BOOK ONE: The Kalari.

By Ambuj Gupta.

Genre: Historical fiction.

The Kalari, book one of The Pratidwandi series, starts with a bang, trails briefly in the middle but has essential stories of culture and tradition with an eventful finish.   The climax of this book leaves a promising plot for the sequel. Pratidwandi is the first ever series on Indian Martial Arts. There are 5 books in the series. The sequel most likely by the end of this year.

It focuses on the group of Kalaripayattu proficients who are struggling to keep their legacy alive while they are been hunted and snubbed by the East India Company (EIC) who are afraid of the united rebellion by these fierce, well trained warriors. Threatened by the popularity of the sport, they systematically put curbs on the cultural gatherings, Kalari Gurukuls (academy), Vallamkali ( traditional boat race in Kerala), and other traditional aesthetics much to the people’s dismay.

Book one: The Kalari.

In the backdrop of the initial tremors of the first war of Independence 1852, this book is set in a fictional alternative reality called Reality Theta where the greatest descendant of Vadu, the legendary family of warriors is brutally murdered by the EIC as an example but instead creates an angry wave of insurgency throughout the state. Their last hope is Sai, the scion of Vadu who is being trained by the greatest icons of Kalaripayattu. This is his tenacious journey along with the significant others, to be the relentless opponents, the Pratidwandi of the EIC.

Kalaripayattu, also known as Kalari, is an Indian martial art form that originated in modern-day Kerala. It is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India, with a history spanning over 3,000 years.

Kalaripayattu is a martial art designed for the ancient battlefield (the word “Kalari” meaning “battlefield”), with weapons and combative techniques. It is also used by practitioners of Keralite dance styles, such as Kathakali and Mohiniyattam, as part of their training routines. The art also bases medical treatments like Ayurveda, pressure points and healing techniques.

According to legend, Parashurama, the sixth incarnation of the god Vishnu in Hinduism is the creator of Kalaripayattu. He is believed to have learned the art from Lord Shiva, and taught it to the original settlers of Kerala.

In 1804, the British banned Kalaripayattu in Kerala in response to the Kottayathu/Cotiote War, a rebellion against British rule in Kerala lead by the Keralite king Pazhassi Raja. The ban came into effect shortly after the King’s death resulting in the closure of most of the major kalari training grounds in Kerala.

Every part of this 400page book seems necessary as it emphasizes on the value of the Kalaripayattu tradition in their lives. Their struggle of not just survival but also retaliation is effectively showcased which makes this book brave and equally disturbing. There are some exciting sketches related to the storyline which broadened my perspective. The drama and events are inspired from real lives of the oppressed during the British rule. The vastness of the subject can sometimes be convoluted but the research about the legendary era is phenomenal. The characters are powerful and contribute effectively to the essence of the story.

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