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On Kalaripayattu, Samurai, Origins of tea and Kung-fu……

For a long time, I had heard of rumors that the martial arts of Japan and China have some relation to the Kalaripayattu and the Kalari’s of Malabar. I have been skeptical and when I mentioned this possibility to my sons they sniggered. They have of recent started to equating me with the dad in the ‘My big fat Greek wedding’ who had this tendency of connecting everything’s origin to ancient Greece. But well, it is worth a look anyway and so let’s us take a trip…

Of course we all know for fact that ancient Malabar was home to the Nair’s who were a warrior class. When and where they migrated from to ancient Kerala is subject of much discussion (one of them being of Tamil Pallava extract), but the fact was that their trade was combat, mainly with bows and arrows, swords & daggers and hand to hand. These masters of the trade were initiated into it at an early age and well trained in martial art schools called Kalari’s. Using the elements of nature like soil, flora and fauna was their forte and they could quickly vanish into the dense forests that were all over old Malabar. Stealth was key and honor was paramount in those combats. The major duels were face to face and were the ankhams (more about all that in another post), The Nairs of Malabar maintained their supremacy in matters of war until the advent of the Western armies in the 1500’s, but after they arrived, the modern forms of combat with weapons like muskets, revolvers, poison and cannons took over (honesty in dueling was lost as well). The Nairs retired to other passions like looking after their lands and getting educated in the western fashion. The Kalari’s declined and their death spiral was quick. Today they are mainly objects of tourist study and some lone travelers interested in the origins of martial arts. The Nair’s who once excelled in combat are now content with watching Bruce lee Kung fu and other action movies on the cinema screens of Malabar and of course in conducting vocal calisthenics on all worldly subjects rather than in any matter that involves body exertion of any kind.

But let us now go back to a time when it was not so, when trade was flourishing in Muziris and Quilon. A period actually even before the Nair’s, the 6th century when Pallavas and Chera kings ruled the south of India .A period when Calicut was still to become a free port, to a time well before the Zamorins. It was a time when the Kalingas ports were busy. It was the time when trade was conducted regularly with today’s Malaysia, Thailand & Indonesia. It was also the time when the Buddhists and Jains were well spread over south India, especially todays Kerala regions. It was a time when Budhist teachers also traveling far and wide to spread their beliefs and culture. It was the time when Bodhidharma lived.

Legend portrays him as a south Indian prince who left the household life and, upon attaining enlightenment (bodhi), became the 28th in a series of patriarchs through which the Buddha's original enlightenment experience had been transmitted directly without the mediation of ‘words and scriptures’. Upon bringing Ch'an to China, he became the first Chinese patriarch, and all subsequent Chinese Ch'an and Japanese Zen masters trace their master-disciple lineages back to him. According to the legend, Bodhidharma arrived in Canton via the sea route in 526, and was invited to the court of Emperor Wu, founder of the Liang dynasty in the south. Bodhidharma then left for the north, reportedly crossing the Yangtze River on a reed (boat), and arrived at the Shao-lin Temple. Finding the resident clergy weak and prone to the depredations of local bandits, he taught them exercises and self-defense, from which evolved the famous Shao-lin style of martial arts. He then sequestered himself in a cave for nine years and sat gazing at the wall.{Source: Buddhism Dictionary. A Dictionary of Buddhism, Oxford University Press, 2003, 2004}.

Another source puts it as follows - Bodhidharma, a member of the Indian Kshatriya warrior class and a master of staff fighting, developed a system of 18 dynamic tension exercises. These movements found their way into print in 550 A.D. as the Yi Gin Ching, or Changing Muscle/Tendon Classic. We know this system today as the Lohan (Priest-Scholar) 18 Hand Movements, the basis of Chinese Temple Boxing and the Shaolin Arts. Later, towards the 12th century, Zen Buddhism was adopted by the Samurai of Japan.

There has been much debate on how Kung Fu began at Shaolin, but the some consensus exits that it evolved from a series of exercises that Bodhidharma introduced at Shaolin. That brought me to the crux of the matter- A South Indian prince excelling in martial arts? Now who belonged to the Kshatriya class existing at that time in South India? Were they Nair’s? Were they Chera’s or Pallava’s? But it is still early to conclude so as we have not determined where Bodhidharma lived and if he was indeed from South India.

