Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Great-grandmother keeps Indian martial art alive



Great-grandmother keeps Indian martial art alive

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Deftly parrying her 60-year-old son with a two-handed bamboo cane, Meenakshi Amma (R) belies her 78 years with her prowess at kalari, thought to be India's oldest martial art. AFP

Great-grandmother keeps Indian martial art alive

Deftly parrying her son with a bamboo cane, Meenakshi Amma belies her 78 years with her prowess at kalari, thought to be India's oldest martial art.

The great-grandmother in Kerala, southern India, has been a driving force in the revival of kalaripayattu, as the ancient practice is also known, and in encouraging girls to take it up.

"I started kalari when I was seven years old. I am 78 now. I am still practising, learning and teaching," the matriarch of the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham school, founded by her late husband in 1949, told AFP.

"When you open the newspapers, you only see news of violence against women," she said.

"When women learn this martial art, they feel physically and mentally strong and it makes them confident to work and travel alone."

Kalari, which contains elements of dance and yoga, can involve weapons such as swords, shields and staffs. Reputedly 3,000 years old, and mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, it remains infused with religion in the present day.

India's British colonial rulers banned the practice in 1804 but it survived underground before a revival in the early 20th century and after independence in 1947.

In recent decades it has come on in leaps and bounds, thanks in no small measure to Meenakshi, who won a national award in 2017.

Now it is recognised as a sport and practised all over India.

Inside Meenakshi's kalari hall, her bare-chested son Sanjeev Kumar, a lungi tied around his waist, puts barefoot pupils -- boys and girls alike -- through their paces on the ochre-red earth floor.

"There are two divisions in kalaripayattu -- one is that kalaripayattu is peace and the other is kalaripayattu in war," said the "gurukkal" (master).

"It's an art that purifies mind, body and soul, improves concentration, speed and patience, regenerates physical and mental energy.

"When totally connected mentally and physically to kalari, then the opponent disappears, the body becomes eyes."

"It's a form of poetry," said civil engineer Alaka S. Kumar, 29, daughter of Kumar and the mother to some of Meenakshi's many great-grandchildren.

"I am going to teach kalari, with my brother. We have to take over. Otherwise it is gone."

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration