Tag Archives: Shakti

Gopika practicing Kalaripayattu.

Kalaripayattu: Indian Martial Arts Harnessing Female Power

Shakthi! Power! Feminine Energy!

In today’s world women have broken the frontiers of space, air, and water. There is no mountain that they have not climbed, no desert they have not explored. Women have become world leaders; they hold important political and corporate posts. Take our very own Kamala Harris, a woman of Indian descent from California, who has broken the male legacy in our political system in the United States!

Is this just a modern phenomenon? Or has the world failed to see the power of the woman in legends, history, and mythology the world over? 

Bringing this power to the fore in every woman is Shakthi — a special self-defense program for women that focuses not just on the training of the body, but the mind as well. It helps women find that inherent deep spiritual power that made women like Kaplana Chawla, Kamala Harris, Indira Gandhi, or Mother Teresa had in order make a mark in the world.

Offered by Dr. S Mahesh Gurukkal of the Agasthyam Kalari, Shakthi is a program that is not geographically limited. It is within the reach of every woman who wants to discover her inner strength. Not just for self-defense, but to transcend that inner barrier to rediscover herself. Dr. S Mahesh designed this program to capture the fearless feminine essence of women that has been celebrated in folklore and ancient texts. This half-day workshop with hands-on Kalari-based techniques focuses on the mind as well as the body. Confidence and presence of mind are just as important as the lightning-fast reflexes that the trainees are equipped with. 

There is one such story of Ahalya, a demure 18-year-old, who enrolled in Dr. Mahesh’s class three years ago. It was a balmy summer evening when she first set foot in the Agasthyam Kalari in Thiruvananthapuram. Demure Ahalya stood silently staring at the floor. Her father was talking to Dr. S Mahesh about admitting her along with her two younger brothers to regular Kalaripayattu training. She did not think it was going to work.

Today, Ahalya has transformed into a vivacious, vibrant 21-year-old who is the National Champion in the senior category of Kalaripayattu Chuvadu. She receives a monthly scholarship from the government of India and is treated at par with the national champions in all other sports. The dynamic transformation that Kalaripayattu training has brought about has incited her interest in training those all over the world and of all ages via online classes offered by Agasthyam Kalari.

Coming from a very prestigious and traditional lineage of Kalaripayattu maters, Dr. S Mahesh carries a deep spiritual connection to this ancient martial art created by Sage Agastya. His grandfather Krishnan was an extraordinary exponent of the ‘choondani viral marma vidya’, a technique using yogic powers through pointing a finger at opponents that immobilized them. His father is the legendary Kalari master and Sidha expert Sanal Kumar Gurukkal. 

“Fear and alertness cannot coexist actually,” admits Suchitra, a Kung Fu blackbelt in her student days who has recently taken up Kalaripayattu. “Fear shrinks our sense of space. It leads to freezing when there is an actual danger. Martial arts help the mind become fearless. Kalaripayattu is considered the mother of martial arts. Such training must be included in schooling.”

Suchitra practicing Kalaripayattu.
Suchitra practicing Kalaripayattu.

“Thanks to many popular movies, everyone knows about Unniyarcha, the legendary female warrior of Kerala,” Dr. Mahesh Gurukkal smiles, “But the fact is that boys and girls were trained together in Kalaris centuries ago. The gender gap appeared only after the British crackdown on Kalaris and the subsequent revival in the 20th century. But we are quickly gaining lost ground. It is important not just from a physical preparedness point of view, Kalaripayattu transforms the mind to deal effectively and calmly with today’s working woman’s professional stress and work-family imbalance.”

Other than Shakthi, Agasthyam Kalari offers Nalludal, a unique Kalari-based health and fitness program for all age groups; Prana – a breathing-based energizing and rejuvenating program; Akam – Agasthyam kriya for awakening the mind; and Nithyam – a daily program based on authentic Kalaripayattu techniques. 