One clue is that he sailed to China via the Malay Peninsula. This establishes that he went out of a South Indian port, either from the Coromandel Kalinga ports or the trade ports of Malabar. Being destined to China, one must assume that the ship originated in Quilon or Muziris, the two most popular at that time. The other clue is that he was a trainer or one who was trained in the martial arts. Did Kalari’s exist in Malabar at that time? Or did they exist in Kanchipuram or other Pallavan centers? We have heard of some Perumals who embraced Buddhism and Islam in a previous article. It could be so that he was a Pallavan (there is a story that Nairs could have been Pallavans) or a Perumal. One must remember here that in those times, the biggest center for Budhism in South India at that time was at Quilon.

Krishnamurthy’s book states that he was indeed a South Indian royal who was ordained into Mahayanism by Pragnattara a Buddhist teacher. The book ‘Trust in Mind’ provides an interesting insight into the arrival of Bodhidharma to China and the events that transpired. It confirms that he meditated in the temple of Shaolin for 9 years and the evolution of Chan or Zen (Dhyan or Dhyanam).Then appears a reference (The Essentials of Buddhist Philosophy -Junjiro Takakusu Pg 159) that he was from Kanchipuram, and is the third son of the king. He is known as Pu Tai Ta Mo in Chinese or Daruma Daishi in Japanese.

Let us now look at a divergent view from Johnny Raj and a forum discussion on this matter - He is emphatic that the martial arts of Shaolin are more in tune with the Tamil Silambam that predates Kalaripayattu. According to him Kalaripayattu originated in the 13th century. He also believes that what Bodhidharma did was teach breathing & meditating techniques. He then points out that many other Indian visitors traveled the Buddhist routes from Tamil regions to China & other places, much before Bodhidharma.

But the encyclopedia of Thelma lays the argument to rest - According to a later text, the Xu Gao Sen Zhuan (Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks), written in 645 by Dao Xuan, Bodhidharma was born in what is now Kerala in southern India around 440 during the Pallava dynasty's rule. He is said to have been born as a clan prince in the poor hunter class and was well versed in martial arts (a form still surviving as Kalaripayattu).

But well – now we have boiled it all down to Pallava, Brahmin and Kshatriya. The hunter prince aspect took me back to the study of Vavar and Ayyan, and the Ayyan cult which had strong Buddhist traditions. So was he from Pandalam perhaps? How do they all connect? Though Dào Xuān wrote that Bodhidharma was "of South Indian Brahman stock," Broughton notes that Bodhidharma's royal pedigree implies that he was of the Kshatriya warrior caste. Mahajan argued that the Pallava dynasty was Brahmin by origin but Kshatriya by profession, and Zvelebil (1987) proposed that Bodhidharma was born a prince of the Pallava dynasty in their capital of Kanchipuram. Rajiv Srinivasan writing for rediff alludes to the fact that he could have been from Kodungallur.

Finally what has he got to do with tea and Daruma dolls? It seems that he was enraged at his difficulty in keeping awake while silently meditating, and legend has it that he ripped off his eyelids (so that they would not close ever again) and threw them down to the ground, where they sprouted as tea plants (WOW!!). In addition, his legs seemingly withered away because of his constant sitting pose. (This is the stated origin of the Daruma doll, a Japanese egg shaped doll that tilts back upright when knocked over. Its wide-open eyes and lack of legs come from the legends of Bodhidharma). These are all the myths that came into effect later.

It is a fact that all kinds of martial arts existed in South India at that time. It became a developed art of kalaripayattu in the 9th century or so with the advent of Nairs, however it was existent as a method much earlier, dating back to Vedic times (See Wikipedia article)

The Bodhidharma anthology by Broughton starts with the para that he was the 3rd son of a prominent South Indian King from the Western region. With that one could assume that he originated from Kodungallur (Muziris) and probably not Kanchipuram. Could he have been a Perumal who became a Buddhist and went on a pilgrimage? Much of the problem may have been due to Bodhidharma being confused with Boshisena since it appears that Bodhisena was a Brahmin from Kanchipuarm. The confusion over Tamil was due to the Pallava fact and of course the reason for Bodhidharma sailing out of Muziris or Quilon is because Buddhism was widespread in Kerala at that time (except for the Kanchipuram pocket). The final issue is what the monk knew, if it was Vajramushti, Kalaripayattu, Varmakalai or Silambam or indeed if all he did was teach breathing exercises. Let us choose to believe the Chinese if they have attributed Kungfu to Indian sources.

