It is 6.45 am and the doors of the clinic have not yet opened, but already a crowd is waiting patiently for Shatrughnan Gurukkal. Sajith, a senior student at the Kalari, wraps up the Kalaripayattu class with the Shanthi mantra and then proceeds to the treatment room. The day at the Kalari Chikitsa clinic has just begun. It is going to be a long day – tying splints to join broken bones, bandaging old wounds with a ‘magical’ green paste using long swathes of muslin cloth, and applying hot packs on torn ligaments and muscles.
I have just arrived at Hindustan Kalari Sangam, for my annual rejuvenation therapy (as I would like to call it). This is a seven-day massage therapy that keeps me energetic and free from injuries for the rest of the year; a ritual that I have been following for the last 8-10 years. Each year I await the monsoons in Kerala, and try to schedule my massage to synchronize with the rains.
Kalari Marma Chikitsa is a technique for healing injuries relating to the musculoskeletal system that evolved alongside the martial art form itself. While Ayurveda is an integral part of this healing methodology, there are several medicines and treatment methods that have evolved from traditional folk medicine. As a result, over the years, it has evolved into a highly specialized technique for treatment of injuries relating to bones, muscles, nerves, joints and tissues. So, it is not altogether surprising that people make a beeline for this place, rather than visiting a hospital when they have an accident, or have sprained their ankle playing football.
Chavittu uzhichil (massage using the legs) as it is called, is a technique, unique to this treatment method. I have read somewhere that it originated from Tulunadu, but is now an integral part of the Northern Kalari tradition.
In this technique, the patient lies down on a reed mat (sometimes a wooden cot) while the teacher holds on to a rope hanging from the ceiling and massages the person with his feet. This requires great skill, and is practised only by someone who has learned Kalari and has reached a level of mastery in that.
The massage itself is a blissful experience. As I lie prone, Shatrughnan Gurukkal applies oil on the arms and legs and proceeds to massage my body using his feet. The movements are smooth and rhythmic and every now and then, he instructs me to shift the position of the arms or legs. The entire process takes about 30 minutes, after which he does the kizhi (a hot pack of navara rice soaked in milk). This sticky liquid is gently applied all over the body.
The most difficult part of the process is staying awake after the massage. A simple diet that is easy on the stomach, and strict instructions not to exert oneself, to stay out of the sun, heat and dust are the general prescriptions during this period. The patient is also instructed not to exert himself too much for an equal period of time following the treatment. This rest period allows the body to come back to normal from its state of extreme relaxation, thus allowing a complete rejuvenation of the body.
At a deeper level, it is supposed to clear the blocks in the energy pathways of the body, thus allowing a free flow of the vital energy (Prana). Marma is the term used to refer to the vital points, which when impacted can cause extreme pain, disability or even death. According to Ayurveda texts, there are about 108 marma sthanams (vital points) in the body. Kalari Marma Chikitsa directs its attention at relieving any obstruction of these marma points, and thus enabling the flow of energy to revitalize the body.
A lot of the traditional knowledge has been passed down through generations and the decline of Kalaripayattu as a tradition has resulted in much of this knowledge being lost over time. This is a highly specialized skill that is taught only to the most deserving students. One hopes that this ancient tradition does not completely disappear, and efforts are taken by the present-day masters to revive and rediscover this ancient wisdom.
Kalarigram is a traditional Kalaripayattu training centre in close proximity to Auroville Township in Tamil Nadu. Established in 2010, this centre has been training students in Kalaripayattu, Yoga, Meditation and Ayurveda. Shri Ramesan Lakshman Gurukkal, whose life mission is to preserve this ancient martial art form, hails from a traditional Kalaripayattu family based out of Kozhikode, Kerala. His father, Shri Veerasree Sami Gurukkal, had set up Hindustan Kalari Sangam in 1952, at Puthiyara, in Kozhikode. Kalarigram is the brainchild of Shri Lakshman Gurukkal who decided to establish a centre in Tamil Nadu in order to spread awareness of this martial art form.
Author: P K Raghuram
The author is a Techie in a Chennai-based software company, volunteer at Kalarigram