By- Shubham Srivastava

Article by Shubham Srivastava
Shubham Srivastava

Kalaripayattu, also known as Kalari, is an ancient Indian martial art that originated in Kerala. It is the oldest surviving Indian martial art, tracing its origin to 3rd Century BCE.

The word Kalaripayattu is a combination of two Malayalam words – kalari (training ground or battleground) and payattu (training of martial arts), which is roughly translated as “practice in the arts of the battlefield.

There are 3 acknowledged styles of Kalaripayattu – Northern, Southern and Central – with the names referring to different parts of the Kerala region. The Northern and the Southern styles each have their own gurus – Parashurama and Agastya Muni, respectively.

For millennia these arts, their military techniques and associated rituals were shrouded in mystique, with only ancient Indian literature to go by. They started becoming less arcane around the 10th-12th century AD, when Keralite society became militarised due to fights between kingdoms and dynasties. Military academies, known as kalari, were created to instruct young people on how to use weapons and then join local troops. Kalaripayattu masters practiced not only the martial craft, but also medicine (kalari chikitsa) which they used to heal the wounds of soldiers who had been hurt in battle.


Kalaripayattu is believed to be the oldest martial art in the world, with deep roots in Indian Culture that look back on thousands of years of tradition.

Bodhidharma (known as Dhamo in China and Japan) is an important figure in the history of Kalaripayattu and is credited with being the man who started the tradition of intense physical conditioning in the famous Shaolin monasteries of China. The exercises he introduced to the monks are credited with being the first steps in the evolution of Kung-Fu.

Bodhidharma was originally from Kanjipuram in Tamil Nadu where he was born a prince, the third son of the ruling king, Pallava. In his childhood Bodhidharma learnt the ways of Buddhism and was trained in the Kerala style of Kalaripayattu.

Having given up his title of Prince, Bodhidharma dedicated his life to being a monk and set out from South India to spread the philosophies of Zen Buddhism. After leaving India in AD 522 Bodhidharma went north into China where he found a home in the recently established Shaolin monastery.

Once there he wrote two books about conditioning the body for control and flexibility. From these two books he designed a strict physical and mental training regime which he began teaching to the Shaolin monks. The exercises he created and developed – that were based on the moves of Kalaripayattu – were the very beginnings of what developed into Shaolin Kung-Fu.

Kung-Fu is not the only Eastern martial art thought to have evolved from Kalaripayattu. Karate also has similar movements and principles. Karate also has similar movements and principles. Even the name Karate has connotations with Kalaripayattu. In Japanese Karate means ‘empty hand’. The third stage of Kalaripayattu training is called verumkai which also means ‘empty hand’.

According to legend, Parashurama is believed to have learned the art from Shiva, and taught it to the original settlers of Kerala shortly after bringing Kerala up from the ocean floor. While historians peg the time of its birth anywhere between 200 BCE and 600 CE, and its cresting popularity between the 14th and 16th centuries. But what has never varied, is the awe with which chroniclers and poets of different periods recorded the complexity of the techniques, the liquid beauty of the moves, and the enviable elasticity of the practitioners of Kalaripayattu.

With very little physical evidence to ascertain its point of origin, one finds specific references to Kalaripayattu in songs that for a long time had only an oral tradition to speak of. It has to be inferred that some form of Kalaripayattu was taught virtually in every village in Kerala because there is frequent mention of great masters who supervised the activities of a hundred and eight kalaris or training centres, and there are numerous allusions to house names like “Kalaripparambu” and “Kalariyullathil” that openly point to the connection with this martial art. Kalaris were invariably situated near Devi temples, and the master used to be called “Kuruppu” or “Gurukkal”. Traditionally, expertise in Kalarippayattu has been associated with machismo, and in olden times, those who could not wield the sword were considered lacking in masculinity and hence deserved to live only like slaves. However, there are references to women warriors too who could match their male counterparts in all aspects of the martial art.

Kalaripayattu is mentioned in the Vadakkan Pattukal, a collection of ballads written about the Chekavar of the Malabar region of Kerala. Kalaripayattu is a martial art designed for the ancient battlefield, with weapons and combative techniques that are unique to India.

Kalaripayattu contains rituals and philosophies inspired by Hinduism. The art also bases medical treatments upon concepts found in Ancient Indian Medicine – Ayurveda. Practitioners of Kalaripayattu possess intricate knowledge of pressure points on the human body and healing techniques that incorporate the knowledge of Ayurveda and Yoga.

There is no one origin story of Kalaripayattu, but all the stories indicate that it originated around 300 to 100 BCE in modern day Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu.


