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Elangam and Kalarippayattu

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Kalarippayattu  is said to be the mother of all martial arts. It  is a training system developed in the past, in the present day Kerala region in Western side of Indian peninsula, for warfare of yester years, dealing with training on various types of weapons - swords, daggers, shields, long flexible blades, wooden rods of various lengths and training the body and mind. It is a unique blend of physical, mental and spiritual practices to bring out the  basic instincts, dormant deep, to a higher level through systematic training.

It is believed that sage Parasurama who built temples along south India introduced this art. In 4th century AD, Bodhi Dharma a Buddhist monk spread Kalari payatt to China. This art reached its heights in the 16 the century. Modern historians trace the origin of Kalarippayattu to the Vedic times. The earliest documented reference to Kalarippayattu occurs in 'A Description of the Coasts of East Africa and Malabar in the Beginning of the Sixteenth Century' by Duarte Barbosa, indicating that kalarippayattu had already developed by this time. Phillip B. Zarrilli, a professor at the University of Exeter, estimates that Kalarippayattu dates back to at least the 12th century CE., whereas, historian Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai hypothesises that Kalarippayattu was a product of the battles between the Cheras and the Cholas during the 11th century CEKalari Poothara

There are two main schools of Kalaripayattu the Thekken (southern) and the Vadakkan (nothern) styles. The Thekken Kalarippayattu, is practiced mainly in the Travancore area whereas the Vadakkan Kalarippayattu is associated with the Naboothiri, Nair and Ezhava communities of the Malabar region. The roots of the Thekken style can be traced back to the Sanghom period, when the southern parts of Kerala and Tamil Nadu were part of old "Thamizhakam". Associated with the Nair community of South Travancore and also with the Tamil speaking communities of Maravars, Nadars and Vellalas, the thekkan system usually takes place in a piece of land adjacent to the aasan or Guru's home. In the past, learning Kalaripayattu was compulsory for all male members of the warrior Nair caste.

Until the 19th century, this martial art could be practiced only by the warrior castes. All children of such castes were sent to a Kalari at the age of seven, where they learnt the art of warfare as a primary occupation. The Kalari is a specially constructed practicing area that comprises a Puttara (seven tiered altar, steps representing seven female powers, and a Shiva lingam at its top) in the south-west corner. The guardian deity is located here, and is worshipped with flowers, incense and water before each practicing session, which is preceded by a prayer. Poojas are performed to enhance the student's bhakthi (devotion).  This art includes seven shasthras (sciences) like Vastu, Jyothi, Marma, Ayurveda, Asana, Tantra and Mantra.

In addition to physical training and training in the use of various types of weapons, psychic powers were also invoked through mantras to fight the enemy. In choondu marma (Choondu means to index) it is said, they can even transfer subtle powers through pointing their index finger to the major marmas of the enemy, and immobilise the enemy. Said to have been mastered in the past this is now totally ignored because of the tough practices involved.

Kalari payattu declined in popularity mainly due to extreme secrecy it maintains. Moreover, in 1793 the British banned its practice,  for obvious reasons.

 

 

The Elangam

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The End of a Grand old Tradition

Elangam of Parambuvilakam family of Keezhukulam, Vilavamkode Taluk, Thengapattinam in Kanyakumari District, Tamilnadu, India.

Parambuvilakam family, a grand old family, has two branches, one settled at Keezhukulam and another at Neyyoor. These places are about 15 kilometers apart. Each wing has its own Elangam, both known as Parambuvilakam Elangam. Being powerful and prominent Nair families, it is only natural that it must have been one of their prime duties to support the ruler of the region, probably a branch of the Kulasekhara dynasty ruling the Nanchinadu area  in present day Kanyakumari district of Tamilnadu, in their warfare, providing trained soldiers. Elangams are the institution for imparting training to warriors through Kalarippayattu for participation in warfare of the ruling dynasty. The origin and establishments of this Elangams must be over 250 years, since the British have banned Kalaries in 1793 CE, and there is little chance the Elangam of 52 ft X 20 ft, largest among Kalaries as per Vaasthusastra, could be established after this ban. In all probability this ban must be beginning of the decline of the Elangam even as place of worship too.