Sreedevi Pillai had worked in the IT industry around the world for over two decades before taking a break. “Though I had continued by Bharatanatyam training, I wasn’t sure I could start Kalaripayattu training in my 40s,” she says. “So I was surprised at the meticulously individual attention with which the Aashans (trainers) eased us into the different steps and routines in the Nalludal program. Kalari has helped me with my dance as well.”

Sreedevi as part of the Nalludal program.
Sreedevi as part of the Nalludal program.

The online classes are conducted in small batches so that individual attention is not compromised. There are participants from all over the world. The rising popularity of Kalaripayattu, along with the opportunity to start at any age, has led to the opening of Agasthyam offline city centers in different locations.

A lasting testimony to the power of the Shakthi program is Ahalya. In the Kalaripayattu performances that Agasthyam Kalari regularly gives at different venues, Ahalya fearlessly confronts three male opponents armed with swords with her bare hands. Though the action is choreographed, the danger is every bit real. As she brings down the opponents one by one into a pile and takes the victor stance in the end, there is a glimpse of a great future of fearless women being born in Kalaris across the world.

Shakthi! Onward! 

Dr. Arun Surendran is the Director of Agasthyam International Kalari. He holds a Ph.D. in Aerospace Engineering from the Texas A&M University and is the Principal of Trinity College of Engineering Trivandrum. He is also the founder of Adcy.io Cybersecurity Solutions. He was awarded the prestigious Eppright Outstanding International Student Award, the highest honor given by the Texas A&M University to any international student.


Prakriti and Shakti: The Nature of Feminine Divinity in Hinduism

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

With over one billion followers worldwide, Hinduism, also known as the Sanatan Dharma, is the third-largest faith tradition globally. It is also the oldest tradition with an unbroken and recorded history of over 5,000 years. Hinduism is also the only significant faith tradition that recognizes and then manifests through various rituals and worship, the divine form of feminine. In Hindu cosmology, both feminine and masculine forms are accorded equal status. 

Womanhood is generally associated with the notions of fertility, benevolence, and bestower in most indigenous traditions. As symbolic of life and fecundity, motherhood is viewed and celebrated, both conceptually at an abstract level and manifest, in fertility rites throughout the indigenous ‘pagan’ cultures. Hinduism being one of them, is not different in this aspect. 

In the Hindu tradition, the notion of Divine is a complex interplay between purusha — the Self, the Spirit — and prakriti — Nature, the undifferentiated matter of the Universe. In addition, shakti (power) is recognized as the energizing principle of the Universe. It is feminine, and it represents both creation and divinity. It embodies the primordial Energy of the Universe – the ādi shakti.

In the Hindu scheme of things, the notion of purusha and prakriti represents the opposite creative tension that renders them inseparable. They end up being the mirror image of each other. On the other hand, brahmana is the ultimate Consciousness that transcends all qualities, categories, and limitations. 

Mata (mother) Sita, one of the main characters of the epic Ramayana by Valmiki, embodies prakriti. According to Lavanya Vemsani, a professor of Indian History and Religion at Shawnee State University, the symbolism of nature prakariti in Sita’s life events is “unmistakable.”  The spontaneous nature of Sita, Vemsani writes, “can be understood as the natural expression of prakriti (nature), symbolized by forest and female spontaneity in classical Indian literature, especially the Ramayana.” 

According to the legend, Sita was born out of the earth, not from a womb (ayonija). She is described as the daughter of bhūmi (the earth). In the Ramayana, when Raja Janak, Sita’s father, plowed his fields, she sprang up from behind the plow. This, according to Vemsani, “brings to mind the spontaneous sprouting of plant life from the earth in its most natural form, as in the wild… [and thus] the birth of Sita indicates… her closeness to the spontaneous life and her affinity to nature (prakriti).” 

Sita spent 14 years of her life in a forest as vanavāsa (forest exile). During this period, several events such as Sita being dragged off by Viradha, the proposal by Shurapanakha, and the “golden deer” — represent the unfulfilled desires of forest dwellers. Though these desires result in a loss for Sita, it is “in conformity with the nature of the forest where one can desire anything that is likable, spontaneously,” writes Vemsani. 

