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Varma Kalai (also called Varma Kalari,Varmam, Varma ati, or marma ati) (Tamil: ????????? meaning “the art of vital points”) is an ancient martial art which has its origins in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India. The art itself originally began as a healing art from Varma Cuttiram (the “Tamil science of medicine”), which later turned into a martial art, thus the name Varma Kalai. It is also called the art of healing and the art of killing.
The attacks in Varma Kalari are meant for self defence and though they target the vital pressure points throughout the human body, the emphasis is on stopping an attacker without actually damaging him permanently. Even in the most extreme situations there is an emphasis on using as little violence as possible. Varma Kalai teaches one to attack with or without weapons. The effect of Varma Kalai based offences is effective yet rarely damaging a human being. One who teaches and masters this art is called aasaan .
According to legends, wrongdoers eventually learned the art and this upset the masters who trusted in the character of their disciples. This led to a code of secrecy in which a master never teaches all of what he knows to one man. A few secrets on how to counter the misuse of the act are always safe with a chosen few who excel in the art and have unimpeachable moral values.
Though Varma Kalari is still taught in kerala and is very poular among kalari experts and in Tamil Nadu the art is not popular with the youth who choose to study less time-consuming martial arts. Worth mentioning is the fact that it would take about 10 years for a student to learn about 75% of Varma Kalai his master knows.
According to some Asian martial arts legends Bodhidharma (A.D. 520) – who went to China from India to spread Buddhism – stayed at the Shaolin monastery, preached Buddhist ideologies and also taught the monks some martial arts. The Indian martial art he taught the local people could have been Varmakkalai. The art underwent many changes and came to be known as Shaolin boxing or Kung-Fu. Later the Shaolin art influenced many other martial arts in Asia. Anyway, it is interesting to note that the Chinese school agrees with the southern school of this art in that it has the same 108 varma points.
When one is affected by Varmam, it stimulates or blocks one or more of the 10 Vayus (air) governing the life centers of the body, which in turn acts on the Sapta Dhathu (Seven Vitals) of the body namely Ninam, Kapham, Majjai, Suklam, Moothiram Pethi and Viyarvai (blood, lipid, marrow, semen, urine, stools, sweat) respectively, and makes the desired effect to the enemy and causes his death or unconsciousness.
This art is the one mentioned in the 300,000 Granthas (Books) of the early Sidhas. More than 75% of the original Shastras have been either lost, sold out or destroyed due to negligence and also through the over conservative character of the people who handled this Art. Yet, there are sufficient quantity of these rare Grandtas, in the form of Palm-Leaf Texts in Southern India, especially in Malabar, South, and Central Travancore. The Asaans of Kanyakumari, Kollam and Trivandrum Districts, although getting weaker at present, are still alive to the standard of these rare records. In order to learn this Art, it was necessary to work with an Asaan for a minimum period of 12 years in those days. This Art was not taught to anyone who came forward.
There are some qualities specified for the student of the Art, as specified in the following malayalam verses related to this art:
Although most of the vital Marma Sastra treatise is lost, presently more than 100 are traced out. Each book (in Palm-Leaf Text) consists of 100 to 1000 verses, written in Malayalam using Tamil scripts with Tamil phonetics.These Sastras were not available to common men until the recent past when it was openly published by some of the Asaans.
The origin of this Varma Kalari cannot be specified. In most of the Sastras, different Sages tell to their children or disciples, specially using the term, “ente makane kelkoo”, meaning, “hear my son”. This allows us to think that this branch of science was handled by specific family attached to Saintly Rulers because the subject deals with wars, wounds, cures, and saving the life. It also maintains a link with god because we observe that whenever an Asaan needs to revive a semi-conscious or unconscious victim, he pleads with the god-supreme to make his attempt a success. This connection links up the material body with the spiritual ‘life’ or Soul, through the mediums of panchabhootha or five elements activating the movement of “life” within the body, carried through the ten vayus. As a matter of fact, this is the fundamental principle of Yoga and Samadhi connected with Saints. To cite an example to this special character:
This is a very noble character, which was found in the early Jains and the Buddhists. Peace was the aim of the community. But, if someone violates the codes of peace, nothing wrong to arrest his pride for which the Marma Kalari may be applied.
There is a form of Kalari with sticks (Chilambam). There are many branches under it. Dr.J.David Manuel Raj has written a book on it ” History of Chilambam Fencing”. Sticks or swords can be used as the offensive weapon. When applied with sticks, the infliction of marmam is very effective. For example: