KOZHIKODE: Meenakshi is following in the footsteps of Unniyarcha, the legendary woman warrior in Vadakkan Pattu, the ballads of Malabar.
Even at the age of 68, she is going strong as the Kalari Gurukkal of the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham in Vadakara.
She is perhaps the oldest woman trainer of Kerala’s martial art and her passion for wielding the sword and shield remains undiminished.
Apart from holding regular Kalaripayattu stage performances across the state, she finds time to train young children without charging any fee, deeming Kalaripayattu as an art that transmits a lofty cultural legacy.
She trains about 15 girls and 115 boys in her Kalari.
It was the sight of children of neighbouring houses going to learn Kalari that kindled a love in her towards the martial art.
“When I was seven, I sought permission from my dad to learn Kalaripayattu.
After an initial refusal, he gave me the green signal to go ahead.
We were an academically- inclined family and it was the first time a girl went to learn Kalaripayattu from our family,” Meenakshi says.
And it was not as easy as she had expected.
“Soon after joining, I was asked to take part in a Kalaripayattu competition.
All I could do was to nod dumbly,” Meenakshi chuckles.
But it did not deter her from pursuing her passion and now Meenakshi’s proficiency in using the sword and shield has earned her ardent admirers across the state.
Meenakshi’s husband V P Raghavan, who died a year ago, was the founder of the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham.
“I got married at the age of 18 and since then, he was my trainer.
At the time of the marriage, he promised that he would make me a Kalaripayattu trainer.
He kept the promise.
He is my inspiration and driving force,” Meenakshi recollects.
Like her husband, Meenakshi is a strict disciplinarian and insists on rigorous sessions.
“Kalari demands dedication and discipline.
The aspirants must try to achieve mastery over their body movements and balance in their training period.
At this age I could easily perform Kalari because of the physical fitness I gained through practice,” she says.
Every year, training is held from June to September.
And she charges no fee for the training.
“I value the love that my students have for me over anything else,” says Meenakshi.