Sita’s end of life is as natural as her birth as she returns to the earth upon her death. 

On the other hand, shakti is seen as the abstract supreme creative power, the cosmic Mother, out of which all creations come about. It is a universal energy force. While the ultimate reality in the universe is considered and conceived as a powerful, creative, active, and transcendental female, it manifests itself in various forms: mother goddess, warrior goddess, etc. As Uma or Parvati, she is the gentle caring consort of Shiva. As Durga, she rides a tiger which represents the ego and arrogance that must be tamed. In shakti form, the feminine divinity is seen as the fierce savior and protector of the cosmos when in danger. 

Durga (Image from VedicFeed)
Durga (Image from VedicFeed)

Hindu epics are full of Devi (goddesses) stories of the protectors of the righteous and the destroyer of enemies. Kaikeyi and Satyabhama accompanied their husbands to the battlefield. Chandragupta Maurya (century 3rd BCE), the founder of one of the largest empires of the Indian subcontinent, had his bodyguard corps comprised exclusively of women. 

The underlying duality of the Hindu feminine divinity allows us to understand the role of women in Hindu society. This role is conceptualized through shastras (treatises), puranas (legends and lore), and itihasa (record of important events). Through examples of behavior, these texts establish explicit role models. However, a general rule of thumb in interpreting Hindu texts is to avoid exclusive reliance on foreign translations and academic works as they are often fraught with inaccuracies.  

Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.


Shiva Shakti – May the Force Be With You!

Mythology stems from the societal characteristics, the shared aspirations, the folklores, of a time lost in antiquity.

While the stories are from an era long gone, the emotions, the fears, the desires, remain the same;

who is an ideal man, who is the epitome of womanhood, what does the society demand?

The wheels turn, and along with them, the sagas take on new shades, exotic hues!

Each story, a real-life scenario, with its heroes and it’s demons;

each character, the face of a vice or the embodiment of a virtue!

How then, can the myth of Shiva & Shakti be different?

The story of a virtuous god, with the power to destroy, and his divine muse;

of masculinity and the contrasting femininity;

of strength and softness;

of steadfastness and pliability;

of ruthless fervour and empathetic care;

a myth of a fusion, an amalgamation of what when seen as separate, is incomplete, but together, makes a whole!

There are hordes that go searching, on pilgrimages, on quests, wondering whether this whole, this completeness, this divinity, eludes.

The journey seems long, sometimes futile, yet the hungry mind doesn’t give up.

There would be ways to appease the gods, ways to find them and ways to hold on to them…

Where can I find Shiva?

What form has Shakti adorned?

A short pause, to catch a breath, or maybe to reevaluate, change the strategy, try a new mantra…

a new dilemma- to give up or to go just a bit further, agitated and tired.

When all seems pointless, somewhere, deep from within, an arrow breaks through, a bolt of lightning, bursting from the core…

both reside within, in the depths of each and every soul, one can’t exist without the other.

Where once they were seen as two separates, coming together to complete each other, now they are seen as two sides of the same coin, yin and yang, not shackled by the stereotypes. Not humanised to appease the masses. Now, a personification of human traits…

masculinity and femininity;

strength and softness;

steadfastness and pliability;

ruthless fervour and empathetic care;

pragmatism and romanticism!

They dance their dance, deep within each;

There is a Shiva in me!

And Shakti too!

I am complete!

Artika Arora Bakshi is the author of two well-acclaimed children’s books, My Little Sikh Handbook, My Little Sikh Handbook 2: Ardas. She co-manages the thegoodbookcorner.com, and runs an online book club with a membership base of over 600 members. Artika’s articles and reviews have featured in the Daily Mirror, Daily News and The Ceylon Chronicle among others. She is currently working on her third children’s book in the My Little Sikh Handbook series and a second anthology of stories for adults.