The Kalaripayattu Salutation: Movement Makes Meaning



Vanakkam is the ritual salutation performed at different stages during the learning and practice of kalaripayattu, the martial arts system of Kerala. All vanakkams are united by their devotional character despite using expressly martial movements such as kicks and blocks. At the same time, there are differences in style, structure, and the interpretation of symbolism and significance even among Hindu kalaris, with even further greater variation in the vanakkams used in Muslim and Christian kalaris. Moreover, each weapon of the kalaripayattu form has its particular and specific vanakkam. This article uses the conceptual terms in the Natya Shastra, natya dharmi (what is suitable for the stage) and loka dharmi (what is suitable for daily life), introducing a very early binary of categories as separate, not interchangeable, classifications of movement. It looks to Maxine Sheets-Johnstone’s ‘From Movement to Dance’ as she examines ‘how meaning emerges in dance’ to decode the process of representation as it applies to the kalaripayattu vanakkam. It then goes on to analyse vanakkams through their shared choreographic structure in order to show how context affects the way movement vocabularies are read. How does a kick transcend its ordinary signification and take on ritual meaning, and how is this meaning influenced by Islam, Hinduism and Christianity?


KalaripayattuNatya Shastrabharata natyamchoreographymartial artssalutationKundalini
  • Volume: 12
  • Page/Article: 26-32
  • DOI: 10.18573/mas.151
  • Published on 13 Jun 2022