74 year old Meenakshi Gurukkal is defying age with a sword – India’s oldest woman proponent of Kalaripayattu
Whenever we talk about a 74 year old lady, the image that immediately flown into our mind is of an old lady. Your perception will definitely change after seeing 74 year old Meenakshi Gurukkal, twirling her sword, wearing a saree. 74 years old Meenakshi Gurukkal is possibly the oldest woman proponent of Kalaripayattu, an ancient martial art of Kerala. She has been practicing Kalaripayattu for more than sixty eight long years.
I was first taken to Kalari (meaning ‘arena’) by my father, Mr Damu, at the age of six. I used to practice dance in those days and that was one of the reasons for me joining the Kalari as it increases flexibility in the movements. Later on, my guru, Mr V P Raghavan Gurukkal started training me in Kalari.
Meenakshi started learning Kalaripayattu at the age of six, when her father had taken her and her sister to a local kalari. It was then that she met and married Raghavan Master, a school teacher with a passion for Kalaripayattu. Raghavan Master built his own Kalaripayattu training school when he could not join a local kalari, since he was from the backward community. Set up in 1949, Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam is a place where anyone and everyone who had a passion for the martial art can join.
Around 150 students learn Kalaripayattu in her school Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam, in Vadakara, near Calicut, Kerala. Classes are held from June to September every year. The school teaches the Northern style of Kalaripayattu, including ‘uzhichil’ or massages for aches and pains. Techniques have been passed down through generations, written in a palm ‘booklet’. When school term is over, Meenakshi takes part in performances. The school runs on a ‘no fees’ principle. Interestingly, more than a third of the students are girls, aged between six and twenty six.
Fist daggers, shields, spears, thick wooden rods, tusk-shaped ‘ottas’ and ‘urumis’ – long flexible blades used in combat are displayed in the kalari walls. Among them is a shield, one that Meenakshi herself had trained with as a young girl.