Thing about being a South Asian historian is that I am so clueless about South Asia. Like about Kalarippayattu. Did I even have an inkling about this mother of Kung Fu? How could I have not known about this bucket-of-oily-goodness South Indian Martial Art? I knew about pehlwani and silambam but nothing about this? How uncooool.
An accidental discovery of a book at Powell’s has opened my eyes. I have been obssessed with the video clips -especially, that one. I want Spike Jonze to direct the Drunken Guru starring the Tony Jaa of Tamil Nadu.
Kalarippayattu literally means ‘place’ where ‘exercises’ are practiced. As a form of physical and martial training, it has been prevalent in Kerala since at least the 12th century. Zarrilli tells us that Brahmans of Kerala in the eleventh century had had enough of Chola aggression and took up arms to fight against them. Or conversely, it developed in the sudra caste of indigenous Nayars during the same time period. The Nayar caste provided retainers, soldiers, and administrators for the Nambudiri brahmins, and were the largest group with rights to bear arms. They could also do some mean triple lutzes in the air before hitting you with the sword. When the Portugese reached south India, they were surprised to see the Nayars walking around with open swords and giving them mean looks.
It was the 1920s and that pesky colonialism that really invented Kalarippayattu. Kottakkal Karnaran Gurukkal [1850-35] and, his student, C.V. Narayanan Nayar [1905-44] created a showcase of the techniques for public performance highlighting the heroic past of Kerala and its many heroes. Kalarippayattu connected with the native audiences with its evocations of “ancient” techniques and incorporation of the mythology of the Mahabharata. From there, it morphed into the 5,000 year old fighting technique and became the mother of all martial arts etc. Funny thing, that colonialism.
unrelated: What is walking pneumonia? I am fine. really. Have a good weekend, gentle readers.