HYDERABAD: She looks like the girl-next- door. It is only when she wields the Kombu (stick), Surul Vaal (metal whip), Vaal Veechu (sword), and performs jaw-dropping acrobatic feats do we get an inkling of this martial arts exponent who practices Silambam, a 3,000-yr-old art form.
Not surprisingly, she has won four gold and one silver medal at the Asian Silambam Championship held in Malaysia in January 2016. 28-year-old Aishwarya Manivannan, one of the star attractions at the Hyderabad Literary Festival held recently in the city, sits for a chat with Hyderabad Express.
You look beautiful in this handloom saree. What is the connection?
I am a designer and I respect handmade art and love wearing handloom sarees.
Each and every strand is made by hand, and the finished product epitomises the creator’s thoughts and feelings.
Showcasing Silambam while wearing a saree is a message to all women that a saree can be as comfortable as a dress. It is my personal choice, and I appreciate the weavers who make this fine piece of art. This was the reason for bringing out a video in which I wore a handloom saree on National Handloom Day in August 2016 and performed Silambam.
How did you get into Silambam?
Initially, I started practicing Bharatanatyam. About four years ago, my Bharatanatyam guru Kavita Ramu (IAS) elaborated the ways in which traditional martial arts can help in improving my dance performances. I then got interested in Silambam and met my guru Power Pandian Aasan, who had been teaching Silambam for over 30 years. He is currently the senior Vice President of the World Silambam Federation in Chennai. His prominent disciples include actors such as Suriya, Karthik, etc.
My master makes me do things beyond my known capabilities. He pushes my boundaries.
What are the origins of Silambam?
Originally, Silambam was employed in warfare by the royalty in South India. In those days, suitors seeking the hand of the bride contested using Silambam, and the person who won got the lady. Today, the art has evolved into a sport with tournaments being held at district, national and international arenas.
What do you do for a living?
I teach Visual Arts and Interior Design at Loyola College, Chennai, and am an alumnus of Madras University and Lasalle College of Arts, Singapore.
What does Silambam mean to you?
For me, Silambam is not just a physical activity. It is a form of meditation. I practise Silambam every day in the morning. What seems like dance movements are all a series of attack moves. I find Silambam beautiful and graceful.
What are some of the benefits of Silambam?
It improves physical fitness and stamina and boosts your creativity levels. Moreover, it is an effective weight-loss technique and helps relieve stress. And there are no age-limits or prerequisites for those seeking to practice it.
Any memorable experiences?
When I took part in the World Championship event in Malaysia in 2015, I saw participants of numerous countries competing in Silambam, and felt so motivated because the art form is our culture and tradition. I was the only woman flagbearer in the tournament. Holding the flag high and leading the team is a moment I will always cherish.
Your message to women?
As martial arts practitioners, we are trained to avoid situations that may cause harm. It comes down to the way you carry yourself. The crux is to avoid conflict situations and be conscious of your immediate surroundings. Have self-confidence and self-respect.
Any sporting events in the near future?
This March, there is a Silambam event in Chennai, and in April, an International Silambam Championship in Indonesia. I’m looking forward to taking part in them.
Your long-term goals?
In terms of sport, it is my dream to see Silambam as a category in the Asian Games and Olympics. In terms of art, I would put more efforts to get people practise Silambam all over the country, and make people understand its different facets.
I am also exploring ways to connect Silambam to art forms such as Bharatanatyam, visual arts, and other dance forms.