The Wonders of Kalaripayattu

The kalaripayattu performance that follows the kathakali is nothing short of spectacular. The practitioners move like dancers, their bodies a combination of ridiculous strength and flexibility.

Kalaripayattu is an ancient martial art that originated in Kerala, with roots that date back to the Sangam period literature (3rd century BC – 2nd century AD). Every soldier during this period received regular military training. It takes elements from yoga, dance and performing arts, which are visible in today’s performance.

This performance is in a different part of the Centre, and I’ve misplaced my ticket and have no idea what my seat number is. Fortunately one of the young boys that works at the theatre, recognizes me and darts over to the ticket booth to find out. Finally I am seated, and the show begins.

We are sitting in the same red plastic chairs, around a giant pit, with a stairwell. There are candles across the front of the pit, and weapons laid along the side.

The practitioners perform demonstrations with a variety of weapons, and in some cases without them. They show us ridiculous feats, be it sparring, jumping through rings of fire, performing complicated gymnastics, backbends, yoga: you name it, they can make their body do it.

At one point during the performance, they call for a volunteer from the audience. The make them get into a child’s pose like position, along with one of the other performers. They perform flying leaps over both people.

Then they call another volunteer. After that round is over they call another. And then another. By the end of this exercise they are running and leaping over 8 people all in a row.

Embarrassingly one of the audience participants has such loose jeans on that when he bends down, half of his buttocks show, which is extremely distracting, and I imagine, quite uncomfortable for the left side of the audience but he manages to pull them up in between.

It is exactly the type of horror I felt, when one day my little brother banged on my door first thing in the morning, and summoned me into his room, with his girlfriend at the time looking on. When I walked into the room he mooned me. That Image is forever etched in my brain.

The performers are a tad cheeky, and endearingly so, demanding that we clap and cheer louder and louder. Once I’ve gotten over my things-i-cannot-unsee I join back in, marvelling at their strength and confidence.

Witnessing this ancient art gives you such an appreciation for what the body is capable of. We use so little of this miracle that is our mass of muscles, ligaments, bones and tissues. It’s amazing to see it at work like this.

I leave Old Mudra fully entertained, the first whispers of hunger starting to grumble in my belly.


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