Bodhidharma died around AD 535. Some legends say Bodhidharma returned to India before his death. Others say he lived to be 150 and was buried in the mountains of Honan, China. Some say that soon after his death, a messenger named Sung Yun from Eastern Wei supposedly met Bodhidharma walking back towards India barefoot and with a single shoe in hand. His grave was later exhumed, and according to legend, the only thing found in it was the shoe he left behind.

In conclusion one must conclude that he did exist, in those nine or so years, in documented Chinese records. However much of what he said or did is either a myth or legendary.

Prof Tsutomu Kambe - Univ of Tokyo provided an answer - Documents published just after Tang dynasty (ending in 907) describe that the name of the Kingdom of Bodhidharma’s origin as expressed with two Chinese characters ’香至. A likely pronunciation is Kang-zhi (Kanchi).

But then Kanchi is not Westerly in India. Is it perhaps Kochi? Calicut was ‘Kuli’ to the Chinese. Cochin was Ko-Chih. Nevertheless, almost all indicators point towards Kanchipuram rather than Kodungaloor or Muziris. From many accounts Bodhidharma was a studious child who studied under his Guru Pragnattara. Hence it is very unlikely that Bodhidharma had serious martial arts training in Kanchipuram to have transferred it to the pupils in Shaolin, since they already had a fair exposure to martial arts for many decades. It could of course be that he taught them valuable breathing exercises, silambam stick fighting and forms of Yoga.

Research notes
The earliest historical record of Bodhidharma was compiled in 547 by Yang Xuanzhi, the Record of the Buddhist Monasteries of Luoyang, in which Yang identifies Bodhidharma as a Persian Central Asian (Wade-Giles: po-szu kuo hu-jen) (Broughton, 1999, p. 54, p.138). However, Broughton notes that Yáng may have actually been referring to another monk named Boddhidharma, not related to the historical founder of Chan Buddhism. This book is considered to be unreliable, full of exaggeration and mirabilia. John Jorgensen (Inventing Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch) believes that Yang just confused Pahalva with Pallava. Pahalva means Persian. Bodhidharma's disciple Tanlin identifies his master as South Indian Brahmin(Broughton, 1999, p. 8). The Biography is part of the Long Scroll of the Treatise on the Two Entrances and Four Practices, which Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki found in 1935 by going through the Dunhuang collection of the Chinese National Library. Bodhidharma's birth name Bodhitara. Throughout Buddhist art, Bodhidharma is depicted as a rather ill-tempered, profusely bearded and wide-eyed barbarian. He is described as "The Blue-Eyed Barbarian" in Chinese texts. His landing place was later called Xi Lai Chu Di ('first landfall on journeying from the west'), and is the site of Hualin temple. About his Kanchipuram origin - Bodhidharma, the founder of the Chan (Zen) school of Buddhism in China, is a prince of the Pallava dynasty, a contemporary of Skandavarman IV and Nandivarman I and the son of Simhavarman II. Other accounts say that he was black in color (this comes from the paintings on shaolin cave walls of a black Dravidian teacher). And why did he go to China in the first place? In 526, the 28th Buddhist patriarch Ta Mo (Bodhidharma) came to China by sea; the downfall of Buddhism in the country of its origin had forced him and many of his coreligionists to seek a new home in China, ‘cliicllyin Layong’, where 5000 Indians are said to have lived in the 6th century A.D. (India as known to the ancient world - Dr. G Banerjee). Sadly Bodhidharma was killed by poisoning, though the reports are not conclusive. According to Dàoxuān's chronology, Bodhidharma's death must have occurred prior to 534, the date of the Northern Wei Dynasty's fall, because Huike subsequently leaves Luoyang for Ye.

Bodhidharma Anthology – Broughton
Inventing Hui-neng, the Sixth Patriarch – John Jorgensesn
Encyclopedia of Monasticism By William M. Johnston – Article by John Jorgensen Ps 159-161
Origins of Bodhidharma
Discovery channel - Links to Kalaripayattu
Wiki article

Pictures of Bodhidharma – Thanks to buddhanet, oriental outpost & Wikipedia
Oriental outpost pictures from  Asian Art GalleryBuddhist Artwork


  1. Anonymous

    hi maddy,

    lovely post as usual.

    just thought of Muziri the present kodungallur or Karur ?

