Words: SHEENA DABHOLKAR
Photographs: JYOTHY KARAT
GREAT FROM Kochi, Bangalore
GREAT FOR Fitness fiends
It isn’t often that you can get away with mimicking an elephant or wild boar in adulthood and still emerge a stronger person. Unless, of course, you’re in Kozhikode trying to learn kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art.
Kozhikode is a historically significant port city on Kerala’s Malabar Coast. It brims with folk tradition (the ritual temple dance of theyyam), food (delicious Moplah cuisine) and culture, including one of the world’s oldest martial arts. Kalaripayattu takes its name from kalari, the mud-floored gymnasium in whichit is practised, and payattu, which means fight or exercise in Malayalam. Legend has it that Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk, travelled to China, preached at a Shaolin temple and taught the once-listless monks about the 18 hands of Buddha derived from the 18 adavukal, or techniques, of kalaripayattu.
You can learn it, too, at CVN Kalari Nadakav where you will master postures derived from animals and birds as part of the introductory course. This art form is practised in both the northern and southern parts of Kerala, but the northern style puts more emphasis on meippayattu, or body control exercises, as opposed to the southern style.
The two-day workshop includes morning and evening sessions at which you will learn the kicks, leaps, jumps and stances that are the foundation of this martial art and which will help you build the strength, stamina, flexibility and balance required to advance your training, should you choose to pursue it. The subsequent stages are kolthari and ankathari, which involve training to fight with wooden sticks and metal weaponry.
While you probably won’t get that far, don’t be fooled into thinking that the sequence of stances you’re learning is mere dance choreography. Each swoop and lunge is deceptively fierce, designed for attack and defence.
After the morning class, you will be famished. Head down to the Bombay Hotel for the best breakfast in town; you can mop up fish and chicken in luscious tomato-based curries with the aptly-named nice pathiri (paper-thin rice pancakes), followed by a biryani chai, a fancy-looking layered concoction of milk, spiced tea and foam.
Return to the session and prepare yourself for an ayurvedic massage, which, wonderfully, is part of your training. Kalaripayattu trains you to activate your marma (vital energy points), and marma chikitsa is the term for healing the various energy points. Before hospitals existed, kalari practitionershad to treat injuries themselves. This certainly bodes well for new students who can book a full-body oil massage, which increases flexibility, eases soreness, and treats any muscle trauma that might have occurred during training. It’s not often you can get a massage with the excuse that it will make you a more skilled practitioner, so do book one.
Of course, 48 hours isn’t enough to master kalaripayattu, which is said to require a minimum of eight years of training under the guidance of a guru. But the taster course is a brilliant way to experience this indigenous art form, and will send you home with a travel souvenir you’ll feel in your quivering abs, arms and thighs for days to come.