The Keezhukulam Elangam was in a state of disrepair since many members of the family have relocated to in and around Thiruvananthapuram. It is only natural that many of the prominent members of the family would have been in the service of Venad kings in various capacities and Karthika Thirunal Rama Varma popularly known as Dharma Raja, successor to Marthandavarma, shifted the capital in 1795 from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. The significance of this and the attachment of the family members to the ruling family may be seen  in the act of Marthandavarma Maharaja conferring Karnavars (Head of the family) and the male successors of the family generations to come with the Title "Chebakaraman", in recognition of their loyalty and valuable support rendered to him in his war efforts against Ettuveetil pillaimar and the Ettarayogam setup. This shift of many prominent members of the family to Thiruvananthapuram may have marked the beginning of the slow neglect of the Elangam.

 

Further the state reorganisation act of 1956,  saw the transfer of four taluks of Trivandrum District - Thowala, Agasthishwaram, Kalkkulam and Vilavancode (in which the Parambuvilakam Elangam is situated) along with the Shencotta taluk of Quilon District from Kerala State to Tamilnadu. This transfer together with the 'Land for the tiller' policy of the Government, saw most Parambuvilakam family, members loosing most of their lands to the tillers, since being members of large land owning family their lands were under alien tillage. These factors have further deterred most Parambuvilakam family members from shifting back to their place of origin. The pressures modern day life has seen its members moving over to greener pastures, settling in most cities around India and in foreign countries. This has further accelerated the decline of the Elangam temple in time.

However, of late, many members felt that something has to be done to renovate and invigorate the Elangam  and efforts were on for some time from various quarters in this direction. Local populace too felt the impact of the deterioration of the Elangam temple and has taken efforts to do some urgent maintenance which prevented the building from caving in. They also made arrangements to restore the daily poojas. By the combined efforts of some members of the family and of local populace, a Devaprasnam was conducted to astrologically search out the Divine Will. On Thursday the 25th of December 2008, under the aegis of Sri Nambiar, an eminent astrologer from Thiruvananthapuram, a Devaprasnam was conducted at the Elangam temple premises in which many family members and local population and the office bearers of the local renovation committee participated.

The imminent end of a rich cultural heritage

In the Devaprasnam, in the form of Thamboolaprasnam, it was established the said Elangam temple is actually a Kalari with Poothara and the sila idol, probably an addition sometime along the passage of time, as Kalari do not normally have any permanent idols installed. It is also seen that the deity is  under stress due to present day neglect and urgent measures have to be taken to appease Devi. This is essential to alleviate the sufferings not only to the family members, but also of the local populace. It was deducted that the existing Devi is Durga in her Bhadrakali form, a fierce form befitting Kalari, and also that the Devi has no objection in renovating and remodeling the Kalai to a modern structure and also Devi is agreeable to change to a more Sowmya bhavaa (peaceful form). It was seen that maintaining the current structure with heavy usage of wood is very expensive and impracticable in future. During the  Devaprasnam, it was seen that there are three divine elements present in the temple, viz: Ganesha, Siva and Devi (Durga) is the prime one. It was seen there is no need to add any further deities. Accordingly it was agreed upon that the worship of some external spirits currently being practiced, like Madan, Yakshi, Nagar etc as also the practice of Paduka in the annual pooja at an adjuscent place etc., reminiscent of the long past - probably dating back to the Dravidian past, be discontinued. To alleviate the ill effects of the Devi's wrath for having neglected her, some poojas are be conducted urgently - Mrithyunjaya homa preferably at Srikandeswaram temple at Thiruvananthapuram, and Ganapathi homa and  Bhagavathi seva at the temple premises itself, typical practices with Aryan nuances.

