Tuesday, March 25, 2014
Every Kalari has a Puttara (meaning "platform where flowers are kept" in Malayalam). The Puttara is a seven tiered platform placed in the south-west corner and houses the guardian deity of the Kalari. The seven tiers symbolise the seven abilities that each person must possess: Vignesva (strength), Channiga (patience), Vishnu (power to command), Vadugashcha (the posture), Tadaguru (training), Kali (the expression) and Vakasta - purushu (sound). Other deities, most of them incarnations of the Bhagavathi or Shiva, are installed in the corners. Flowers, incense and water are offered to the deity every day. Before starting the day's practice, it is the norm for practitioners to pray to the deity. Not only is the Kalari a temple of learning, but it is also a temple of religious worship with a cult and ritual of its own."
Danny told us to meet at 7am at the front lobby, dressed in India-appropriate attire (no shoulders showing, no shorts), with a little bit of spending money. We piled into the van and then an hour later climbed out into a not-too-special, busy-little-town in southern Kerala. We followed Danny into a random, not-too-special building and into a little room with a broken door. We walked out onto the viewing area where there were a few random plastic chairs scattered about for any audience. And down below was the small "arena" (that's definitely not what it's called, but I kept getting visions of that movie "gladiator" where he's fighting in the colosseum). There were 4 incredibly strong, incredibly sweaty men in the arena...all wielding bamboo sticks and wearing an incredibly small piece of white cloth that was delicately tied into teeny-tiny-tighty-whiteys. The master, a shorter Indian man with thick black hair and who moved like water, was teaching one of the young men when we first arrived. It was like a dance, and I was unable to pull my eyes away, completely entranced by the way these men moved below me. The blows were intense and fast, the sharp CRACK of the bamboo sticks sending a little jolt through my body each time. The handwork along the bamboo stick (though they also use knives, swords and other wooden paraphernalia) was complicated and constant, a wrong move would have resulted in knuckles being smashed into smithereens. It was like sword-fighting- but more primal, and more beautiful. The feet moved with the grace of a trained dancer and the eyes of the opponents never left one another. And this is what is still haunting me. I don't even have to close my eyes to see the intensity and presence of the young man as he was in the ring with his master. When I recall it, a tear rolls down my face. Practice, Patience, Perseverance, PRESENCE. Full-Power. Both their bodies, young and old, moving in-sync...glistening with sweat, which only helped to emphasize each and every muscle throughout their anatomy - all of which were engaged for the task at hand. I was fascinated, and fully inspired. It reminded me to stay dedicated to my practice, and as Patthabi Jois says, "With practice all is coming". In the States you often hear teachers telling you to 'honor your body' by taking child's, having a rest, or moving into an early child's pose. But I challenge this. Before you do this, take a second to ask yourself if you really *need* to, or instead- is it possible to use your breath and continue on with dedication, patience, perseverance and presence. My Ashtanga teacher Rory Trollen would always say "GIVE yourself to your practice", and I kept hearing that in my head as I watched these men. You have rolled out your mat, you have made the time to be there- give yourself to your practice, and I promise you that you'll be greatly rewarded.