How Kalaripayattu was born

Sadhguru tells us the rarely heard and generally unknown story of Kalaripayattu’s birth, and how and why it was created by Agastya Muni.

Last week, we saw how it was Agastya Muni who created Kalari. Today, we see the how and why of its birth.

Sadhguru: Martial arts essentially evolved from Southern India. Agastya Muni was a very small-built man – short and diminutive – but he travelled endlessly. He evolved martial arts mainly to fight the wildlife. Tigers roamed this land in great abundance – now we can count them, we have eleven hundred tigers, but there was a time when thousands of them existed along with various other potentially dangerous wildlife. So, Agastya Muni evolved a system as to how to fight the wildlife – if a tiger comes, how to handle it.

You will see, Kalari still retains that format. This is not just about fighting with men. Fighting with men came later. He taught martial arts to a few people just to manage the wildlife when they travelled, and it still lives. Some of the schools still look up to him and associate themselves with him.

So when people went to China, once they crossed the Himalayas, they faced wild men who were always looking to attack the traveller. So what they had learned to handle the wildlife, they used it on wild men. Once they started using it on people, you will see a distinct transformation in the martial arts. From a very crouching kind of martial art to a “standing up” kind of martial art is what you will see from India to the Chinese and further into South-East Asia.

So, it evolved into a different format. And when you fight men, you have to kill, otherwise he won’t stop. With wildlife it's not like that. They come because they think you are food. And once you make it very clear to him that you are a very difficult food, he will go away. He will look for some easy food. Because of this, the martial arts naturally transformed itself from a very fantastic form of avoiding becoming somebody’s dinner, to something that can kill. You will see this transformation from Kalari to Karate. Later on, in India also they started fighting with men but they did not transform the art so much. Instead, they picked up weapons. If you look at it, Kalari may not be as good a fighting process with human beings as Karate would be because in Karate they are standing on two legs. In Kalari, you are trying to look at something lower down because we did not see it as a tool to fight other men, it was only seen as a defense from wildlife.

Parashuram was another great teacher of Kalari. He single-handedly slaughtered armies because of his phenomenal martial art capabilities. He taught one school which flowed from the North of Malabar, and Agastya Muni’s school came from the South. Parashuram’s method used all kinds of weapons – hand weapons, throwing weapons, various kinds of weapons – but Agastya Muni’s martial art grew without any weapons, it was all hand.

We are unable to find really good teachers in Agastya’s form so we are going with Parashuram’s school but we are hoping to build that system slowly, so that over a period of time we want to shift to Agastya Muni’s, just to honor him. Just a little gratitude for him for what he has done because the kind of work that he did is so phenomenal. Nowhere else and never before did another human being take spirituality to every door as he did.

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3 years 11 months ago

Appreciate the sarcasm there Bala! ;D But you are right. No, not necessarily everything, but most things that may be considered to be of value to the enhancement and overall well-being of the human species as a whole can be attributed at some point in time or the other to the great land of Bharath and its plethora of ancient civilizations.

7 years 6 months ago

I always knew Eastern martial arts evolved from India. Thank you for this article.

3 years 3 months ago

Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your site.

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7 years 6 months ago


7 years 5 months ago

Very true. Agastyar and Bhogar are famous names in the Thekkan (southern) form of kalari, which is famous for bare hand fights. There are also many simple and effective techniques to face armed opponent(s) by using anything that is available at that moment, no matter whether its a piece of cloth, an umbrella, or a rope, or a stick or whatever.

Famous proverb fits well for this art "Even a grass is also a weapon in the hands of an expert person". Which might have deduced from the ramayan stories..., where kusha grass turned into an extremely potent weapon and hounded the the KakAsura wherever he flew. Another famous story was about, Drona who also used grass... (

When the spiritual aspect of these arts gets revived, the art will comeback to its glory. That is its life, and this exactly what is ignored now.

All the Indian arts and science are designed in such a way that it will lead to self realisation. Only a realised person knows 'how to and where to work out' for the revival. Thanks Sadguru.

7 years 5 months ago

SO proud what they did for us in the south.

7 years 3 months ago

this is really such an informative article. not many people may be aware that martial arts really sprung from India. great information.

6 years 9 months ago

As a practitioner of a few martial arts and teacher of one, I find it hard to believe certain parts of the article above. The animalistic forms described has more to do with early master attributing their moves to animals, they realised certain animal have certain ways of fighting, they just attributed the style to the animal. The style you speak of would be useless against a tiger or angry animal.
Kalari is still a functional style as it is a mixed martial art, as in requiring the knowledge of striking, wrestling and ground fighting, unlike Karate which is a striking art. The weapons techniques, though most are redundant, are built on the basic hand to hand combat. Unlike Kung-fu, where the "art" and fighting have been separated. The Kalari masters still, archaically, still teach students how to use a club or hook spear.
A good kalari practitioner is taught how heal first before doing harm. Most mid-level Kalari practitioners tend to run Kalari massage and treatment too. The fact is the upper ends of Kalari, the practitioner is able of to incapicitate people without striking them hard. This comes from a deep understanding of the skeleto-muscular system and the nervous system, which most martial arts don't have.
There are a few reasons for its decline. To name a few, funding of schools, banning by the British during colonial times, lack of media interest and the length of the syllabus, means masters are a dying breed. But the main reasons for it to be in decline is that in India it is not encouraged due the Gandhian ideologies, Pacifism and thus Kalari is considered un-Hindu. Sadly, the one point the article is extremely correct on is that Kalari and Payaittu are as fundamental to Hinduism and Spirituality as Yoga.
To be in balance of your mind and body, you must be able to open all your senses and be sensitive to your surroundings.

6 years ago

Hey man, where are your proofs for your fairy tale claims?

6 years ago

This article shows the author's lack of knowledge in martial arts.

4 years 6 months ago

I asked your proofs... not the stories. Learn the history of martial art first.

4 years 3 months ago

Visit a Shaolin temple and find out about its history.