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Kaḷari and Vaittiyacālai: Medicine and Martial Arts Intertwined

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AbstractVarmakkalai, ‘the art of the vital spots’, combines therapeutic and martial techniques: Varmam spots are of combative relevance, but also applicable in curing ailments. This paper depicts how far this South Indian practice figures simultaneously in the kaḷari, the training ground where combat techniques called varma aṭi, ‘hitting the vital spots’, are taught, and in the vaittiyacālai, the dispensary for varma maruttuvam, ‘vital spot treatments’. Injuries incurred in the kaḷari are addressed in the vaittiyacālai, and apprentices’ learning progress in one surrounding can be measured by their prowess in the other. Both physical and mental skills acquired combine in a kind of psycho-somatic intuition—the medical and martial competence of practitioners. Such intersections of medicine and martial practices are not normally recognised by ‘Western’ taxonomies or educational models, which tend to segregate such aspects, labelling one as ‘arts’ or ‘sports’ and the other as ‘science’. However, this paper describes the very combination of medically and martially relevant aspects of varmam as not only complementary, but as the most decisive feature of varmakkalai.


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