I first visited Kerala (a State in South India) in the early nineties, much before the Keralites discovered that they lived in God’s Own Country. And having discovered God’s Own Country, on my own, I have kept returning. Again and again.
But my enchantment with the natural beauty of Kerala blinkered me and I gave the cultural aspects of the place and its people a miss. As a result, I missed out on Kalaripayattu, a martial art form indigenous to Kerala. In Malayalam, the word ‘kalari‘ means a practice ring or a training centre and ‘payattu‘ means duel.
Although I had come across some pictures and references to Kalaripayattu in travelogues and magazines, for some unfathomable reason, the thought of attending a performance never entered my mind.
In fact, when I was invited to attend a demonstration at the Madras Regimental Centre in Wellington, Niligiris, South India, last May, my initial reaction was to decline. But the fact that my father-in-law was the chief guest for this program ensured that no was not an option. Still I kept hoping that inclement weather would ensure the cancellation of the show. But the skies cleared and off we drove to the parade ground at the Centre.
However, once the program started, we sat enraptured. I tried to take some pictures, but the shutter speed of my camera was not fast enough, as the members of the team flew across space in a blur; swords striking swords or shields blocking swords or spears or staffs knocking away swords.
Then I realised why all the pictures in the travelogues had left me cold. None of these pictures can ever capture the sheer speed, agility and the courage of the kalaripayattu artistes.
A few months later, in October, we got another opportunity when we visited Kumily. Courtesy the events manager at the Tuskers Trails resort where we stayed, we got a real ringside view of a kalaripayattu performance at the Kadathanadan Kalari Centre.
This time, I did not even carry my camera knowing that it was quite inadequate to capture any action. Instead, I decided to sit back, watch and relish the ‘warriors’ in action. However, the ubiquitous cell phone ensured that I got some pics of the arena.
But I was quite unprepared for what followed. Without taking away anything from the army team at Wellington, who put up a performance at short notice, I realised that this was the real thing.
I will not try to describe the performance, as mere words are quite unequal to the task. Instead, I will share with the readers a short video of the another performance by a team from the same centre. Watch below or here.
The artistes wielded the various weapons, viz swords, spears and staffs, without holding anything back. Only the superb reflexes of the warriors prevented serious injury. And the climax of the show was two warriors jumping together, through a double ring of fire.
At one point during the program, some of the artistes climbed up to where the audience were sitting and like consummate showmen, went around shaking hands. After the performance, many in the audience rushed into the arena and insisted on taking pictures with the artistes. These guys have evolved into ‘stars’ and why not?
Today we’re on K of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge.