Varmakkalai History

India is a land of various arts, most of them have disappeared over time. Varmakkalai, the mother of all martial arts which originated in Tamil Nadu is one among them which is slowly disappearing. All the other martial arts are direct or indirect descendants of varmakkalai. Tamil Sage Agasthiyar is the founder of varmakkalai who lived in the south-pothigai mountains (Kutraalam) which is in the southern part of Tamil Nadu ruled by Pandiya kings. His period is said to be before "Sangam Literature". This art existed in the spoken-form and he formulated and gave a written-form by writing in the palm leaves (manuscripts). after him other sages (siddhar) like Theraiyar, Pogar, Pulipani etc… have written other manuscripts. Following song is one of the evidence stating the origin.

"தென் பொதிகை நாதன் துணையால் பாடி வைத்தேன் முறை நண்றாமே"
"Then pothigai nathan thunaiyaal padi vaithaen murai nanramae"

Jatavarman Pandiyan (or) Sadaiyavarman a Pandiya king who learnt varmakkalai was a very brave and ambitious warrior king who has won several wars. Though varmakkalai was founded in Pandiya kingdom and slowly disappeared here, it was developed by Chola kings and then this art went to Sri-Lanka, China, Cambodia, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand and other foreign countries.
"Karikala Cholan, who is said to be from the period of Sangam Literature approximately 180 A.D is one of the great exponent in Varmakkalai. His name can be translated as "the man with charred leg" or "slayer of elephants". "Kari" means elephant and "kaalan" means slayer. Many say that he was named as karikalan because of the fire accident which charred his leg. Ancient method of varmakkalai training involved practicing by punching and kicking in the wood, which made his leg to look like that. Chola kings have made every efforts for the growth of varmakkalai and their names too had "varman" which means an exponent in varmakkalai.

The buddhist monk "Bodhidharman" hailed from the same city of Kanchipuram, who then later went to China and has been called as the founder of Shaolin Temple.

"Ekambareshwarar Temple" in Kanchipuram was built by Pallava Kings which still has his statue of Karikala Cholan in the entrance or "mandapam" in Tamil. Why would Pallavas would keep a Chola king's statue in the temple they have built ?. The reason behind that is Karikalan has ruled Chola kingdom with Kanchipuram as capital for sometime, that's where he had varmakkalai "payirchi koodam" or "training centers". Later the capital was shifted to Tanjore for Chola kingdom. Only from him this art was passed on to Pallavas, one of the renowned Pallava king named as "Narasimhavarman" or "Narasimhavarma pallavan". There are many sculptures in this temple which shows the fighting stances of varmakkalai.

On one of the Shaolin Temple walls, a fresco can be seen, showing dark-skinned (Indian) monk, teaching lighter-skinned (Chinese) monks the art of bare-handed fighting skills.” Under this painting, the words “Tenjiku Naranokaku” are inscribed in Chinese, which translates in English to “The fighting techniques to train the body from India”, supporting the view that Bodhidharma's exercises were in fact the reflection of the ancient Indian martial arts. Therefore, religious preaching of the Buddhist monks linked the systematic art of Self defense to the world by crossing the borders of the Indian sub-continent.
As a Chinese Ambassador to USA, Hu Shih once said “India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border”.

Buddhist monk named Bodhidharma (A.D 520) went to China from Kanchipuram (in Tamil Nadu) to spread buddhism, he stayed at the Shaolin Monastry and preached buddhist ideologies. Bodhidharma is the founder of Shaolin Temple, who taught varmakkalai to the chinese monks. He trained them in exercises designed to strengthen the body and thus their endurance. Still we could find the stone carvings in the Shaolin Temple portraying Bodhidharma as founder of the Shaolin Kung-fu

The Chola Kings have conquered many other countries and built Hindu temples, one of the descendant of Raja Raja Cholan (his original name is Arulmozhi varman) named Suryavarman II built the Hindu Vishnu temple "Angkor Wat" in Cambodia. It is one of the "Eight Wonders" in the world. The Cambodian martial art "Bokator" is nothing but a form of varmakkalai called as "varma kuthuvarisai".

Many of the Tamil kings were named after "varman" which means an exponent in varmakkalai like "Sadaiyavarman, Rajendravarman, Jayavarman, Narasimhavarman and so on...

Gunavarmar a kshatriya or warrior and not a king who went to China in 320 AD almost 200 years before Bodhi Dharman (520 AD) went to China. He went to Java island and stayed there for some time, the "varma" in his name denotes that he is exponent in this art. He reached Guangdong in China and stayed in the mountain called as Chi Sei, not sure if this is correct pronunciation as it is written in Tamil. One day the villagers observed that he stroked a tiger on it's head with a small stick and the tiger kept quiet. He has used varmam to pacify the tiger. He frequented to the mountain which has dangerous wild animals. Also the villagers observed that they saw him as fluorescent white lion while he meditated in the cave, it is nothing but a meditation stance like lion which is used in varmakkalai. In another instance the villagers observed that the rain did not fall on him and make him wet.

