The kalari tradition is at once a cultural experience too. The folk-lore of Kerala is woven around legendary exponents of kalarippayat and their exploits. The vocabulary of the rural people, especially of northern Kerala, is studded with kalarippayat jargon.

Though Kalarippayat's existence in the present form can be traced to the early 12th through 16th century AD Kerala society, the exact references of many of the techniques practiced today can be found in much earlier historical and cultural source of all  knowledge of India.The 15th century travelogue of Duarte Barabosa, the Portuguese traveler shows that Kalarippayat was the integral part of the Kerala society between 13th and 16th centuries. It was a part of the education of the children, where daily training in a Kalari was considered as important as learning to read and write, thus forming an important element of the culture of the land Kerala and erstwhile southern parts of Karnataka then known as Tulunadu. During this period, it was a compulsary social custom to send all youngsters above the age of 7 to a kalari for training.

Kalarippayat is believed by many historians as one of the oldest traditions of martial training in the world. In Malayalam, the mother language of Kerala, India, Kalarippayat means repetitive training (payat) inside an arena (kalari) . It is a scientific and comprehensive system of training for the body and the mind with an elaborate repertoire of weapon training, which in the ancient times lead to the making of a proficient warrior.

As Kalarippayats evolution took shape as a comprehensive physical culture and martial training tradition, these unique methods of body training was adopted as a highly developed tool for the training of actors of Kathakali, the famous dance theatre of Kerala, in it's early stages of evolution. Kathakali, imbibing the richness of Kootiyattam, the centuries old sanskrit theatre of Kerala, in story telling, acting (abhinaya) and costumes used. Kalarippayat movements as the foundation of choreography using the actors body and gestures as the primary tools of expression.

Various movements of kalarippayat are visible in many ritual arts like Theyyam, Thira, etc and in many classical dance forms.The performance of classical dancers who practice kalarippayat are far better than others.




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Photo: Sunil Inframe, Inframe Studio, Kozhikode