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Varma kalai

Varma kalai (Tamil: வர்மக்கலை varmakkalai, Malayalam: വർമക്കല varmakkala, Sinhala: මරු කලා maru kala, Telugu: మర్మయుద్దకళ marma vidya kala, Sanskrit: मर्म विद्य marma vidya) is a Tamil word meaning is "art of vital points". It is a unique Martial Art of Tamil Nadu. Components of Varma Kalai are used in traditional massage, medicine, and martial arts[1] in which the body's pressure points (varma or marma) are manipulated to heal or cause harm. The healing application called Varma Vaidhiya is used to treat patients suffering from paralysis, nervous disorder, spondylitis and other conditions. Its combat application is known as varma adi , meaning "pressure point striking". Usually taught as an advanced aspect of unarmed Tamil fighting systems, like Kuttu Varisai, Adi Murai, Silambam, Malyutham and Kusthi[2] strikes are targeted at the nerves, veins, tendons, organs and bone joints.[3]

One of the stages of training in southern kalari is marma (pressure points).[4]

Kalaripayattu is not Varma Kalai, but, Southern Kalari teaches Tamil Varma Sastra in detail, though Varma Kalai in itself is a separate Martial Art.

Varma Kalai is not dependent on Kalaripayattu, the Martial Art of Kerala, nor is it dependent on Adi Murai, the Lethal martial art of Tamil Nadu for its survival; though Kalaripayattu and Adi Murai make use of Varmam. Varmam is just the knowledge of the locations of the 108 Varma points in the body. Varma Kalai is a martial art in itself.

Medical treatment in Varma Kalai and southern style Kalari is identified with siddha,[5] the traditional Dravidian system of medicine distinct from north Indian ayurveda. The Siddha medical system, otherwise known as siddha vaidyam, is also attributed to Agastya.

Folklore traces Varma Kalai to the god Shiva who is said to have taught it to his son Murugan. While disguised as an old man, Murugan passed the knowledge of varmam to the sage Agastya[6] who then recorded it and disseminated the skill among his students.

We get a detailed description from Siddha medicine where it is called Varmam which are 108 in number. Marma or Varmam are the vital points in the human body which may be a joining place of two bones or two muscles or a muscle with a bone or a passage of arteries/veins/nerves. The particular points can act as trigger points and applying pressure to these points in a particular way is used to cure many diseases.


Varma Kalai is a Martial Art as well as a Healing Art that was developed by the 18 Great Siddhars of Tamil Nadu. Varma Kalai originated in present day Tamil Nadu. Varma Kalai is not Kalaripayattu. Varma Kalai and Kalaripayattu are two different martial arts. The demonstration of this art was shown in the film Indian by Kamal Hassan. Kamal Hassan learnt this art under Grand Master Rajendran from Madurai, who is the Chief Asan of Manja Varma Kalai. In Southern India and Sri Lanka, the number of Varma points are 108, which is based on the Science of Siddha. Their number on each part of the body is as follows.

Vital Points Part of Human body
25 From head to neck
45 From neck to navel
9 From navel to arm
14 Arms
15 Legs

Siddha medicine explains the varmam as:

Vital Points Functions
64 Vadha Varmam
24 Pitha Varmam
6 Kaba Varmam
6 Ul Varmam
8 Thattu Varmam

Varma Kalai as the mother of all martial arts

Varma Kalai is the martial art that Bodhidharma learnt and took to China, from where also it spread to Japan and other countries

Varma Kalai as a self – martial art

Varma Kalai as a martial art is not totally dependent on Adi Murai, though Adi Murai is the Lethal and brutal aspect of Varma Kalai. Varma Kalai as a martial art is also independent of Adi Murai, as shown by the variations below. The different types of Varmam (1008, out of which only 108 are taught nowadays) in the human body. As per the Siddha System of medical arts and martial arts, there are 15 different types of Varmas used to Heal and also to kill a person. They are :

  • Thodu Varmam (96 Varma Points)
  • Padu Varmam (12 Varma Points)
  • Thattu Varmam (Varmas known only to Aasaans or Periyaasaans)
  • Thuppu Varmam
  • Nakku Varmam
  • Parechal Varmam
  • Koochal Varmam
  • Sumbana Varmam
  • Sunonitha Varmam
  • Sukkila Varmam
  • Oodhu Varmam
  • Sundu Varmam
  • Thadavu Varmam (Mainly for Therapeutic use)
  • Nokku Varmam and Meitheenda Kalai (Advanced Nokku Varmam)

Out of which only Thodu Varmam and Padu Varmam alone are taught nowadays, for both, martial as well as healing purposes in order to preserve this dying art. For those who take up master’s training, training is given in Thattu Varmam, Thadavu Varmam, Nokku Varmam and Meitheenda Kalai additionally.

Only the Thodu Varmam, Padu Varmam, Thattu Varmam and Thadavu Varmam aspects of Varma Kalai are given training along with Kuthu Varisai in Tamil Nadu and Thekkan Kalari in Kerala. Otherwise, the study of Varma Kalai as a martial art includes all the 15 above mentioned Varmams, which is, even today not taught to any outsiders, but only to blood relations within the family of Nadar community people. It is predominantly practiced in Tirunelveli, Madurai and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu.