Mallakhamb is a traditional sport, originating from India, in which a gymnast performs aerial yoga or gymnastic postures and wrestling grips in concert with a vertical stationary or hanging wooden pole, cane, or rope. The word Mallakhamb also refers to the pole used in the sport. The name Mallakhamb derives from the terms malla, meaning wrestler, and khamb, which means a pole. Literally meaning “wrestling pole”, the term refers to a traditional training implement used by wrestlers.

History and Origin

The earliest mention of Mallakhamb can be traced back to the 12th Century where it is mentioned in the classic “MANASOLHAS” (1135 A.D.). For about seven centuries after that, the art form remained dormant until it was given a new lease of life by BALAMBHATTADADA DEODHAR, the renowned teacher of PESHWA BAJIRAO-II during the first half of the 19th century.

However, competitive Mallakhamb at the National level first made its appearance at the National Gymnastics Championships held at the Pahadganj Stadium, Delhi, in 1958. It was here that the Gymnastic Federation of India proposed to recognize the game and include it in subsequent National Gymnastics Championships.

Mallakhamb has a history that dates back to the 12th century. A text named ‘Manasolhas’ that belongs to the Chalukya kings mentions a sport wherein wrestlers’ practice onto a pole to maintain their agility and postures. With the end of the Chalukya kingdom, the sport too was abandoned. When Balambhatt Dada Deodhar, the fitness and sports instructor to Peshwa Bajirao II, reintroduced it to his pupils and soldiers Mallakhamb was revived in the 19th century. He used this sport to enhance the fitness levels of the soldiers and a significant tactic to be used in Guerrilla warfare. Many times, during wars, soldiers needed to climb huge walls of the enemy’s palace and Mallakhamb served the purpose.

Two places mentioned in Mallakhamb’s history,are Saptashringi & Kothure. Saptashringi at Wani. Nashik is the birthplace of Mallakhamb & Kothure is the birthplace of founder of Mallakhamb – Sir Balambhatt Dada Deodhar.

Unique Features of Mallakhamb

Apart from its traditional form, this sport is performed on a cane and rope. So, we have three kinds of Mallakhamb: pole, cane and rope. 

Pole Mallakhamb is the strictly traditional form of it. A free-standing pole made of teak or rosewood and smeared with castor oil is used as the prop. The height of the pole is 2.6 metres above the ground.

In Rope Mallakhamb, the performer is supposed to exercise the postures on a 5.5 metres long rope suspended from the top. The performer is not allowed to tie a knot in the rope whatsoever. In olden days, a cotton rope replaced canes and continued to survive till date.

Cane Mallakhamb is very similar to Pole Mallakhamb but the only difference is the height of the pole. In cane Mallakhamb the pole is shorter in length and most importantly, the pole is left hanging from a hook leaving a gap between the end of the pole and ground. 

Official International Organizations

  • Vishwa Mallakhamb Federation (VMF)
  • Mallakhamb Confederation of World (MCW)
  • Asian Mallakhamb Federation (AMF)
  • South Asian Mallakhamb Federation (SAMF)

Official Indian Mallakhamb Sport National Organization

Mallakhamb Federation which is widely known as Mallakhamb Federation of India MFI

Mallakhamb Federation is affiliated with Vishwa Mallakhamb Federation, Mallakhamb Confederation of World MCW, Asian Mallakhamb Federation AMF, South Asian Mallakhamb Federation SAMF.

The sport is still striving to survive in today’s world. Mallakhamb debuted in the National Gymnastics Championships in 1958. The Gymnastics Federation of India made a move and directed to include Mallakhamb in the annual championships. But then, Mallakhamb did not succeed in making a mark of itself and soon was ruled out from the list of sports. In 1981, some Mallakhamb enthusiasts from Madhya Pradesh namely Dr Bamshankar Joshi and others set up an All-India level organization called Mallakhamb Federation of India. 

At present, Mallakhamb is recognised internationally as well. Official organisations have been set on different levels. Organizations like Asian Mallakhamb Federation, South Asian Mallakhamb Federation and Mallakhamb Confederation of World are doing their best in promoting this traditional sport. 

Pune and nearby cities in Maharashtra have been the centre of this martial art since the Peshwas reinforced its practice and performance. Many of their soldiers and wrestlers took up Mallakhamb and trained other people and hence it survived through generations.

Nowadays, there are some Mallakhamb clubs in Mumbai as well. In more recent times, it has been chosen as the state sport by more than 20 states in India. It is considered to be an art form as well as a sport. The benefits of Mallakhamb are that it strengthens the muscles and keeps the body lean.

Some of the postures are considered to be clear imitations of yoga postures. It is said that practicing Mallakhamb can support a stronger yoga practice as it teaches how to move from the core and engage muscle groups that may otherwise remain dormant.