Watching her block, hold and fight, one is reminded of the statement, age is just a number. At 73, she is possibly the oldest female exponent of Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art of Kerala.
Meenkashi Gurukkal has been at it for no less than 66 years – learning and teaching. “With God’s grace, I am still active and train students at my school,” she says.
She started learning Kalari at the age of seven and has been going on and on with the ancient martial art form at the tiny hamlet of Puthuppanam near Vadakara in Kozhikode.
“When my father took me to the Kalari Sangam when I was seven, I never thought that it will be a life changing moment. There were only a few girls in our class. But my father wasn’t bothered and was determined that I learn Kalaripayattu.”
She also tried learning dance, but her true calling was in Kalari. Later in life, she met Raghavan Master, a school teacher with a passion for Kalari and got married to him when she was 17.
It was Master who had set up the Kadathanadan Kalari Sangam where she has been teaching since then.
Around 150 students get trained at the school. The Kalari season is from June to September and students from all over the state descend on this place to learn the art. Meenakshi observes that unlike in the past, more girls are coming forward to learn the martial art form.
“Women of all age groups are coming to the sangam. I would say that it should be made mandatory for women to learn Kalari,” she chuckles, adding, “It is good to learn some kind of martial art.”
Clearly, it is her passion that helps her defy age. “I have many disciples across the country and am happy when I learn that they are doing well.” She lets on that she never follows any particular diet.
“I eat everything in moderate quantity. Pepper jaggery drink is something that gives me a boost and I have it daily. But the main secret of my energy is that I make sure to practice daily. I still train the evening and night batch students.”
She is of the opinion that everyone should learn Kalari regardless of age or gender. “It provides both mental stability and physical well being.”
Her school which is planning to celebrate its 67th anniversary in June works on a “no fee” principle. At the end of each class, students give her guru dakshina and in return she gives them her blessings and an experience they can’t get anywhere else.