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Kalarippayattu: The Actualisation of Power (Sakti) and the Yoga Paradigm

     Most masters would agree with Achutan Gurukkal's statement that only through correct practice of poses and steps will the student reap the benefits of practice and also begin to discover and eventually manifest power (sakti) in practice. What, precisely, is meant by "power" (sakti), and what are the signs of its presence. According to those masters who assume a yoga-based paradigm, three essential features must be realized: (1) precisely correcting the external physical form and corresponding internal circulation of the wind or energy (vayu or prana-vayu) so that alignment and movement are correct and within the limits of a form; (2) ensuring that the student is breathing properly, coordinating and releasing the breath properly, and, therefore, circulating the wind or energy correctly; (3) ensuring that the student develops correct external focus and eventually realizes one-point focus internally.

     Masters like Achutan Gurukkal stress that correct practice also means breathing naturally and, therefore, having the breath properly coordinated with performing the exercise or pose. Correct breathing is understood to develop naturally over months of practice. Nilakantan Namboodiripad told me that while doing all the preliminary exercises, breathing should be automatic and effortless, which comes from continuous practice. Inhalation and exhalation should be the maximum possible, but there is no retention. Teachers tell their students to breath through the nose; don't open your mouth. Keeping the mouth closed, the hands raised, and the spinal column firm in its natural alignment during leg exercises forces the student to begin to develop natural, deep diaphragmatic breathing from the navel region and prevents the natural tendency to take shallow breaths from the chest.

     In addition to the natural coordination of breath with exercise some, but by no means all, masters also practice special breath control techniques understood to help activate and circulate the practitioner's internal energy (prana vayu) and, therefore, contribute to the actualization of sakti to be used in fighting and/or healing. There are two types of special exercises: (1) pranayama techniques shared with yoga and taught by either kalarippayattu or yoga masters, which require repetition of the fourfold pattern of inhalation, retention/pause, exhalation, retention/pause and (2) special kalarippayattu breathing exercises, often simply called swasam, which require continuous deep inhalation and exhalation without retention or pause. Some masters insist that correct practice is only fully actualized by those who practice these special exercises.

     One master claims that practising pranayama leads to control over the mind as well as the body's metabolic functions and, therefore, to the development of correct form of practice in the martial art. Neelakantan Namboodiripad told me that yes" practising pranayama brings concentration and eventually air strength (vayubalam) identical with the manifestation of power (sakti) itself.

     Another master explained the practical application of pranayama in the martial art: In pranayama there are two retentions, one after inhalation and one after exhalation. The one after exhalation is not strong. Therefore, when you give a blow it comes with exhalation. But strong defence comes with inhalation. This is the essence of kalarippayattu, but most people don't know it. Only those who have studied pranayama can understand it.

     The third most important feature of correct practice leading to actual ization of sakti is developing correct, i.e., one point focus (ekagrata). There are numerous practical ways in which internal one point focus is practised in the kalari. Visually focussing on the teacher's eyes in weapons training continues the student's development of one-point focus begun when the student is first instructed to focus when he begins the leg exercises. As Achuttan Gurukkal explained: We should never take our eyes from those of our opponent. By ekagrata here I mean kannottam, keeping the eyes on the opponent's. When doing practice you should not see anything else going on around you. Master Achutan's comments echo the well known example of Arjuna's actualization of one point focus in the archery test which was administered by Drona to all his students and at which only Arjuna was successful.

     Practising Kalarippayattu is conducive to learning both yoga and pranayama; they all come together. Both produce sharpness and steadiness of mind, both also give courage and patience, and both also help to give good health.

     What eventually results from practicing kalarippayattu is the discovery of the interior subtle body (suksma-sarira) traditionally associated with yoga and meditation, and assumed to be encased within the physical body. As Govindankutty Nayar put it, "Kalarippayattu is 80% per cent mental and only the remainder is physical."

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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