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Sriram - Yes and no. It is pretty close to today's Kodungallur and the exact location is still shrouded in mystery and mud (after the floods of Periyar). In history Cranganore & Muziris are synonymous. I read that a place called Vanchi is the likely candidate now. As a township, one could still say Kodungallur though.

  1. Sunil Deepak

    It sounds like a detective work and is a great story. Really nice to read.

    Thanks also for visting my blog and all your comments.

  1. P.N. Subramanian

    A well researched document not a mere post! I was averse to believing that Nairs could have been Pallavas. Were they fair in complexion.
    Recent excavation at a place known as Pattanam near Kodungallur has yielded plenty of material to establish its links with Muzris.
    Vanchi seems to be Tiruvanchikulam.

  1. Anonymous

    The history of northern kerala is not only that of the Nair/Nambiars and the Mapillas. It is bewidering that the majority Hindu community in northern Kerala, the Thiyyas/Ezhavas have been mostly excluded from the narratives of Malabar history. As a Thiyya history fanatic myself, I have been hunting for hints about Thiyya history, especially history of Thiyyas from erstwhile Kolathunad, from various historical books. Apart from references to Thiyyas probably originating from Sri Lanka, or Thiyyas being toddy-tappers and other oft-repeated banalities there is no real materia available for researching Thiyya history. It is sad that this aspect of our history does not attract the interest of historians, both amateur and professional. I am sure that by reconstructing history using Theyyam Thottam songs, family narratives, colonial narratives, etc, it would be possible to built a good volume of historical data relating to the Thiyyas.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Sunil, PNS. The origin of Nairs is difficult to fathom, it sometimes goes to Scythia, Nepal, Assam, Punjab, Kalinga and all kinds of places. Some say Pallavas as well, which could also be right.

    That brings me to this recent comment on Thiyas. I assume it was more a request than anything to do with this article. The question as to why they do not figure in history would elicit an answer in this manner - It is possible that they did not figure in the colorful aspects of history such as wars, trade and the such and mostly remained behind scenes as a lower caste. However serious anthropological studies have been done by Thurston, N Shastri and many others on Ezhavas & Thiyas that the questioner can peruse. Unfortunately much of the colonial narratives only covered them in passing as a part of the living society, for there was nothing distinguishing done by them or recorded for posterity.

    I will definitely cover this community soon in a blog, and no doubt they are an important pillar of today's Kerala even if neglected in history.

  1. Maddy

    I must also add this in continuation with the above - The comment would be incomplete I did not mention the chekavars of Malabar, the Aromal chekavar and the wide coverage they have in Kerala history. Their ballads have been subjects of many a doctorate study, if the questioner wants to check around.

  1. Anonymous

    I'm curious why you chose to include the Encyclopedia of Thelema as a source?

  1. Maddy

    Hi Anonymous..
    I do not refer to the EOT as a source as such, but have hyper linked the sentence related to the origin of Bodhidharma.

    Mainly because I have not had a chance to read the 'Continued Biographies of Eminent Monks'

  1. Jayaprakash

    I would like to add some more points about Bodhi-dharma's popularity in Japan. As a Malayali living in Japan, I have heard from some Japanese people about Bodhi-dharma. He is the father of martial arts in China and Japan. Even kids know Bodhi-dharma. His dolls are sold in Japan.

    I am sure, some Japanese scholars hint Bodhi-dharma's origin to Northern Kerala. More study has to be conducted on the similarity of temples in Kerala and Japan, how chinese fish nets came to Cochin, when Kerala differed from other parts of India in exchanging cultural traits with these East Asian nations.

  1. tcs

    great work man

  1. Maddy

    thanks JP & LH..
    you can read about the Chinese nets in another blog i posted..


