Mamankam and Changampally Kalari: Ancient Practices of Healthcare and Martial Arts in Kerala

// February 20th, 2012 // Cultural Politics

Mamankam memorial: Changampally Kalari near Thirunavaya

The healthcare and self defense practices  of Ayurveda and Kalari in Kerala are of Buddhist origin.  They are lasting legacies of Buddhism in Kerala as literacy and the general  intellectual culture. The Avarna communities like Ezhavas constitute the chunk of its practitioners traditionally and even in the present.  Vagbhata and Nagarjuna who developed this indigenous practice of medicine were Buddhist monks who did missionary work in south India.

Pazhuka Mandapam near Navamukunda temple, Thirunavaya on the banks of Nila

Even in 18th century, at the peak of Brahmanical untouchability and exclusion on caste lines, the Dutch appointed an Ezhava medic, Itty Achuthan of Kadakarapally near Cherthala to write the famous Hortus Malabaricus.  Even today one of the ancient Kalaris surviving in Kerala like Cheerapanchira in Alapuzha district, that trained the legendary Ayyappan of Sabarimala, belongs to an Avarna  Ezhava household.

Manikinar: well used to dump the Chaver, Thirunavaya

Changampally Kalari in Thirunavaya in Malapuram district is associated with Mamankam, the martial carnival that settled the succession disputes in ancient Kerala once in every 12 years.  Historians like Velayudhan Panikasery argue that the festival is of Buddhist origin.   Initially it was a great cultural and trade festival of human interaction on the banks of the great Perar or Bharathapuzha just above the ancient port city of Ponnani where trade and passenger ships from across the world anchored in the calm waters of the inland port.

Nilapadu Thara: vantage used by the Konathiries and Zamorins

Anyway the Changampally household was appointed in charge of the Kalari here by the Zamorin of Calicut in the middle ages according to local legends.  The family has converted to Islam in the 18thcentury during the Mysore occupation.  When I visited the Kalari in early February 2012, Mr Jaffar Gurukal who is running an Ayurvedic centre near the ancient Kalari told me that before conversion they were Tulu Brahmans.  This could be an elitist assimilation or fabrication done later under the hegemony of Brahmanical values; as Tulu Brahmans are never identified as traditionally having martial Kalari practice or institutions in Tulunadu or down south. Almost all Kalari households in Tulunadu and Malabar belonged to Sudra and Avarna communities.

Carving in Changampally Kalari

The Changam and Pally words in their house name are marked key words associated with Buddhism.  Changam or Chingam represent Chamana or Amana or Sramana culture as in Chinga Vanam or Changanassery (place names in Kottayam district).  As Sramana culture is inseparable from the month of Chingam and the great secular egalitarian festival of Onam in Kerala, the words Changam/Chingam and Pally/Pilly are also inextricably linked to the Buddhist past of Kerala  that is the foundation of egalitarian culture here, that was erased by Brahmanism after the 8th century.

It is great to see the ancient Kalari shrine and surroundings and the Mamankam sites being preserved by the Government and the people.  An apt museum and interpretation centre that could educate the people on their rich cultural traditions can be an added attraction here.  The road from Thirunavaya to Kuttipuram is also in good condition.  The Nila Park just below the Kuttipuram bridge about which poets like Idassery have written is also luring visitors.  I found a large group of Small Pratincoles on the sandy flats of the river near the park as the sun was setting beyond the river and into the trees.

2 Responses to “Mamankam and Changampally Kalari: Ancient Practices of Healthcare and Martial Arts in Kerala”

  1. sethumadhavan vaniyamparambath says:

    IN MY FAMILY WE ARE MAINTAINING A KALARI AT MUTHUTHALA -PATTAMBI THE BUILDING STRUCTURE IS THE SAME AS CHAGAMPALLY KALARI .we are the first OORALAN OF SREE MAHAGANAPATHI TEMPLE MUTHUTHALA
    .MY GRAND UNCLE SRI GOPLA PANICKER PRACTICED ALL KALARI ACTIVITIES AND MEDICAL TREATMENT

  2. Maira says:

    Hi Jen,Thank you for responding to my cenmomt and interest into Buddhism. I will look into this practice because it seems to inevitably come into my life through the peers I associate with online and in-person who exercise its principles and beliefs as a way to help cope with mental illness and life in general.I read the article you wrote for CureTalk, Schizophrenia As An Excuse for Violence, and I liked your philosophy and the content, message, and educating points. You stated: I believe that the vast majority of people suffering from mental illness never become violent, and that most violent people are not mentally ill. I appreciate your incorporation my blog entry from July 27, 2012 on Overcoming Schizophrenia: How Schizophrenia is Portrayed in Media, which shares my opinion on the way media discusses schizophrenia- a largely misunderstood and misrepresented group of individuals. Thank you- I was unaware that my blog and opinion influenced you and your readers- I appreciate the support!P.S. I look forward to reading your blog more and to hear from you again.

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