Ever heard a woman rebelling, refusing to obey nature, might have! But ever heard of a woman 74 years in age, defying her age? ‘Defying the age’ would not be appropriate to describe her. She’s a lady who will force you to think on your own fitness, agility, determination, swiftness and your thought of gender inequality. Meenakshi Gurukkal, 74 years, martial arts player, martial arts Teacher lives in Vadakara, near Calicut, Kerala. What makes her so special is just not her age, but the ancient martial art she practices at this age.
She’s the oldest woman in India practicing “Kalaripayattu” an ancient martial arts form, from Kerala.
The ancient martial arts techniques of the Sangam period were the precursors of Kalaripayattu. Elements of “Yoga-sutra” of Patanjali & finger movements from “nata” dances were incorporated into the fighting arts. It has developed into its present form during an extended period of wars between the Cheras & Chola dynasty.
A ‘Kalari’ is a school where martial arts are taught. Kalaripayattu includes kicks, strikes, weaponry, grappling & healing methods. The guardian deity usually Kali or Shiva is worshiped before each training session.
The teachers of Kalaripayattu offer massage to the students to improve their muscle strength and treat their injuries. These are known as ‘thirmal’ and ‘katcha thirmal’. This is a demanding exercise and requires a lot of concentration, devotion, dedication & commitment.
Meenakshi Gurukal runs a school named Kadathanan Kalai Sangam with a strength of 150 students, in Vadakara (near Calicut), Kerala. The classes are held thrice a day from June to September each year in Northern Style of Kalaripayattu.
She has been practicing both training & teaching for almost 68 years. The school charges no fees from the students who in turn give a desired amount as Guru Dakshina at the end of the year. More than one-third of her students are females from the age of 6-26. She says that the earlier a person starts practicing, be it a male or a female, the more proficient one becomes.
The Kalari walls display weapons like daggers, shields, spears, wooden rods & long flexible blades “ottas’ and “urunis”. Meenakshi started learning this art at the age of 6 when her father took her along with her sister to a local kalari. She had a natural gift so she was made to continue with her training even after puberty.
Later on she got married to Raghava Master, a school teacher, who also was passionate about Kalaripayattu. He had built his own school named Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam in 1949 as he was not allowed entry into a local Kalari school, being from a backward Thiyya community.
Meenakshi started teaching this art from the age of 17 in this school. She does an average of 60 shows a year & very candidly said, “Nowadays, apart from teaching, I practice only when I have a show”. Her school celebrated 67th anniversary in June this year.
She opines that every individual should learn Kalari regardless of age and gender. Adding to this she said, “It provides both mental stability & physical wellbeing”. She said that she does not follow any strict diet plan and eats everything in moderation. Pepper jaggery milk is included in her daily breakfast but the main ingredient behind her success is that she practices every single day without fail. She trains the evening and night batch students till date.
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