  1. Nath

    The Thiyyas settled in and around Vatakara are famous for their typical form of Martial art known as ‘Kalaripayattu’. Unniyarcha was a legendary warrior figure of the Thiyyas, lived in Puthur (New Land) near Vatakara in 12th Century AD. She was the sister of ‘Aromal Chekavar’ and ‘Unnikannan’ and mother of ‘Aromalunny’. The songs and chronicles have kept the legend alive to this day. She was born in ‘Puthooram Veedu’, a famous Thiyya family. Like her brothers Unniyarcha was also trained in the arts of war. She is praised in Puthooram pattu, first in the series of Vadakkan pattu. She is considered as a heroine and symbol of female ability. Her brother Aromal was a reputed man of great chivalry and bravery. (Ref. Pazhassi Raja– Vatakkan Pattukal - Payeri Krishnan). The famous Italian Traveller, Marco Polo, (13th Century AD) portrayed the Thiyyas of Malabar as business men and merchants. The settlements of the Buddhists were known as palli or paadi. By means of the contacts with the Arabs, big chunks of this Buddhist group were later converted to Islam, and their Pallis were converted as Muslim shrines with the same name Palli. The residual groups turned to Hindu mob and divided into different castes as stated earlier.

  1. Anonymous

    Thiyaas were originally were thiraiyars of tamilnadu and Nairs were origins of tamil pallava empire. varmakalai and kalaripattu both were not same. varmakalai is bigger than karaipayatt. varmakalai derives his names from the subtitle of pallava kings. pallava kings were excellent in varmakalai and hold title as varma. kalaripayattu from the tamil word kalari(battle)+payatru(to train). bodhidharma is a 3rd prince of pallava king skandavarma pallava. bodhidharma original name is budhavarma pallava who was born in kanchipuram. kanchi is the main centre for buddhism and one of the seven mukthi stalas of hindus. many budhist temples now converted into hindu temples in kanchipuram. some of examaples were kanchi kamakshi amman temple, varadharaja perumal temple,ekamparaeshware temple and manikanteswara temple. another thing coast of kerala had linked with arab conuntries not with far east countries like malay,singapore,burma,thailand and china. there is silk path between china and kanchipuram. two chinese travellers visited kanchipuram only not kerala. in tamilnadu palli were reffered only to vannia kula khstriyars

  1. Anonymous

    Thiyaas were originally were thiraiyars of tamilnadu and Nairs were origins of tamil pallava empire. varmakalai and kalaripattu both were not same. varmakalai is bigger than karaipayatt. varmakalai derives his names from the subtitle of pallava kings. pallava kings were excellent in varmakalai and hold title as varma. kalaripayattu from the tamil word kalari(battle)+payatru(to train). bodhidharma is a 3rd prince of pallava king skandavarma pallava. bodhidharma original name is budhavarma pallava who was born in kanchipuram. kanchi is the main centre for buddhism and one of the seven mukthi stalas of hindus. many budhist temples now converted into hindu temples in kanchipuram. some of examaples were kanchi kamakshi amman temple, varadharaja perumal temple,ekamparaeshware temple and manikanteswara temple. another thing coast of kerala had linked with arab conuntries not with far east countries like malay,singapore,burma,thailand and china. there is silk path between china and kanchipuram. two chinese travellers visited kanchipuram only not kerala. in tamilnadu palli were reffered only to vannia kula khstriyars

  1. Praveen Alan Jones

    it's a great work man . . . . . just need to know one thing . . . . some historical books say that bodhidharma had a great knowledge about medicines and he also cured the deadly disease which affected the chinese people during 6th century . . . . . and also when he was given the poisoned food . . . . he detected it and asked them why they have done this . . . the villagers told him that if they bury his body in their land their village would be disease-free . . . . . so according to their will .. . . he ate the poisoned food and was buried in the chinese mountains . . . . . . is that true ?

  1. Praveen Alan Jones

    it's a great work man . . . . . want to know more about bodhidharma . . . . . suggest me some of your references . . .

