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     It seems likely that at least some of the distinctive traits of Kerala's kalarippayattu crystallized during the intensive period of warfare between the Cholas and Ceras and that such developments were at least in part attributable to the mingling of indigenous Dravidian martial techniques dating from the Sangam Age with techniques and an ethos influenced by brahmins and practiced in their salai, especially in the northern and central Kerala region where brahminical culture became dominant and kalarippayattu developed. It is not insignificant that some present masters trace their lineages of practice to "Dhanur Veda" and claim that the texts in which their martial techniques are recorded derive from Dhanur Vedic texts.

     Although the Dhanur Veda to which present-day kalarippayattu masters refer literally translated means the "science of archery," it encompassed all the traditional fighting arts. Among them the art of the bow and arrow was considered supreme.

     Battles [fought] with bows [and arrows] are excellent, those with darts are mediocre, those with swords are inferior and those fought with hands are still inferior to them. - Gangadharan, 1985:645

     The Visnu Purana describes Dhanur Veda as one of the traditional eighteen branches of knowledge. Both of India's epics, the Mahabharata and Rarnayana, make clear that Dhanur Veda was the means of education in warfare for all those called upon to fight. Drona, the brahmin guru of the martial arts, was the teacher of all the princely brothers in the Mahabharata.

     Elsewhere, [Dhanur Veda] is said to be an Upaveda of Yajurveda, "by which one can be proficient in fighting, the use of arms and weapons and the use of battle-arrays". . . Further, it is described as having a sutra like other Vedas, and as consisting of four branches (catuspada) and ten divisions (dasa vidha). It is reasonable, therefore, to conclude that a literature on Dhanur Veda came into existence before the epics reached their present form. - Chakravarti, 1972:x[14] The four Dhanur Veda chapters in Agni Purana appear to be an edited version of one or more earlier manuals briefly covering a vast range oftechniques and instructions for the king who needs to prepare for war and have his soldiers well trained in arms. The much later Brhat Sarngadhara Paddhati makes explicit what is implicit in the Agni Purana Dhanur Veda:

     This book contains ideas of people who are masters at bow and arrow. With practice one becomes an expert and can kill enemies. - Pant, 1978: verse 1717

     The explicit concern in Dhanur Veda texts is not with battlefield strategies, but rather with training in martial techniques.[15]

     Like the purana as a whole, the Dhanur Veda chapters provide both "sacred knowledge" (paravidya) and "profane knowledge" (aparavidya) on the subject. The Dhanur Veda opens by cataloging the subject, stating that there are five training divisions (for warriors on chariots, elephants, horseback, infantry, or wrestling), and five types of weapons to be learned (those projected by machine [arrows or missiles], those thrown by the hands [spears], those cast by hands yet retained [noose], those permanently held in the hands [sword], and the hands themselves [249:1-5]). Regarding who should teach, we are told that either a brahmin or ksatriya "should be engaged to teach and drill soldiers in the art and tactics of the Dhanur Veda" because it is their birthright, while shudras can be called upon to take up arms when necessary if they have "acquired a general proficiency in the art of warfare by regular training and practice," and finally "people of mixed castes" might also be called upon if needed by the king (249:6-8) (M.N. Dutt Shastri, 1967:894-5).

     Beginning with the noblest of weapons (bow and arrow), the text discusses the specifics of training and practice. It provides the names and describes ten basic lower-body poses to be assumed when practicing with bow and arrow and the specific posture with which the disciple should pay obeisance to his preceptor (249:9-19). Once the basic positions have been described, there is technical instruction in how to string, draw, raise, aim and release the bow and arrow and a catalogue of types of bows and arrows (249:20-29). In the second chapter are recorded more advanced and difficult bowand-arrow techniques. But first are details of how a brahmin should ritually purify weapons before they are used (250: 1). Also within the first seven lines of this chapter appear several of numerous phrases which collectively constitute the manual's leitmotif: an intimation of the ideal, subtle state of interior accomplishment which the practitioner must possess to become a consummate martial practitioner. The archer is first described as "girding up his loins" and tying in place his quiver only after he has "collected himself"; he places the arrow on the string only after "his mind [is] divested of all cares and anxieties" (M.N. Dutt Shastra, 1967:897); and finally, when the archer has become so well practiced that he "knows the procedure," he "should fix his mind on the target" before releasing the arrow (Gangadharan, 1985:648). Implicit throughout is a clear sense of a systematic progression in training from preliminary lower body postures which provide a psychophysiological foundation for virtuosity; through technical mastery of lifting, placing, drawing, and releasing; and thence to the interior subtleties of mental accomplishment necessary to become a consummate archer and, therefore, an accomplished fighter.

     Having achieved the ability to fix his mind, the archer's training is still not complete. The archer must apply this ability while performing increasingly difficult techniques, such as hitting targets above and below the line of vision, vertically above the head, and while riding a horse; hitting targets farther and farther away; and finally hitting whirling, moving, or fixed targets one after the other (250:13-19). The chapter concludes with a summary statement of the accomplished abilities of the archer:

     Having learned all these ways, one who knows the system of karma-yoga [associated with this practice] should perform this way of doing things with his mind, eyes, and inner vision since one who knows [this] yoga will conquer even the god of death [Yama]. - Dasgupta, 1993

     To "conquer the god of death [Yama]" is to have "conquered" the "self," i.e., to have overcome all obstacles (physical, mental, emotional) inasmuch as one has cultivated a self-possessed presence in the face of potential death in combat.

     Although this quote concludes the second chapter, it does not complete all there is to say about the training and abilities of the archer. The opening verse of the third chapter describes a further stage in the training of the archer:

     Having acquired control of the hands, mind, and vision, and become accomplished in target practice, then [through this] you will achieve disciplined accomplishment (siddhi) after this, practice riding vehicles. - Dasgupta 1993

     The remainder of Chapter 251 and most of the final Chapter 252 are brief descriptions of postures and/or techniques for wrestling and the use of a variety of weapons including noose, sword, armors, iron dart, club, battle axe, discus, and the trident. A short passage near the end of the text returns to the larger concerns of warfare and explains the various uses of war elephants and men. The text concludes with a description of how to appropriately send the well-trained fighter off to war:

     The man who goes to war after worshipping his weapons and the Trai/okyamohan Sastra [one which pleases the three worlds] with his own mantra [given to him by his preceptor], will conquer his enemy and protect the world. - Dasgupta, 1993

     To summarize, the Dhanur Veda paradigm of practice was a highly developed system of training through which the martial practitioner was able to achieve success with combat skills utilized as duty (dharma) demanded.

     This level of martial accomplishment was circumscribed by ritual practices and achieved by combining technical practice with training in specific forms of yoga and meditation (including repetition of mantra) so that the practitioner might ideally achieve the superior degree of self-control, mental calm, and single-point concentration necessary to face combat and possible death, and thus attain access to certain aspects of power and agency in the use of weapons in combat.

Also Read: Kalarippayattu - A Study, Some Preliminary Thoughts, The Source of Kalari, The Circumstances & Alliance, Dhanurvadic Tradition, Power in Antiquity, System & Techniques, The Concept of Sakti, Conclusion

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