Who's Who in
Silambam (Tamil: சிலம்பம்) or silambattam
(Tamil: சிலம்பாட்டம்) or Chilambam is a stick fighting, traditional
south indian martial art. This style supposedly originates from the
Kurinji hills, present day kerala Kerala, 5000 years ago, where natives
were using bamboo staves to defend themselves against wild animals. As
per sangam litarature Kurinji hills was one of the five physiographic
divisions within Tamilakam, which later known as keralam after the
arrival of Brahmins. Traditionally, the development of silambam is
attributed to the ancient sage Aghasthyar, who is also credited with the
creation Tamil language. The art was probably derived from movements of
the shepherds, who always carry a staff, and to this day shepherds who
have no prior silambam skill may be seen making silambam-like movements
with the staff.
Silambam is a mainly a form of stick or
walking staff fighting. The length of the staff is roughly 1.68 meters
(five and a half feet). Size of the staff is related to the height of
the silambam player. It should just touch the forehead about three
fingers from the head, although different lengths are used in different
situations. The 3 foot stick called "sedikutchi" can be carried
covertly. Separate practice is needed for staves of different lengths.
The usual stance includes holding the staff at one end, right hand close
to the back, left hand about 40 centimeters (16 inches) away. This
position allows a wide array of stick-and-body movements, including
complex attacks and blocks. Unarmed silambam utilizes several routines
based on the movements of animals, primarily snake and eagle forms.
Silambam was patronized by the ancient Chola,
Chera and Pandya kings of South India during the Sangam period.
The references to "Silappadikkaram" in Tamil Sangam literature dating
back to the 2nd century refer to the sale of Silamabam staves, swords,
pearls and armor to foreign traders. The ancient trading centre at the
city of Madurai was renowned globally and said to be thronged by Romans,
Greeks and Egyptians among others who had regular sea trade with the
ancient Tamil kings. The silambam staff was one of the martial art
weapons, which was in great demand with the visitors.
After the art spread to the Malay world, "Silambam" came to refer to the
art as well as the weapon. Several Malay martial arts such as Silat also
incorporated the silambam.
The Maravar pada of Travancore kings used "Silambam" in their warfare
against enemies. The soldiers of King Veerapandiya Kattabomman
(1760�1799) relied mainly on their prowess in Silambam in their warfare
against the British Army.