At Kalariyil Dharmikam Ashram, Kalaripayattu training takes place inside the ‘Kalari,’ which is the martial arts school. The Kalari is usually a pit in the ground which is designed to control the inside temperature naturally, without being affected by the weather outside. Such a design also allowed secret practice at the time of the British rule when Kalaripayattu was not permitted.
Another unique feature of the Kalari is a floor made of clay mud that includes a mixture of medicinal substances such as turmeric. This mixture ensures that the floor is a very healthy surface to use for practice, providing healing to the body and any injuries caused during training.
First steps of Kalaripayattu training
Every student who wishes to start practising Kalaripayattu attends an initiation with Guruji. The student may then observe some classes and afterward learn the basic salutations that are performed each session. After the mastery of these basic salutations, the intensity of the Kalaripayattu training gradually builds up. This sequence allows the student to learn the syllabus in a structured manner.
Class always starts with the lighting and salutation of the lamps inside the Kalari, as this space is considered a temple. Students then salute Bhoomi (Mother Earth), in order to ask permission and forgiveness for practising in her lap. Next the students perform the Pranaam (salutation) for the Guru, and then respect the entire Guru Parampara (tradition). After they perform the Vandana Chuvadu (first salutation form). This form salutes the four directions, Mother Earth, God and the Guru, to ask for blessings for proper war footing. Only after this ritual does the training begin.
In terms of training with other students, students learn in combined classes with their classmates. However, instructors also provide personal attention according to their different learning processes. Students may also do self-practice outside of class and are encouraged to approach the instructors or Guruji with questions or doubts at any time. Since the art is of a spiritual nature, the Kalaripayattu training doesn’t involve or encourage competition. This allows students to truly focus on their own development according to their learning speed. They may therefore progress without distractions.
Kalaripayattu training levels
The syllabus consists of five levels, including basic, intermediate, advanced, senior and instructor levels. A student who practises the Kalaripayattu training daily can usually complete the syllabus of the basic level in about three months. After the basic level, the syllabus of the intermediate level takes about six months of daily practice. The advanced and senior levels then take at least one or two years to complete. Finally, a practitioner who wishes to become an instructor must complete a minimum of five years of daily practice.
These amounts of times are average indicators and may vary for each student depending on their physical condition and progress. However, even after learning the complete syllabus it takes years of regular practice with dedication, discipline and devotion to perfect the art.
Outside Kalari class
Learning Kalaripayattu occurs not just inside the Kalari but outside the class as well. Since the art aims to build the character of the student, physical practice is not enough. The student must train the body and mind together as part of his spiritual progress. One way the student must do this is to participate in a number of different ashram activities. These activities involve service to the plants and animals at the ashram, to the people, and to the temple. Additionally, the student can learn how to practise meditation with Guruji’s guidance. Without this one cannot advance in Kalaripayattu.
All of this training takes place according to the traditional Indian Guru-Shishya Parampara. In this tradition, the Guru teaches each disciple according to his or her own understanding for the purpose of spiritual development. To truly grow, the student must put much effort into his or her progress and should be willing to endure the pain and patience it takes in order to grow. Through this endurance, the student becomes physically and mentally strong, disciplined and confident. After a time of disciplined training, the student learns to excel in every field, which will help him or her become a respected individual of strong character in society.
Characteristics of a Kalaripayattu practitioner
Finally, the characteristics that define a true practitioner of Kalaripayattu are:
- Respect for the Guru
- Regular practice
- Strong body & mind
- Self effort and courage
- Search for peace
- Respect for tradition