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     What is implicit in these Dravidian, Sanskritic, as well as medieval Kerala sources and history is the view that combat is not simply a test of strength and/or will between two human beings like modern sport boxing, but rather is a contest between a host of complex contingent, unstable, and immanent powers to which each combatant gains access through divine gifts, through magico-ritual means, and/or by attaining mastery of some aspect of power through practice and training. The first two of these modes of gaining access to power are religio-sacred, and the third is more "rational" in that accomplishment comes through training. Other realms of practiced knowledge in South Asian antiquity, such as Ayurvedic medicine, reflect a similar symbiotic relationship and interaction between the divine and the "scientifically" explainable. The antique medical authority, Susruta, articulated the existence of both rationally understood causes for systemic imbalance in the body's humors as well as the possibility of divine and/or magical sources of imbalance and/or cure. In fact, he identified one of seven kinds of disease as "the providential type which includes diseases that are the embodiments of curses, divine wrath or displeasure, or are brought about through the mystic potencies of charms and spells" (Zimmermann, 1986:Cikitsasthana xxiv, 10; Bhisagratna, 1963:231).

     Likewise, the agency and power of the martial artist in Indian antiquity must be understood as a complex set of interactions between humanly acquired techniques of virtuosity (the human microcosm) and the divine macrocosm. Unlike our modern biomedical and/or scientifically-based notions of power and agency, which assume that any type of power (electricity, gravity, etc.) is totally rational, stable, and, therefore, measurable and quantifiable, "power" (ananku or sakti) in Dravidian antiquity and at least through the medieval period in South India, as we have seen, was considered unstable, capricious, and locally immanent. Given this instability, the martial practitioner accumulated numerous different powers through any and all means at his disposal, depending not only on his own humanly acquired skills achieved under the guidance of his teacher(s), but also on the acquisition of powers through magico-religious techniques such as the repetition of mantra.[16]

     The Sanskrit epic literature reflects this complex interplay between divinely gifted and humanly acquired powers for the martial practitioners of antiquity. One example is the playwright Bhasa's version of Karna's story, Karnabhara, which illustrates the divine gift of power (sakti) which requires no attainment on the part of the practitioner. Indra, disguised as a brahmin, has come to Karna on his way to do combat with the Pandavas. As a brahmin, Indra begs a gift from Karna. Karna freely offers gift after great gift, all of which are refused. Finally, against the advice of his charioteer, S'alya, he offers that which provides him as a fighter with magical protection-his body armor, which could not be pierced by gods or demons, and his earrings. Indra joyfully takes them. Moments later a divine messenger informs Karna that Indra is filled with remorse for having stripped him of his protection. The messenger asks Karna to "accept this unfailing weapon, whose sakti is named Vimala, to slay one among the Pandavas" (102). At first Karna refuses, saying that he never accepts anything in return for a gift; however, since this gift is offered by a brahmin, he agrees to accept it. As he takes the weapon from the messenger, he asks, "When shall I gain its power (sakti)7" and the messenger responds, "When you take it in [your] mind, you will [immediately] gain its power" (105-106).[17] Unlike other powers to which a martial artist gains access through the practice and repetition of exercises and/or austerities, here Karna is a vehicle of divine power which requires that he simply "take [the weapon] in mind" for its full power to be at his disposal.

     A more complex set of circumstances is at play in the story of Arjuna and the Pasupata, and his mastery of the weapon requires much more of him than simply accepting the weapon as a gift.[18] Yudhisthira knows that, should combat come, the Kauravas have gained access to "the entire art of archery," including "Brahmic, Divine, and Demoniac use of all types of arrows, along with practices and cures." The "entire earth is subject to Duryodhana" due to this extraordinary accumulation of powers. Yudhisthira, therefore, calls upon Arjuna to go and gain access to still higher powers than those possessed by the Kauravas! Yudhisthira prepares to send him to Indra, who possesses "all the weapons of the Gods." But to gain access to Indra, Yudhisthira must teach Arjuna the "secret knowledge" which he learned from Dvaipayana and which will make the entire universe visible to him. After Arjuna is ritually purified to win divine protection and once "controlled in word, body, and thought," he meets Indra in the form of a blazing ascetic who attempts to dissuade him from his task, but he is not "moved from his resolve" and requests that he learn from Indra "all the weapons that exist." Indra sends Arjuna on a questhe can receive such knowledge only after he has found "the Lord of Beings, three-eyes, trident-bearing Siva." Setting out on his journey "with a steady mind," he travels to the peaks of the Himalayas where he settles to practice "awesome austerities." Eventually Siva comes to test him in the form of a hunter. After a prolonged fight with bows, swords, trees and rocks, and fists, Siva-the-hunter subdues Arjuna when he "loses control of his body." Siva then reveals his true form to Arjuna, who prostrates before him. Siva recognizes that "no mortal is your equal" and offers to grant him a wish. Arjuna requests the Pasupata, the divine weapon. Siva agrees to give him this unusual weapon, which is so great that "no one in all the three worlds [the Brahmic, Divine, and Demonic] . . . is invulnerable to it." In other words, with this weapon he will gain access to powers greater than those possessed by the Kauravas.

     However, to gain access to the weapon's power Arjuna must first undergo ritual purification, prostrate himself in devotion before Lord Siva and embrace his feet, and then learn its special techniques. Siva instructs him in the specific techniques of the Pasupata, and having become accomplished in these techniques he also learns "the secrets of its return."

     As illustrated in this and other stories, among all the martial heroes of the epics, Arjuna is the perfect royal sage, possessing the ideal combination of martial and ascetic skills, and able to marshal the various powers at his command as and when necessary. Arjuna is able to attain the awesome power of the Pasupata because of his extraordinary "steadiness of mind," his superior skills at archery, and his ability to undergo "awesome" austerities.

     Although Arjuna's skills and accomplishments appear superhuman, the process of attainment of powers follows a pattern we shall find repeated among some traditional masters in the ethnographic present: ritual purification, superior devotion, practice of techniques to gain mastery, gaining access to higher powers through the practice of austerities and/or special meditation practice, acquiring the secrets of practice, and even the use of magical means to obtain immediate access to a specific power.[19] However, even if this pattern of attainment of powers is still present in the ethnographic present, as the necessity of gaining access to powers when confronting death in combat has become largely a moot point, the hitherto capricious, unstable, immanent, and local nature of power(s) has been somewhat muted and pacified today-a subject to which I shall return in the concluding discussion.

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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