Onathallu, the Martial Art Game of Central Kerala

By Vinod Nambiar on Feb. 7, 2018 in Society, Culture and Peace

Onathallu demonstration © Vinod Nambiar

Onathallu, a martial art form of central Kerala, India, specifically on the banks of the River Nila, started as a form of entertainment for the upper castes, especially the rulers. Also known as kayyamkali, it means a martial exercise using hands. It is performed on festive occasions to show the strength of a group or village. It started as martial exercise for the soldiers who were part of the military troupe of a local landlord or king. In the old days, it was practiced in the courtyards of tharavadu (a big house where the landlords used to live). It then slowly started appearing in local festivals, adapting few steps and methods from the ancient martial art form called Kalari Payattu.

Only few artists are available to take the legacy forward; their attempts to do that bear positive results nonetheless, as young people have been inducted into training sessions. Since it requires mental and physical strength, only trained performers are allowed to participate in the show. It normally takes three to four years to become a good performer, depending on the speed and mental strength of the performer. During the initial years of the performers’ career, their opponents are from the same team or the asan (master) himself. They are allowed to select their opponents if they have enough maturity.

Chayikkaran (referee) controls the entire show. Traditionally, aged and experienced players take the role of the chayikkaran. The chayikkaran should know a few immediate tricks and treatment methods in case of emergencies during the show. Before they start the performance, the masters and chayikkarans bless the performers. These days, onathallu is performed only during the Onam season as a cultural show.

First published by ICH

Story Tags: art, socio-cultural, society, social, traditional, youth, culture


There are no comments yet on this Story.

Add New Comment

Fields marked as * are mandatory.
required (not published)
Explore Stories
marginalised secure livelihoods conservation environmental impact learning womens rights conservation of nature tribal human rights biodiversity energy rural economy governance millets agrobiodiversity sustainable consumerism education environmental issues rural seed diversity activist ecological empowerment Water management sustainability sustainable prosperity biological diversity Nutritional Security technology farmer community-based forest food livelihoods movement organic agriculture organic seeds collectivism adivasi traditional agricultural techniques eco-friendly values peace economic security alternative development farmers Food Sovereignty community supported agriculture organic infrastructure indigenous decentralisation forest wildlife farming practices agricultural biodiversity environmental activism organic farming women empowerment farming social issues urban issues food sustainable ecology commons collective power nature seed savers environment community youth women seed saving movement natural resources nutrition equity localisation Traditional Knowledge Agroecology waste food security solar traditional farms Tribals water security food production gender innovation alternative education well-being water alternative learning agriculture ecology self-sufficiency security health participative alternative designs waste management women peasants forest regeneration culture sustainable eco-tourism ecological sustainability art solar power alternative approach community conservation
Stories by Location
Google Map