Saturday, February 4, 2017
Inspiration-Six decades on, 74-year-old Padma Shri awardee Gurukkal still swirling the sword.
From a diffident crouching position in a corner she moved ahead in a flash, swirling her sword and leaving sparks as steel scrapped concrete.The74-year-old Meenakshi Gurukkal, often called Unniarcha or a legendary warrior of Kerala’s north Malabar ballads, performs a feat that any prizefighter half her age would gives his arms to achieve.The ancient martial art form of Kerala, Kalaripayattu, is not a forte of women. But wedded to her art, the oldest woman exponent of the martial art has been imparting kalari lessons for more than six decades.
Whether it is a spear, sword, wood rod or a long steel whip called ‘urumi’, the sari-clad wisp of a woman handles all with the dexterity of a 16-year-old.She started learning kalari at a young age of six. “My father was a martial art exponent and he gave me the first lessons. I was practising classical dance and kalari simultaneously. Many asked me to give up kalari and concentrate more on dance, but my passion remained with the former,” she said.The real break came when, at the age of 18, she married Raghavan Master, her father’s favourite student.Her dedication and skills fetched her a Padma Shri, the country’s fourth highest civilian award, this year.She called the award a tribute to the ancient martial art form believed to be the predecessor of karate and kung fu.
“I dedicate this to my late husband Raghavan Master who took me to the world of kalari, considered a male bastion then,” Gurukkal said.At present, more than one-third of her students are girls aged between six and 14. Classes are free and her only income is ‘guru dakshina’.“Kalari is a medicine. Besides giving fitness, it boosts confidence. In the backdrop of atrocities against girls, it will be good they are taught some good self-defence techniques,” she said.