In Vatakara, Kerala in Southern India, children as young as 5 are being taught the ancient martial arts tradition of Kalaripayattu.
Dating back centuries, this choreographed form of fighting requires huge amounts of commitment, strength and dedication.
And who better to teach Kalaripayattu to the next generation than a 73-year-old granny?! Feisty Meenakshi Raghavan has been practising the martial art for an impressive 66 years.
She explains, ‘I started to learn Kalaripayattu at the age of 7. Even today I teach and learn Kalari. I used to dance, and on seeing me dance the teacher said to ‘teach her Kalaripayattu also. I like Kalari more so I continued doing it.’
Thanks to her sword-wielding abilities Meenakshi strikes fear into the hearts of her opponents, and now she’s passing on her skills to help local girls to defend themselves.
‘I say one single thing to every girl – learn Kalari. I’m self-sufficient, I don’t need any security, I go out at night all by myself ‑ with Kalari I don’t need any security.’
‘After playing with me they all say because we came to Kalari we feel brave. We have confidence to walk on our own and mentally we feel powerful.’
In addition to being an incredible teacher, Meenakshi also performs in front of huge crowds who travel miles to see her in action. And she has no intention of stopping performing any time soon, as she remains a fierce opponent to anyone willing to challenge her.
‘There’s no point in being afraid. Yes I have been injured. Not only me, many children who have performed in the programmes have been injured. Any injury caused through Kalari can be cured back with Kalari too.’
‘The audience say that I must keep on performing. I want to keep performing until I can’t anymore – that’s my wish.’
‘Because I perform Kalari I don’t have these aches or pains. I feel very brave, I feel very happy – I can never get tired of doing this.’
Good for her!