures in the art of kalaripayattu are believed to be inspired by the raw strength of animals and are also named after them. There is a strong belief that this art was developed in the forests when hunters had observed the fighting techniques of different animals.
Kalaripayattu means Practicing the arts of the battlefield. Kalari means battlefield. Kalaripayattu is sometimes in short called as Kalari. It is today more prevalent in the south Indian state of Kerala. This art is said to have had its origin with Rishi Agastya and Parashurama. Agastya is a great name in Ayurveda – the main Indian medical system. Parashurama is also said to have reclaimed the submerged Kerala from the Arabian Sea (Will write on this aspect of Kerala someday)
The oldest reference to this martial art is found in the Rigveda and Atharvaveda. In Rigveda it is mentioned that lord Indra defeated the daemon Vritasura using one of the marmam techniques of Kalari. Marmam are pressure points in the human body and experienced practitioners can disable or kill their opponents by a mere touch of the opponent’s Marmam. This technique is taught only to the promising and level headed persons, to prevent its misuse.
Today martial arts in India are back in focus. Kalaripayattu is now practiced widely across Kerala, fringes of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and also in Sri Lanka. Kalaripayattu is also a source of living for many people in Kerala as performances are now conducted for tourists. Kalaripayattu has been stood the test of time unlike many other martial arts in India. Historically, kalaripayattu has proven to be one of the most ancient martial arts in India and is still being practiced by many in Southern India.
Shiva was said to have taught Parasurama, the art of Kalaripayattu, which arised itself out of Shiva's war with his Father-In-Law Daksha, one of the Prajapatis or 'Lords Of Creation'. Later, Parasurama taught his 21 disciples the art of Kalaripayattu, and then opened 108 Kalari (school's/gymnasiums) around the Kerala region, Southern Indian state.
There are no records that chronicle the historical origins of Kalaripayattu, only narrative accounts formatted as myth and legend. Most of these credit Kalari's origins to Lord Shiva, one of the three principle Gods of the Hindu pantheon. Shiva has many aspects, he is depicted as moral and paternal, also called, the Lord of Time(mahakala), the 'Destroyer' of all things. He is the Yogeshwara who dwells in Kailas, deep in the meditation that maintains this very existence.
How other Martial Arts derived from Kalaripayattu ?
The ethnic Indian martial art of Kalari Payat (Kalaripayattu) - meaning 'Battleground' or 'Gymnasium' - (Kalari), 'Method' or 'Art' - (Payatt), has a special significance for practitioners of the Tibetan and Chinese martial arts.In tradition, the Shaolin Temple martial art of China was introduced by the Indian Buddhist Patriarch and founder of Ch'an' (Zen) Buddhism; Bodhidharma (450-523 AD).