These are some of the incidents quoted about him in the book called as JA (Journal Asiatique in page 199 to 209) wirtten by Édouard Chavannes. T'oung Pao, Vol. II co-edited by Chavannes has reference about Gunavarmar in page 193 to 206 published in 1904. BEFEO VOL 4 (Page 274 to 275)

Only a person like Aasan Rajendran can interpret these references and co-relate it, who has himself demonstrated and practiced Varmakkalai & Nokkuvarmam it for more than 45 years.

Disappearance in India:

Indian sub-continent, lacking patronization, gradually began losing it's such rich heritage of Martial arts. Centuries of Colonial rule have paralyzed the growth of Martial Art just like many other treasure-worthy Indian knowledge systems and put them close to the level of dysfunctional. Again in more recent history, in 1793 the British East India Company fearing the inspirations of Youth revolutions, officially banned the practice of varmakkalai (mother of the world’s martial arts) and it actually came to a point of almost extinction.

Practical Martial Art Form:

As most of the varmakkalai masters (Asan or Guru) claim that they have learnt only therapeutic form of varmakkalai and only teach those methods. Those were learnt by reading some books, manuscripts etc... One who can't simulate the symptoms of varmam can't be good master, one should learn the practical form of varmakkalai and then treat the victim affected by varmam. Following song which was written by sage Agasthiyar in one of his manuscripts clearly says that we should learn the practical form and then the therapeutic form to treat the victim.

"அப்பனே வர்மத்தில் அடி பிடி வெட்டு குத்து கற்று பின் வரிசையுடன் வர்ம இளக்கு செய்யே"
"Appanae varmathil adi pidi vettu kuthu katru pin varisayudan varma ilakku seyyae"

But most of them have reversed (vice versa) and say that they have learnt the therapeutic form first. "Action speak louder than words", master Rajendran who is the founder of this "Manja Varmakkalai" trains the student through the practical form which can only be learnt with the help of a guru or asan or master. Varmakkalai can be either used for self-defence and also can cure various diseases. Whatever varmam's we have mentioned in this site are practically proven ones, you wouldn't have heard about most of them. Exercises for varmakkalai are simple and any age group can practice this art, the benefits can not be be measured. You wouldn't have seen these exercises before and they are easy to do. We will detail the various defensive varmakkalai techniques, the mudras to use while striking and the impact it would have on the human body. You should not think that by knowing the locations you can use the technique, it is mandatory that you should do the practice regularly in order to get the accuracy while using the same. As we can re-emphasize the fact with the following idiom "A little learning is a dangerous thing". By doing these varmakkalai exercises you can make your nerves more stronger, as you know the root cause of most of diseases are nerves, blood circulation and prana shakthi or oxygen (vital life power).

What does "Manja" mean ?

It indicates a style whose meaning has been kept as a secret, one who knows this style of Varmakkalai will be able to spare with any style of martial art. Only who knows this style of art can compete with them.

What does "Manja" mean ?

As per a stanza from a song written by Sage Agasthiyar which indicates who will be able to learn this art.

"கர்ம வினைகள் அவமிருந்து வந்து கூடி விட்ட குறை தொட்ட குறை என விழம்பலாச்சே"
"karma vinaigal avamirunthu vandhu koodi vitta kurai thotta kurai ena vizhambalachae"

It means that one who has "Karma" from previous birth will only be able to learn this art.

Types of Varmam:

Thodu Varmam: Once affected we will come to know the symptoms of these varmams only after a certain time limit. Within this time limit we should retrieve the victims. The time limit can be an hour, a day, a month or even years.

Padu Varmam: They are vital and fatal too, once affected it would generate the symptoms immediately. There is a time limit to retrieve the victim for these varmam, they are basically some hours.

Thattu Varmam (or) Asan Varmam: These varmams are known only to the masters and are basically kept as a high secret. It can only be retrieved by the one who stroked, basically the master. They are highly dangerous and are taught to the person in a confidential way. It is the sole discretion of the master to decide whether it should be taught to the student or not.

Nokku Varmam: This is the high stage of varmakkalai using which we can strike a person at a distance by looking at him.

Meitheenda Kalai: This is the highest stage of varmakkalai wherein it is used either to heal or to strike the person in any part of the world. Without even touching the opponent we can strike or heal a person from a distant place.

Both Nokkuvarmam and Meitheendakkalai requires more practice and can't be learnt in a short span of time. It takes a life time to attain this stage. It was demonstrated in ZEE Tamil Television and more information can be found in our website

Apart from all the above types of varmam, there are sub-categories within these types. Some of the other types of varmam are as follows.

  1. Varma ponnoosi
  2. Varma thattu
  3. Sundu varmam
  4. Varma adavukal
  5. Varma adangalkal
  6. Varma illaku
  7. Varma sigichai
  8. Oodhu varmam
Synonyms used in this website:

Varmam ----Pressure Point or Vital Point, name, category.
Varman ----Means an exponent in this martial art, many Tamil Dravidian kings have been named after it.
Some of the example names
"Arulmozhivarman", "Rajendravarman", "Suryavarman", "Narasimhavarman", "Sadaiyavarman" and many more.

Varmakkalai is also called as Pressure Point Fighting, Kung Fu, Dim-Mak, Aikido, Bokator in other countries.