The Pollachi Papyrus , Silambam

What are the names that spring to mind when one mentions martial art forms ?The likely answers to that question will either be Karate or Kungfu which became increasingly popular throughout Asia due to it’s organised structure and methods of tutelage. It’s ironical therefore to learn that these martial arts actually originated in the Indian sub-continent and was born out of an ancient form of warfare known to have been in practice since 1000BC ,called Silambam.

Those who have heard of Silambam will probably equate it to a muscular lot of artistes practicing precise movements using sticks resembling bamboo poles.A recent demonstration by a Silambam master and his pupils revealed that it is so much more than that.

Ramesh Kumar teaches this traditional art form to students who live in and around the Pollachi area. Private classes are also offered to those interested in learning this kalai.His passion to encourage youngsters in the process of creating a fit body and mind through traditional art forms is what fuels his energy levels on an every day basis. Having been taught Silambam by learned gurus in this field ,the need to share the knowledge thus procured has been the catalyst for him traversing through the countryside familiarising young girls and boys in this craft.

The demonstration began with basic movements with each sequence being referred to as a paadam.It usually starts with foot work ,squats and turns which in turn offer salutations not just to the audience or teacher but also to the earth which has always borne the physical and emotional demands of the Silambam warriors.While the salams may be of different kinds depending on the area wherein they are performed ,the one thing that ties them all together is the thumping of the palm to the ground before reverentially raising the hand to the forehead in a tradition of extreme respect.

Mastery of foot work is a must before co-ordinating the hand movements. Only when that comes into synchronisation are students even offered the stick.Although bearing resemblance to a moongil it is actually fashioned from a sort of hard reed. They are apparently sourced from stores in Coimbatore that deal exclusively in native herbs and medicines. The curing is done by a water immersion and later pounded several times for the edges to seal.The insides are made up of a semi porous cork like material.While these kutchis are light weight and extremely flexible it is astonishing at how quickly it can turn into a stiff lethal weapon simply by the speed at which it is wielded.

The teacher is very clear about the thought process behind this martial warfare.It is to be primarily used for self defence with the added advantage of core body fitness.It is not to be used to unnecessarily harm or cause unwarranted injury to another person.If in the course of conducting a class, a student seems hot headed or unable to comply with the ideologies,the instructor will not include them thereafter in further Silambam studies.

The traditional garb that is sported by the male and female participants comprise of clothing that are versions of sarees and dhotis ,free flowing around the limbs and tightly secured at the waist.This allows the enthusiast to master the jumps,back bends,moving on haunches,manipulating the body into sommersaults , handstands and full over body rolls without hurting the head or face in the process.The different variations of push ups alone are quite astounding.

The movements while bold and vigorous are at the same time graceful and are a celebration of the human body and all it’s strengths.The wrist and elbow are what takes time to strengthen and get used to the quick flicks and fast twirls of the stick that is cut to the individual height of each student.

The mun kaal nilavai ,padai veechu ,pin kaal nilavai ,sarukkal etc were exhibited in a manner that resembled the movements of world famous acrobats parading under the big top.Their elegance of form was further accentuated by surrounding fields of verdant peanut crop ,the short fronds caressed by the moisture laden breeze carrying the promise of impending showers.

Sounds of civilization in the background were drowned by the swooshing of the Silambam pole as it cut through the air at a ferocious pace, slicing under the leaping feet of the opponent.The spectators included a gentle eyed brown calf standing next to a typical thatched hut set against glorious blue ranges which poked their peaks out through the descending mist.

Without exaggeration the scenic beauty of the fertile land at Vettaikaranpudur did indeed succeed in transporting the Silambam sequences to warrior like movements that belonged in the battlefields of past rulers.

Interestingly, availability of these Silambam classes have prodded many a parent in encouraging their girl child to learn this form.When they perform and the routines gain momentum,their well oiled braids get tossed around wonderfully agile neck muscles.It is easy to witness not just the physical strength but also confidence in their gaze and pride in their shoulders matching an attitude which is not to be messed with or disrespected.

The weight of the person does not deter even the most petite form from being able to bodily lift and throw down another of a heavier physique.It’s taught from ages 5 upwards and students can engage in formal competitions right upto the national level.The role of music in Silambam differs slightly to other traditional art forms in that the beat is set to the rhythm of the feet and not vice versa.The drummer must play his tunes to compliment the motions of the Silambam dancers and pick up the tempo as required.

When the stances are perfected they are taught advanced routines like, gundaan padam (ropes with weights) surrul vaal (stiff chains) and also with flamed sticks. Again the velocity at which these are swung must be precise to avoid harming themselves. Ramesh Sir emphatically states that Silambam is taught only to those interested and must never be forced on an unwilling student.

At the end of this scintillating Silambam mastery ,what was actually awe inspiring was that despite the shortness of breath,mud soiled back ,garments and weary limbs that were put through hours of strenuous cardio,the mood was to exhibit some more…the smiles didn’t waver,stomachs never growled in hunger for the afternoon meal and the enthusiasm displayed at the start of the day never waned.If children can be made to derive such immense satisfaction without grudging the hard work then such grueling workouts, which stimulate the kinaesthetic intelligence, is much needed in their curriculum for enrichment of life and an added sense of purpose.

to contact for classes

Mr.Ramesh Kumar :9698590179 ,6381724608

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