Charlotte Foster


How a great-grandmother is creating a new generation of warrior women

How a great-grandmother is creating a new generation of warrior women

Meenakshi Amma has become a driving force in the world of traditional Indian martial arts, as she has fought to revive the art of Kalarippayattu.

Kalarippayattu, also known as Kalari, is the oldest form of martial arts in India, and Amma has been working to encourage women and girls of all ages to take up the ancient practice. 

“I started Kalari when I was seven. I am still practising, learning and teaching,” said the matriarch of the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham school, founded by her late husband in 1949.

Image credit: Getty Images

“When you open the newspapers, you only see news of violence against women.”

“When women learn this martial art, they feel physically and mentally strong and it makes them confident to work and travel alone.”

Kalari can involve the use of weapons such as staffs, swords and shields, and contains elements of yoga and dance. 

Reputedly 3,000 years old and often mentioned in ancient Hindu scriptures, the art remains infused with religion in the present day.

British colonial rulers in India banned the sacred practice in 1804, but it survived underground before a revival in the early 20th century and after independence in 1947.

Kalari is now recognised as a sport and is practiced by many all over India. 

Image credit: Getty Images

Inside Meenakshi’s Kalari hall, her son Sanjeev Kumar puts barefoot pupils, boys and girls alike, through their paces on the ochre-red earth floor as he takes up his mother’s legacy. 

“It’s a form of poetry,” said civil engineer Alaka S Kumar, 29, daughter of Sanjeev. “I am going to teach Kalari, with my brother. We have to take over. Otherwise, it is gone.”

Image credits: Getty Images

Our Partners