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Warriors and Their Art

K.V. Cybil

By Chirakkal T. Sreedharan Nair
Westland, Chennai, 2007, pp. 272, Rs. 395.00


This is a guide book for a complete mastery over the martial art form of kalaripayattu. Nonetheless, it says that the personal guidance of an expert is a must at least in the early stages. The curriculum is arranged according to a distinct form of kalari that is practised in North Malabar called arappukkai, a scheme divided into different series or arappu.   The book progresses stage by stage beginning with body exercises, the use of wooden weapons, sharp weapons, sword, shield and spear, and concluding with the bare handed defence and attack. In teaching the various movements phase by phase, set by set, it employs in progression the different vaitaris or oral commands. The vaitaris have been translated into English. Every single movement is further illustrated with photographs of experts performing them. More than three-fourths of this 272 page book is packed with illustrations.   The description of the movements though given in comprehensive detail would yet be incomplete because it stops short of explaining the marma techniques as part of the final stage of teaching with bare hands, verumkai. Similarly, archery that once arguably formed a part of kalari training finds but a marginal reference in this book. This book was written between 1956 and 1965 by a member of the royal family of Chirakkal kovilakom in Northern Malabar who learnt his lessons in kalari as a student from various trainers at his home and wrote it as a venture in the hope of taking kalari outside as a form of art. So from 1937 onwards till his death in 1984 he has been writing, publishing, giving radio talks and presenting payattu demonstrations at various literary and cultural meetings in Kerala. In the introduction to this book written by his sons S.R.A. Das and S.R.D. Prasad to this posthumously published work of their father , they recollect how he was ridiculed by his contemporaries ‘as one who had committed a sacrilege’ (p. ix).   When Chirakkal Sreedharan Nair wrote this book as a guide/manual for his students at the YMCA College of Physical Education in Madras where he was a teacher between 1956 and 1965 he may have intended it to be a curriculum for mastering the art. Originally illustrated using graphics the book in its current form communicates more through its photographs than its details. The question if a curriculum is possible or relevant is assumed to be resolved in the biographical sketch ...

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