  1. Blog Admin

    Unmaiyavan point is almost right... and the truth is, varmakalai has 4 main parts found by 2 main siddhas in different living years. one is Agasthiyar and the second siddha is siva vakyar.. they are collectively padu varmam, thodu varmam, thattu varmam and nokku varmam.. u can see all are tamil name.. Agasthiyar is the first founder of marma+kalai or varma kalai.. when he was staying in phothigai malai.. border of tamil nadu and kerala some kerala people died by some diseases and Agasthiyar helped them to cure and he teach some martial arts for their safety.... that was taken as kalari payat and this kalari payat is not full part of varma kalai... if u want to understand easily, the kalari has no noku varmam... but the disciple of agasthiyar, learned from him and they teach chozha king and later it went to pallava king as they were so interested to learn this. and still in kanchipuram many people knew some part of varmakalai and still they following and somebody hide too for safety... if you read chozha samrajayam old tamil book, u can understand all... friends u all need to know one truth, the name malayalam is pure tamil word and it is named by see one side malai(mountain) and another side alam(deep)...and the one more truth is, there were no name kerala, andhra and karnataka when chozha kings ruled... only one name tamilnadu... they mean south india identified in the name of tamilnadu and it was ruled by 3 kings.. chera, chozha and paniyar... the cheran ruled kerala upto coimbatore.. the chozha ruled, tanjore, andhra and karnataka.. trichy... pandiya madurai, some times trichy too by win in war... bodhi dharma is the first tamil king and he derived from chozha not like caste categories becoz that time 428-29 AD, only king and castes like brahmin, vaisya, nair, nambiyar, like this and still records there to prove in indian cutural book and it is maintained by indian government says clearly no castes when these 3 kings ruled. (If u want to know still read this source: Sriram... Thondi and muzuri are now in trichy... yes muzuri is now karur.... thondhi is still in the same name near trichy... karur is next to trichy....

    and one more request friends... please don't say caste things... becoz bodhi dharma and many saints didnot consider the caste and they went to china apart from castes, only with humanity... Thanks

  1. raj

    Good Work man... but a major fact is missing... There is no seperate kerala at that time. Malayalam is a derivative of THAMIZH. Cherans should be the ruler of Kerala(one of ancient thamizh regions) at the time of BODDHIDHARMA. While stating Boddhidharma as pallava, it means that he belongs to the join-hand dynasty of THE NAGAS & THE CHOLAS( Check Wikipedia for origin of Pallavas or Pallava Dynasty).No space of Cherans or Nairs in this, clearly. Dont take this as a statement of criticism. I accept that Kerala has connection to kalaripayatu and even Pallavas but linking Kang-zhi to Kochi is a bit too much.

  1. போதிவர்மா

    Dont compare kalariyapattu with varmakalai. kalaripattu is a part of varmakalai. without varmakalai kalaripayattu was no more. kalaripattu is formation of two tamil words. kalari-battle and payattu-training. kanchipuram is one of the ancient cities in india and it also a budhist culture centre. Bodhidharma and Dharmapala were from kanchipuram only. Dharmapala is the principal of nalandha university. bodhidharma is third son born to pallava prince suganda or skandavarma. there are lot of scripts and evidences in kanchipuram temples and cult were proved bodhidharma belongs to kanchi. kalarapattu is not originated in kerala. at that time there was no kerala state. no caste... only four kingdoms chera,chola,pandya and pallava. dont confuse with caste and language. there was no malayalam at that time. both the three kingdom people were speaking tamil. pallavas i dont know. kalari is 1/10 part of varmakalai. varmakalai is great. person know kalari is able to fight only but knowing varmakalai you can do anything....

  1. Maddy

    Thanks nath, Ummayiavan, WDS and Praveen..
    Your comments are much appreciated. Some of these matters from history are always disputed, and yes, there was only cheranad and pallavanad in those times, i suppose.. but well, much of all this could be speculation, I guess..we just try to get to the right understanding in some way..

  1. thamizayan

    thanks for bringing the hiden history to our notice

  1. Unknown

    hi sir u have done this presentation before four almost when no tamilan was even thinking of it gud job i will sugest u to watch seventh sense an tamil movie named 7am arivu and know the truth of bodhidarma in short its my take care and thank u once again sir!

