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Varma kalai (Tamil: வர்மக்கலை varmakkalai, Malayalam: വർമക്കല varmakkala, Sinhala: මාරු කල maru kala, Telugu: మర్మయుద్దకళ marma vidya kala, Sanskrit: मर्म विद्य marma vidya) is a Indian word meaning "art of vital points". It is a component of traditional massage, medicine, and martial arts1 in which the body's pressure points (varma or marma) are manipulated to heal or cause harm. The healing application called vaidhiya murai is used to treat patients suffering from paralysis, nervous disorder, spondylitis and other conditions. Its combat application is known as varma adi or marma adi, meaning "pressure point striking". Usually taught as an advanced aspect of unarmed Indian fighting systems,2 strikes are targeted at the nerves, veins, tendons, organs and bone joints.3
One of the stages of training in southern kalarippayattu is marma (pressure points).4
Zarrilli refers to southern kalaripayattu as varma ati (the law of hitting), marma ati (hitting the vital spots) or varma kalai (art of varma). The preliminary empty handed techniques of varma ati are known as adithada (hit/defend).
Medical treatment in the southern styles is identified with siddha,5 the traditional Dravidian system of medicine distinct from north Indian ayurveda. The Siddha medical system, otherwise known as siddha vaidyam, is also attributed to Agastya.
Folklore traces varma kalai to the god Shiva who is said to have taught it to his son Murugan. While disguised as an old man, Murugan passed the knowledge of varmam to the sage Agastya6 who then recorded it and disseminated the skill among his students.
In northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, the human body is said to have 107 pressure points or marma. In southern India and Sri Lanka, the number of varma is 108. Their number on each part of the body is as follows.
|Vital Points||Part of Human body|
|25||From head to neck|
|45||From neck to navel|
|9||From navel to arm|
Siddha medicine explains the varmam as:
South Asian martial arts categorise the varmam as:
- Thodu Varmam
- 96 vital points triggered by a touch. Not deadly, but will affect the victim by disabling the body, organ movements and function.
- Padu Varmam
- 12 vital points that are fatal, causing immediate, severe effects upon the victim.
- Thattu Varmam
- Decisive vital points that are used by the master. These are kept confidential until the master passes on the knowledge to the selected disciple
- Nooku Varmam or Meitheenda Kalai
- Striking vital points from a distance using energy alone.
- Uuthu Varmam
- Vital points triggered by a blow of air from mouth. For example, chewing garlic and blowing the air into the ears to trigger the varmam for recovery from heat. Not deadly, but will affect the victim either positively or adversely.
- Nakku Varmam
- Vital points triggered by licking at sensitive organ such as the eyes. Not deadly, but will affect the victim as above.
Extant varma kalai manuals include the following.
- Agasthiyar Varma Thiravukol
- Agasthiyar Varma Kandi
- Agasthiyar Oosi Murai Varmam
- Agasthiyar Vasi Varmam
- Varma Odivu Murivu
- Agasthiyar Varma Kannadi
- Varma Varisai
- Agasthiyar Mei Theendakalai
- "Tamilnadu - Varma Kalai". Tamilnadu.com. 26 December 2012.
- Stevens, B; From Lee to Li, HarperCollins 2009 ISBN 9780007347414
- Master Murugan, Chillayah (20 October 2012). "Silambam and Varma Kalai Art". Silambam. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
- Luijendijk, D.H. (2005). Kalarippayat: India's Ancient Martial Art. Paladin Press. ISBN 1-58160-480-7.
- Zarrilli 1992
- Luijendijk, D.H. (2005) Kalarippayat: India's Ancient Martial Art, Paladin Press