Varma Narambadi Murai

Varma Narambadi Murai is the science of dealing with the different nerves of the human body. This is another aspect of Varma Kalai which deals with studying the nervous system in the human body, for both martial art purposes and also healing purposes. Using this technique, one can strike at the correct nerve point in order to heal or kill a person. It will maim, paralyze, disable, kill and can also bring an affected person to his / her right consciousness again

Varma Elumbadi Murai or Elumbu Ilakkiyam

There is another aspect called Elumbu Murivu, meaning the science of dealing with bones and joints of the human body. Nowadays, Elumbu Murivu techniques are used only for treatment and healing purposes like healing fractures. The original martial art aspect is not taught nowadays. Only a very few traditional families who have got the original palm – leaf manuscripts know about the martial art aspects dealing with bones and joints of the human body. This is a dangerous one. Using this technique, you can strike at a correct bone centre and break the bones of a person. If you are well versed with this art, you can even dislocate the bone joints from its original discs.

Due to the vulnerability and brutality of this art, it was not taught to outsiders, or anyone who wishes to learn these arts. But, in order to preserve it, it is still being taught only to blood relations, and only a part of this art is being taught to outsiders.

Classifications of Varma Kalai

All schools of Varma Kalai are basically divided into 3 different parts. They are:

Contribution to Adi Murai aspect was given by three Siddhars namely,

While contribution to Vaasi Yoga and Varma Vaithiyam has been given by all 18 Siddhars

Schools of Varma Kalai

Varma Kalai in general is attributed to 3 Siddhars, namely,

Out of which only the Agasthiyar is more commonly practiced in Tamil Nadu and outside Tamil Nadu in neighboring states like Kerala and Karnataka==Agasthiyar Varma Kalai==With a focus on pressure point manipulation and incorporation of Animal Styles into it The Agastyar way is the most widespread and commonly taught Version of Varmakalai/ Adi Murai in India. It is also the only style practiced outside its place of origin, Tamil Nadu and had spread to neighboring states of Kerala and Karnataka. This style is practiced By the Ezhavas and Nairs of Southern Kerala and Nadars of Tamil Nadu. Variations of Agasthiyar’s Adi Murai are brought under one roof and taught as Thekkan Kalari in Kerala

Bogar Varma Kalai

The Bogar School of Varma Kalai is considered as the most scientific and most versatile version of Varma Kalai. In the Adi Murai component of Bogar Varma Kalai, equal importance is given to Strikes, Blocks and Grappling. Everything is broken up into Numbers and Variations. There is also a very pronounced Yoga component involved. Bogar Murai gives the practitioner a solid base which he can work with and expand into a style that suits him/her and encourages the practitioner to Improvise and Modify techniques as they see fit. Bogar Varma Kalai is practiced by the Nadars of Central and Southern Tamil Nadu

Ramadevar Varma Kalai

The Ramadevar school of Varma Kalai is the only style of Varma Kalai, that has not come out of the dark, into the light so far. The palm – leaf manuscripts and their contents are jealously guarded and not a single Palm – Leaf Manuscript has been published yet. The palm – leaf manuscripts of Ramadevar Varma Kalai are also preserved by the Nadars of Tamil Nadu

Traditional Offshots of Varma Kalai

  • JAI Varma Kalai - Agathiyar murai tamil varmam ( Thalamai Aasan . thiru Dragon T Jayraj)
  • Manja Varma Kalai – Agasthiyar Murai (Asan. Rajendran)
  • Ramadevar Varma Kalai
  • Master Zacria Varma Kalai (France)

Hybrid / Specialized Styles of Varma Kalai

  • Mudhalvan Adi Murai – Master. Ajit Sigamani
  • Combat Varma Kalai – Dr. Yuree, UK.

Mix ups and mess ups between Adi Murai and Kalaripayattu

As per the facts that declare the origin of these two arts, we see how Adi Murai and Kalaripayattu are two different Martial Arts.