  1. 3

    so excellent i lovely wonderfull thanks mylords manivel from working in oman i am in tamilnadu

  1. 3

    tamilan entru solla perumaiya irukuuuuu


    thanks maddy,

    i was just signing you after watching a new tamil movie 7 arivu, fortunately i could connect with you and it seems most powerful research u done in this article, and I believe kerala have more scopes for boddidarma's

  1. PB

    it's beautiful an indian who worshipped by chinese,japanese next to buddha it's really wonderful

  1. Bindu

    I invite many people who commented to come and visit kannur,vatakara to see and hear without relying on books alone. the steps of kungfu and kalari are so similar and there are 18 stages in kalari like 18 stages in kungfu as taught by bhodidharma.
    counter to popular propaganda many kalaris are owned by thiyya warriors. valapattanam kalari through which the nh road goes was one of the biggest kalari in kannur and it was owned by my grandfathers family. we thiyyas are well off in northkerala since time memorial and there were thiyya army unit in kolathiri kingdom. there was a thiyya kingdom and he had 200 nair warriors to accompany him and who had the power to ask for a namboothiri child if no offspring was meetings of feudal lords the mannan thiyya king had the highest position and even the kolathiri king had to rise up on the entering of thiyya king..this is recorded by the kannur british collector. the last king was killed by nairs during early 19th centuary when they thought it was a insult to them to serve thiyya king and those were not aware of ancient customs.
    on bodhidharma he is said to have blue eyes and in kannur,kasarkode.mangalore there are many thiyyas who have blue,pale eyes and they are funnigly called as poochakannu. they did not get it from the british as you all would like to tell me but it came from the greeks. ezhimala was a ancient harbour and there was a roman colony in historical kannur 4 full bullockcarts of roman goldcoins of augustus were discovered in 18 th centuary while only ONE goldcoin was found in the false pattanam

    bhodharma name was damu and it is a common name among thiyyas .
    thiyyas were followers of buddism and at dharmapattanum another ancient harbour island was a place
    inhabited mostly by thiyyas and now historians are saying is a place of budhist learning center.
    my intention is not to claim that bodhidharma was a thiyya no... i am not ethonocentric. dont talk only about nairs when talking about kerala history . and you said that there is only a passing reference to thiyyas by british anthropologist.
    they did not know about the Kalabhra Interregnum. this was the age of bhuddist kings in all southindia during 4 to 6 AD when bhidharma lived and died. and after the budhist kings were defeated all traces of their history were erased and it is still known as the dark age of southindia. the budhist were
    lowered down and in north kerala thiyyas become backward caste.

  1. Maddy

    Thanks Bindu, Priya, Shafi, 3, tamilanda, tamizhayan, ...

    tells you how much history is appreciated if it reaches a large number people in a simple way..But I hope fact does not eventually get adultearted with fiction on the way...

  1. Anjis World


    Maddy it's amazing research tank's to u


  1. Anjis World


    Maddy it's amazing research tank's to u


  1. mammutty

    Thanks Maddy for putting up such wealth of info on the Bodhidharma....while I appreciate your work, I did not understand the underlying meaning of your reply to Bindu&others .-----

    " tells you how much history is appreciated if it reaches a large number people in a simple way..But I hope fact does not eventually get adultearted with fiction on the way""

    Here I like you to clarify
    **how do you define "facts" when its related to History? I strongly feel It should be called "available facts"

    ** Can we see more "facts"other than "colonial Narrative" --as mentioned by u for "thiyyas"contributions to our society

    **why History tend to be Biased mostly?

    I feel History is said to be told by winners, so who tells otherstory?

  1. shan

    it has to be noted that ezhavar in southern kerala are more wealthier and advanced in the field of education compared to the northern parts.they also possess more land and are generally influential.more social movements were also occured in south including caste reforms and social the north this movemnts occured a little after.and they too were the results of the communist party and other forward movements.but historically majority of the armies and their captains were from ezhava and thiyya familes.also they were the main persons in popularising education and sanskrit learning in kerala .occupations like medicine,astrology and other fields which require lot of study were done by these castes.there were also other castes mainly the medivial kerala ezhavar were the upholder of learning .for they were manily buddists who upheald learning.

  1. Anonymous

    Very good article Maddy. Even I had written about the same subject in my blog. But it was met with violent criticism by Kalari fans. My interest was more in the historic anomalies with the dates. Such as existence of Chinese fighting arts centuries before Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma in my opinion may have contributed to some part of the Chinese Wushu but not the entire thing. That too is questionable considering the legend which seems too exaggerated. Anyway, you can check my blog here -

  1. Maddy

    thanks pleasant
    well, much of this stuff about who started it first is subjective.
    sometimes we can find proof, but in such cases, it is a shade of grey..