In this Devaprasnam, it was also decided and agreed upon by most present that the existing structure be demolished and a modern temple be erected in its place, with Garbhagriha, prakara, Nadamandapa, Madappalli (Kitchen), quarters for Poojari  etc., and a new well dug within the compound as the existing one is outside the temple compound. Astrologer Sri Nambiar impressed upon the particepants that, while daily poohas are not essential in the Kalari form, in a temple daily poojas by Brahmins is a must. Further, in addition to daily poojas, suitable festivals like monthly poojas, Annual utsavas (festivals), Pongala etc., to be introduced and local populace, especially women are to be encouraged to participate in the temple activities on a daily basis. Since learned Brahmin pujaris are hard to come by locally, it was suggested that any person schooled on Agama sastras could be engaged as pujari irrespective of his caste. All senior members present agreed to and took solemn pledge that through their collective efforts the said specified pacifying poojas will be conducted within 6 months from the date and all efforts will be made to construct, complete and consecrate new temple within one year from the date.

The earliest precursors of Kalarippayattu were the Sangam period combat techniques which fostered the growth of a heroic ideal; however, there can be no doubt that the techniques and heroic ethos, must have been transformed in some way by the merging of indigenous techniques with the martial practices and ethos accompanying Brahmin migrations from Saurastra and Konkan down the west Indian coast into Karnataka and eventually Kerala. By the seventh century A.D., with the founding of the first Kerala Brahmin settlements, a "new cultural form" had been introduced into the southwest coastal region which subtly transformed the socio-religious heritage of the area. These are matters of history and culture, better left to serious historians to ponder on.

The implementation of these decisions of the Devaprasnam will mark the end of a past. Old giving way to New, the basic law of nature, in this case not only materialistic but also the cultural aspects - the age old Dravidian practices, giving way to later Vedic cultures is well reflected, or does it really? It all depends on the individual beliefs, views and nostalgia. Whatever the case, it is now more or less clear, the days of the Elangam in its present physical form is limited. Whereas the culture of Kalari and techniques of warfare have long lost its relevance, the new decisions will usher in a complete metamorphosis, emergence of Devi in a new form - in her more benevolent manifestation, showering her blessings to the family members and the local population for years to come.

Whatever be the case, even while enjoying the blessings of Devi in a new abode in a new benevolent form, the memory and nostalgia of Elangam temple in its current form will linger on in the minds of many of the old members of the family and local populace, till time takes its toll on them too.

Below are a few photographs of Elangam Temple captured on 25/12/2008, an aid memoir.

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 Here are some scenes from the Devaprasnam conducted on Thursday the 25th of December 2008

 

The Elangam Temple

 

Elangam building

Some members worshiping the Elangam Devi. Poothara is vaguely seen at the South West corner

Elangam building, side view

Elangam front door (eastern side)

Yakshi at Elangam, a closer view

The temple well

Elangam

Elangam, another view

Elangam

Me, in front of the Elangam

Some members immersed in discussion before the Devaprasnam

A member in front of the Notice board of the Elangam

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for details

 

Devaprasnam

25th December 2008

 
   

Kalam with 12 places

Notice board informing of Devaprasnam

Ready

Astrologer Sri Nambiar, in action

Astrologer Sri Nambiar

Astrologer Sri Nambiar and some residents

Some members of the Parambuvilakam family, and the members of families living nearby, immersed in Devaprasnam

 

Astrologer Sri Nambiar, in action

Some members of the Parambuvilakam family, and the members of families living nearby immersed in the proceedings

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for details

 

The Congregation

 

Some of the family members.

A few of the members around the Elangam

Some of the family members.

In front of Amman at Elangam

Some members

A member

Two members

A member articulating a point

A member

 

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Around the Elangam

 

The road from Thengapattinam to Elangam

Yakshi amman

A vakal, road/rivulet  based on seasons

Around the Elangam

Around the Elangam

Around the Elangam

Elangam

Approach to Elangam

The Elangam

 

Serene surroundings

 

 

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