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The Early Sources of Kalarippayattu Tradition: The Fighting Arts of Sangam Age

     Two traditions of martial practice from antiquity have influenced the history, development, subculture, and practice of kalarippayattu: Tamil (Dravidian) traditions dating from early Sangam culture and the Sanskritic Dhanur Vedic traditions. Although a complete account of South Indian martial arts in antiquity must be left to the future by South Asian historians, this necessarily brief description outlines a few of the salient features of the early Sangam Age fighting arts but focuses in particular on the Dhanur Vedic tradition and its relationship with the yoga paradigm.

     From the early Tamil Sangam "heroic" (puram) poetry, we learn that from the fourth century B.C. to 600 A.D., a warlike, martial spirit predominated across southern India. Ponmudiar wrote concerning the young warriors of the period, It is my prime duty to bear and bring him up, it is his father's duty to make him a virtuous man . . . it is the duty of the blacksmith to provide him with a lance; it is the duty of the king to teach him how to conduct himself (in war). It is the son's duty to destroy the elephants and win the battle of the shining swords and return [victorious]. - Subramanian, 1966:127.

     Each warrior received "regular military training" (Subramanian, 1966:143144) in target practice, and horse riding, and specialized in the use of one or more of the important weapons of the period, including lance or spear (vel), sword (val) and shield (kedaham), bow (vii) and arrow. The importance of the martial hero in the Sangam Age is evident in the deification of fallen heroes through the planting of hero-stones (virakkal; or natukal, "planted stones") which were inscribed with the name of the hero and his valorous deeds (Kailaspathy, 1968:235) and worshipped by the common people of the locality (Subramanian, 1966:130).

     The heroes of the period were "the noble ones," whose principal pursuit was fighting and whose greatest honor was to die a battlefield death (Kailasapathy, 1968; Hart, 1975, 1979). The heroic warriors of the period were animated by the assumption that power (ananku) was not transcendent, but immanent, capricious, and potentially malevolent (Hart, 1975:26, 81). War was considered a sacrifice of honor, and memorial stones were erected to fallen heroic kings and/or warriors whose manifest power could be permanently worshipped by one's community and ancestors (Hart, 1975, 137; Kailasapathy, 1968, 235).

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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