Varma Kalai / Adi Murai Kalaripayattu
Martial Art component of Varma Kalai, dating back to at least 2nd Century AD Battlefield Exercises practiced around 13th Century AD
Practical martial art, short, straight and powerful lines of attack with a solid stance Extremely low deep stances and high leaping attacks
Not overtly graceful, but highly effective Graceful and aesthetically pleasing with a lot of circular movements
Practice has a very pronounced sparring component Practice is limited to heavily choreographed sequences till years into training
Places more emphasis on unarmed combat. Weapons come in after one has mastered the unarmed aspect Teaches Unarmed combat only after one has mastered armed combat
Originated in Tamil Nadu and is still widely practiced there Originated in today’s Kerala, and is still widely practiced there
Practiced in the open, at different locations, and terrain to mimic multiple combat scenarios Practiced in a roofed Kalari, which has an alter and fixed dimensions
Is combined with Varma Elakkyu and Vaasi yoga to complete Varma Kalai, which has its base in the science of Siddha Medical System Kalaripayattu, which has a healing bent to it is based on the Science of Ayurveda Medical System
Adi Murai and Varma Kalai masters are called Asans Kalaripayattu masters are called Gurukkals
Asans teach their students combat techniques, and quickly the students then develop their own individual styles of executing these techniques and perfect them according to their own strengths and weaknesses Students have to follow the exact syllabus, sequences and techniques step by step and without variation for years until they are told they are masters themselves. Only then can they develop their own style
Does not have elaborate rituals Heavily ritualistic
Science of combat Battlefield art
Today, with many Variations of Agastyar’s Adi Murai, Kuravanji style Silambam and locks, hold and throws borrowed from Malyutham all these unique and different arts are brought under one roof and named as as Thekkan / Southern Kalari and are taught in Kerala and in southern parts of Tamil Nadu; Though Agasthya Murai, Bogar Murai and Ramadevar Murai are also practiced separately as Adi Murai in Tamil Nadu Today, Kalaripayattu with many Yogic exercises and Vaastu Sathra, this art has been classified as Vadakkan / Northern Kalari. With many masters who combine both Northern and Southern Style, it resembles quite much like Thekkan Kalari itself.

Myths of origin

Varma Kalai and Kalaripayattu have two different myths about their origins. Varma Kalai is said to have been practice by Shiva himself, while Kalaripayattu is said to have been originated from Parashurama, who is the sixth Avatar of Vishnu.

Varma Kalai

The founder of Varma Kalai is said to be Shiva. It is said that Shiva taught this Art to his wife Parvathy, who later taught it to her son Murugan and Murugan taught it to Agasthya who taught it to the 17 other Siddhar. Among these 17 other Siddhars, Siddhar Bogar and Siddhar Ramadevar later developed their own styles of Varma Kalai, with Agasthya Murai as the base. These three schools of Varma Kalai are distinct one from another, though Agasthya Murai is the base for them. After teaching them to the 17 Siddhars, Agasthya taught it to his family members, the Shanars, today known as Nadars and wrote them in palm – leaf manuscripts and gave it to them, that they should not expose this art to anyone else, but this should be maintained and practiced only by his family members and among their blood relations alone. References to the practice of Varma Kalai are given in Tamil Literatures that date back to the 2nd Century AD. So, it has been safely concluded, that Varma Kalai / Adi Murai is older than 2nd Century AD.


The founder of Kalaripayattu is said to be Parashurama. It is said that when the west coast of the then Tamilaggam, today’s Kerala sunk in the depths of the Arabian Sea, Parashurama, put his axe into the water, and waited until his axe receded up to the land level and restored Kerala, and taught the Kshatriya Brahmins, The Nairs Kalaripayattu in order to protect Kerala. Parashurama is the sixth avatar of Vishnu. Parashurama, the founder of Kalaripayattu, was the 6th reincarnation of Vishnu, is the belief of Kalaripayattu practitioners; Kalaripayattu is derived from Dhanur Vedic texts. Dhanur Veda, which is the youngest of all Vedas, became a part of Atharva Veda and was accepted as a Veda only between the 10th Century AD and 12th Century AD. This is the reason why Phillip B. Zarilli has safely concluded saying, Kalaripayattu is no older than the 13th Century AD.

To be a Varma Kalai Grand Master

These are the minimal subjects that a person needs to master in order to get the Title Varma Aasaan

  • Knowledge of [[Vaasi Yoga]]
  • Silambam, Kuttu Varisai and Adi Murai
  • Varma Vaithiyam
  • Siddha Medicine
  • Knowledge of Herbs
  • Knowledge of Chanting Mantras
  • Knowledge of Astrology
  • Knowledge of Anga Sasthra
  • Knowledge of Boomi Sasthra
  • Knowledge of Vaastu Sasthra (study of building architecture, similar to Chinese Feng Shui)
  • Knowledge of Tantric practices
  • Knowledge of Horai
  • Knowledge of Nimitha Sasthra
  • Knowledge of Thoni Sasthra
  • Knowledge of Dharga Sasthra
  • Knowledge of Kama Sasthra (sexuality)
  • Knwoledge of Navaratna (precious stones)
  • Knowledge of Saranool (breathing)
  • Knowledge of Soola Nilai
  • Psychology

This is the reason it takes a minimum of 12 years for a person to Master this art.

See also


  1. ^ "Tamilnadu - Varma Kalai". 26 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Stevens, B; From Lee to Li, HarperCollins 2009 ISBN 9780007347414
  3. ^ Master Murugan, Chillayah (20 October 2012). "Silambam and Varma Kalai Art". Silambam. Retrieved 31 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Luijendijk, D.H. (2005). Kalarippayat: India's Ancient Martial Art. Paladin Press. ISBN 1-58160-480-7. 
  5. ^ Zarrilli 1992
  6. ^ Luijendijk, D.H. (2005) Kalarippayat: India's Ancient Martial Art, Paladin Press