Varma Kalai

Varmam: The Self-defense and Healing System

The 3000 years old, ‘Kalaripayattu’ which is the traditional martial art form of Kerala, often said to be the mother of all martial arts is possibly the world’s oldest martial art. This sport involves the techniques from the traditional healing system of Varmam, which is connected with various disciplines such as siddha medicine, yoga, therapeutic massage, astrology, psychology, sociology and also martial arts.

Health Amruth Article Varmam Healing Page 1
Health Amruth Article Varmam Healing

When we take a look at the traditional games in South Indian culture, especially in Tamil Nadu and Kerala, we will notice that knowingly or unknowingly, Varmam is a part and parcel of most of their traditional sports such as Silambam, wrestling, games that involve hitting (Adimuraigal), locking (Pidimuraigal), freezing the opponent, games that use weapons for attacking such as sword fight, etc. One can notice a definite difference between the way the game is played by a Varmam expert and a normal layman. The extra caution taken by the expert is very obvious to the domain experts in that he will be avoiding the vital Varmam points, and the layman may at times hurt the opponent at the wrong place and cause a harm that may expose itself either immediately or after a very long period of time.

One such sport which is also a martial that involves Varmam is Kalaripayattu.  Kalari means “training ground” and payattu means “fight”. Kalam in Tamil indicates a dry or barren land that cannot be used for cultivation, and such land was utilized for the training and practice of this art which was employed in wars and also used for self-defense.

Division in broader aspect based on the zones where it is played:

  • Vadakkan Kalari: Type of Kalari practiced in Northern parts of Kerala
  • Thekkan Kalari: Type of Kalari practiced in South Kerala and parts of Tamil Nadu

Based on the size of the field where it is practiced

  • Perunkalari: Kalari practiced in a 60 x 36 feet wide area
  • Siru Kalari: Practiced in a small platform or area of 25 x 16 feet wide
  • Nilakkalari: Practiced in a vacant place.
  • Kuzhi Kalari: The practice area is dug into a hole and then the art is practiced within that area.


Practices and Procedures of Kalari

  • Prologue
  • 12 stages of Physical training
  • Weapon training with 14 types of weapons
  • Formations and Postures of 8 types each
  • 64 types of Locking methods
  • 16 types of strong / stiff holding methods as per the Dhanurveda
  • Stages of training: There are various training levels and the people are trained on various types of fields such as river beds, sea beds, sticky clay fields, smoky areas, different types of land such as level lands and the ones with ups and downs, forests, mountains, and in mild to extremely harsh climatic conditions with full stomach and in starving situations.
  • Methods of jumps and laying down the opponent
  • Methodologies of hitting with Varmam and man-handling techniques
  • Techniques to strengthen the body and mind and oil massage benefits
    • Used to prepare the body to tolerate or to bear the changes in environment mentioned in the stages of training.
    • Preparing the mind to concentrate on self and the opponent
    • Procedures

Prepare the body

The Guru himself will apply oil on the disciple (Shishya) from head to foot using his own hands and foot so as to identify his health condition and issues if any, and blockages and accordingly relieve him from any ailments as the base for preparing his student.


A few of the oils used for preparing the body are:

For Varmam related problems, Mukkoottu Thailam (three oils mixed in various proportions)

For Vata related disorders or imbalance, Narayana Thailam

Kaya Thirumeni for flexibility of the body



In case of injury or hurt due to negligence or ignorance and in case of nerve damage the following are used:

Murivu Koottu Thailam used for bone and nerve related issues, and

Ama vada Thailam, etc

Weapons Used

Spear, Sword, Shield, Bow and arrow, Kattari

Varmam Therapy

Understanding of Varmam Therapy system and its medicines are more important for treating wounds because of cuts, inflammation and fracture and other sport related injuries. It includes various treatments such as:

Uzhichal Murai: This is a method of relaxing the muscles by way of twisting parts of the body by applying medicated oils in various combinations with mild pressure.

Pizhichal Murai: This method involves pouring moderately heated oil in a smooth flow on the whole body, followed by a gentle massage.

Pothichal Muai: After applying medicated oil on the head, paste of medicinal herbs is applied for a specific period before washing.

Kizhi: This is applying oil using the heated pocket (cloth bundle) made out of medicinal herbs or other combinations or individual component like leaves, churanas, meat and others.

Dhara: A continuous flow of medicated fluids is made to flow at a decent constant pace across the body or on the head. These fluids may consists of oils (Thaila Dhara), butter milk (Thakra Dhara), milk mixed with Cuban jute or jelly leaf known as Kurundotti (Ksheera Dhara), oils mixed with cows ghee (Dhugdha Dhara), Kaadi or concoction of herbs( Kaadi Dhara)


Silambam is a sport and martial art popular in South Kerala which has Varmam induced in it. Silambam is derived from the Tamil word silam meaning “hill” and the word bambu from which the English “bamboo” originates. Practice of Silambam involves physical exercises, trace modes, step patterns, stick usage patterns, weapons usage, boxing modes, wrestling modes, exercising mode, lock and unlock mode and Varmam techniques and healing.

Physical Exercises

Land based exercises to strengthen and prepare the body for the sport includes: weightless exercises such as pushups, hip twisting, trunk rotation, trunk bending, leg stretching and jumping.

Training with weights includes squats with weights, club rotations, stone lifting and lifting stone with a hole.

Yoga practice includes Kriya yoga, Yogam, breathing and meditation.

Steps and Leg Movement

This involves the movement of legs to form different postures at different angles, with and without sticks or other weapons. There are different types of leg movement, and all connected to Varmam. They are:

Single step, Dual steps, Branched steps, Paired steps, Combined steps, Chinese step Northi Kalari step, South Kalari step, Vali (King), Beeman (King Bheema) steps, Mallan (King Mallan) steps, Straight steps, Straight bent steps, Circular steps, Square steps, Triangular steps, Coconut steps and many more

Types of Locks

Wrist Belt, Hand Lock, wrist Twist, Hare Lock, Elbow Ring, Eagle Lock, Leg Scissor, Hair Strangle, Ankle Break, Elbow Twin, Rear Wrist, Strangle Close, Body Lock, Helpless, Elbow Break



Palm Heal, Neck chop, proper nose, knuckle chin, side heal, hammer blow, light finger, middle jab, strangle chop, different kicks and Helmet Blow


Applied system of Varmam and its Treatment

According to Varmam, there are 108 vital points in the body that control the flow of life force in the human body. These points in the body can be hit to disable the opponent and also to cure certain induced injury. By this way, bone cracks, dislocation, fractures or crushed bones are treated in this system by using medicines (internal and external) and also techniques of resetting the human system.

Some Mantras chanted while playing the sport:

  • Sivakkaruttu mantram – when encounter is mild
  • Bhadarkalimula mantram – when the encounter is angry or heated
  • Hanumanmula mantram – jumping to attack or to defend
  • Virabhadramula mantram – Only when necessary to vanquish or kill the opponent
  • Pasupadam Mantram –  to charm a weapon


Silambam is more dominated with Varmam and represent a sport of valour and also used in war field, which is played with or without weapons and the predominance of Varmam can be seen either directly or indirectly.

Needless to say, almost all the martial arts and healing arts are derived from Varmam only and it can be considered as a gift to human kind!