Chennai days – My Kalari diary

25th of May, is the day we all gear up and gather for kalari pooja at spaces, besant nagar. We students are all excited as we graduate from one stage to another – be it empty hands to long stick or long stick to short or sword and shield. Its a day we face with pride and excitement as we pay obeisance to all the weapons that we are to learn in future. The atmosphere in spaces is bubbly, full of colourful flowers with scents of incense wafting about mixed with those of fragrant flowers. Kolams are made with perfection and symmetry. Its the day when shaji sir explains, interacts and demonstrates exercises for our better understanding. After a couple of hours, seniors and volunteers distribute healthy and delicious prasadams to all.

Only this time I felt that it was all this, multifold. The place was swarming to brim with positive, contented, happy people and children.

Shaji sir decided to answer all our small doubts and questions about how and why things had to be done in a certain manner.

“Original kalari payattu is extremely rigourous. You all cannot do it…,” he said and started opening the curtain to his past.

He told us about his inspiration as a school going child, his experiences at his school of learning, the shocking realities of stage performances… The one thing that will remain etched in my memory is his answer to the question – why kalari.

“Kalari is practiced back home on a wet mud pit. After the training we all would go take a shower and come back to that pit to relax and breathe. Breathe the relaxed fresh air, internalise the natural surroundings and while we did that I remember till date, the feel of the wet mud on my skin when I practiced,” He said, almost as if it were an embrace with mother nature. “It is that feeling, that emotion that I want to hold on to, to reminisce my evergreen days as a student.” “I dont teach. I practice along with you, when I do I remember it…”

Then he spoke about what the kalari salutation means, the five elements are worshiped as they are inside and outside, advaita philosophy of formless worship etc. Hence the lighting of fire, he says, after ether and air, fire is the first element that has form. Then its water and earth. We touch and salute the earth as earth is the last element that holds all the rest in place. We do a full circle to salute to the ashtadikpalakas, he says. The vigorous kicks are because we show our urge to get to the ultimate source of energy, ishwara!

Non-believer students are always much more dedicated in taking up responsibilities as volunteers he says. Kalari makes one so grounded and peaceful that belief is an automated process.

The seven steps that are worshiped with the black round figure in the top. He explained that these were virtual circles of the seven dhaatus in our body, with the heart being in the centre and hence it was a reflection of oneself.

Worshiping our own bodies to house a power source thats one with the creator and to nurture it with such love – this is all kalari is to my understanding. My inner core was touched yesterday.

kalari payattu

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