  1. Viswa

    Hi Sri,
    Great effort in unearthing some hidden historical events realting to Bodhidharma.
    With regards to his origin.
    Tamizhans and Malayal's: Please excuse me for my below comments:
    1.Damo could have been born actually in Kandhipuram or Muzrin, Kodungallur,Kochi or Andhra. It makes zilch difference to our lives today. If we as Tamizhan and Malayali were smart enough we would have made use of this great man. Instead as mute spectators, we watched the Chinese take advantage of it. Now who won the race in reality. It is the Chinese, we are forced to admit. The reason is from historical days to till date, we fight amongst ourselves over futile issues and let the core issue passby right under our nose.

    -BODHIDHARMA if born in Kanchipuram does not add any greatness to todays Tamizhan. Infact they never knew his existence untill The movie 7AM Arivu cropped up from the mediocre didputable concepts unearthed by A.R.Murugadoss
    - Same goes with Malayali's. If he was born in Kochi or Kodungallur. How does it matter.
    Guys please.. read history, no problem. It is always good. But please stop your futile online disputes over facts which can never be pin-pointed convincingly.

  1. Anonymous

    Thanks for the write up on Bodhidharma. Early last year I had the opportunity of visiting Zhengzhou, Henan on a business trip. As my local business contact was driving me back to the airport I saw the 'Shaolin Temple' signage in English on the highway. My business contact was happy to narrate me the Indian connection of Shaolin Temple and promised me to take me there during my next visit. I was lucky and was back in Zhengzhou the next month.

    Shaolin Temple is in a mountainous valley two hours drive from Zhengzhou. Everybody in China knows the Indian connection. Outside the Temple compound there are several independent Martial art schools where you see Chinese kids kicking and fisting. I presume there are 5 Schools inside the Official Shaolin complex. The current wave of Chinese Olympic Gymnasts emanate from these schools. According to the local legend, Bodhidharma, an accomplished Indian sage came there several centuries ago. There was a demonic force which used to trouble or devour the local population. (This cliched angle we find in all folk tales all around the world). The people did warn him to stay away. Despite this he confronted the same, fought with his bare hands and defeated. His grit and determination surprised everybody and the hero was born. The king gifted him the land to start the Temple. A sage with curly hairy body, unlike the other revered Chinese sages, one can see Bodhidharma's statue in the sacro- sanctum of the temple. We can safely assume that this Temple was the first Martial Art School in China, the presence of 'karam' in karate should point fingers in the same direction, pun indented. You can reassure your skeptic kids that at least this time you are not the Greek father from the movie. The trip was gratifying for me as I am from the family which produced movies like Unniarcha, Palattu Koman, Aaromalunni, Thacholi Ambu, Padayottam etc, let me also confess with a contrite heart that we have abused these legends enough. Waiting to hear about ankam as I have researching about the same for the past ten years.

  1. Maddy

    thanks cementshoes...
    I had posted the article on ankhams some years ago..

  1. Dr M S Kiranraj

    Very much informative.
    Bodhidharma had any connections with Onam celebrations especially in making 'Onapookkalam' (floral carpet) in Kerala?
    As per one musings, celebrations strongly connect with 'Buddhist Tragedy' in South India

  1. Meer Mumtaz Ali

    bodhidharma was excellent scientist,i just want to say other countries were geting advantage but indian people are dont know much more him

  1. Subbiah69

    Idli and sambar ,these two resemble dumpling (momo) and vegetable soup with local modifications and available condiments. The steam cooking is common to both.With Buddhism many ideas and practices travelled to China,they took it seriously and preserved it,the original places lost it,like many other originals.

  1. Uma Balu

    Nice and informative article on Bodhidharma.
    We are in the process of setting up a Memorial for Bodhidharma in Kanchipuram. Our main initiative is to create a team of researchers, historians, epigraphists, travellers, authors and others who would be willing to work on his life in India. We would like to invite you to join us in this unique initiative.

    Warm regards,
    Uma Balu

  1. Vigneswaran Vicky

    Hello, In Chennai someone misuse the Bodhidharma triggers and misuse the Bodhidharma transmitter ineligible. My name is Vigneswaran.S. Please share your comments. My Grandmother born and bottom in Chennai Kanchipuram. Please fellow my email and share your comments.