Silambam

Silambam

Silambam is a traditional Dravidian martial art based on stick fighting. This style supposedly originates from the Kurinji Hills in present day Kerala, 5,000 years ago, where natives used bamboo staves to defend themselves against wild animals. As per Sangam literature, the Kurinji Hills was one of the five physiographic divisions within Tamilakam, which became known as Keralam after the arrival of Brahmins.

The Narikuravar of the Kurinji Hills used a staff called Chilambamboo as a weapon to defend themselves against wild animals, and also to display their skill during their religious festivals.

The Hindu scholars and yogies who went to the Kurinji mountains to meditate got attracted by the display of this highly skilled spinning Chilambamboo.

Silambam is a traditional stick martial art from South India. South India has a rich culture of many thousands years, at least inheritated since the Dravidian empires. The nowaday Tamil culture and people still have highly valuable gems to share, amongst them is Silambam. Though fighting with sticks is universal, it has reached there a summit in technics intricacy, complexity and efficiency.

Silambam is the name in Tamil for a practice encountered throughout the whole South India. It supposedly comes from Silam or Silambu, meaning hill in Tamil, and Bamboo, a Marhat word. Hence Silambamboo, shortened to Silambam, roughly meaning “Bamboo from the Hills”, as sticks were usually made out of a special kind of filled, yellow bamboo found there. We can point that the style hereby presented originates from the Kurinji Hills, presently in the Kerala state, which also consolidates the reference to hills.

NILAIKALAKKI designates the style presented here. Nilai meaning “posture”, and Kalakki “to disturb/shuffle”, and altogether “disturbing the posture” (of the opponent). This school has a very sophisticated syllabus that needs about seven years to be learned. The salient parts of it are the very well structured techniques, deeply articulated to each others, a lot of footworks, the fluency of play, and some fighting strategies. It can be seen both as a healthy practice, like a Yoga, with beautifully flowing techniques, and as an efficient, combative system.

Silambam is a traditional martial art, given by Masters, or Gurus, to Disciples. Through this lineage is transmitted a lot more than just stick wandering, but qualities like disciplin, presence, knowledge, humility, peace, brotherhood, and even more subtil things.

There are no graduations or exams, the two available states being Student or Master, you simply have to know in which one you stand. When the Master recognizes the Student has mastered the curriculum, only then he gives the red scarf to acknowledge him as a Master. Hence no “black-belt syndroms”!

There is no competition either, the techniques are not learned blunted. It would injure the opponents as the hits would automatically reach their targets. There are sparring practices, however, but done on a progressive manner.

Overview: Silambam is a mainly a form of stick or walking staff fighting. The length of the staff is roughly 1.68 meters (five and a half feet). Size of the staff is related to the height of the silambam player.

It should just touch the forehead about three fingers from the head, although different lengths are used in different situations. The 3 foot stick called “sedikutchi” can be carried covertly.

Separate practice is needed for staves of different lengths. The usual stance includes holding the staff at one end, right hand close to the back, left hand about 40 centimeters (16 inches) away. This position allows a wide array of stick-and-body movements, including complex attacks and blocks. Unarmed silambam utilizes several routines based on the movements of animals, primarily snake and eagle forms.

Beginners: Beginners are taught Footwork patterns and they must master them before learning spinning techniques and patterns, and methods to change the spins without stopping the motion of the stick. Footworks (Kaaladi) are the key aspects of Silambam and kuthu varisai (bare hand version). There are sixteen of them among which four are very important. Gradually, fighters study footwork to move precisely in conjunction with the stick movements. The ultimate goal of the training is to defend against multiple armed opponents.

Its emphasis on the staff distinguishes Silambam from Northern Kalaripayattu considered similar to Southern Kalaripayattu where fighting techniques emphasize empty hands or simple sticks or swords.

Silambam, Kuthu varisa, a bare hand technique literally meaning punching sequence, maduvu (deer horn), surul or churul (long double edged flexible blade), kathi kuthu (knife thrust), Val payattu or val veesu or vaal veechu (sword play), sheela or cheela (two finger defense) are all closely related and can be called as a single group of martial arts.

History: Silambam was patronized by the ancient Chola, Chera and Pandya kings of South India during the Sangam period. It hase been extensively used by Maravar pada of Travancore army.

The references to “Silappadikkaram” in Tamil Sangam literature dating back to the 2nd century refer to the sale of Silamabam staves, swords, pearls and armor to foreign traders. The ancient trading centre at the city of Madurai was renowned globally and said to be thronged by Romans, Greeks and Egyptians among others who had regular sea trade with the ancient Tamil kings. The silambam staff was one of the martial art weapons, which was in great demand with the visitors.

After the art spread to the Malay world, “Silambam” came to refer to the art as well as the weapon. Several Malay martial arts such as Silat also incorporated the silambam. The Maravar pada of Travancore kings used “Silambam” in their warfare against enemies. The soldiers of King Veerapandiya Kattabomman (1760–1799) relied mainly on their prowess in Silambam in their warfare against the British Army.

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