Varma Kalai (Tamil:வர்மக்கலை varmakkalai), is a Tamil traditional art of vital points. It originated in Tamil Nadu, India. It is a component of traditional massage, alternative medicine, traditional yoga and martial arts in which the body's pressure points (Varmam) are manipulated to heal or cause harm. The healing application called Vaidhiya Murai is a part of used Siddha Medicine (siddha vaidyam). Its combat application is known as Adimurai, Adi Murai or Varma Adimurai meaning "pressure-point striking", and can be done either empty-handed or with a blunt weapon such as a stick or staff. Usually taught as an advanced stage of Adi Murai and Kuthu Varisai practice in South Tamilnadu and in South Kerala by Nadar community , strikes are targeted at the nerves, veins, tendons, soft tissues or ligaments, organs and bone joints.
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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 108 Varmams to the sage Agastya who then recorded it and disseminated the skill among his students. Siddha medicine is also attributed to Agastya. With numerous other scattered references to Varmam in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that Tamil Nadu's early fighters knew and practised attacking and defending Vital Points.
Knowledge of the body's vital points in India was not just confined to humans but also elephants. Known as nila, learning these points on an elephant's body was and remains necessary for mahouts. Prodding particular nila with a stick elicits various responses such as bringing the animal under control or making them kneel. Warriors would learn to attack certain nila on opposing war-elephants during battle, which could either kill or frighten the animals. The national museums of Sri Lanka have documented at least 86 nila and their functions.
Varma kalai is attributed to several siddhar (sages), namely Agastya, Bogar, Theriyar and Pulipani. Out of these, only the Agastya school is commonly practiced in Tamil Nadu and in the neighboring state of Kerala.
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- Luijendijk, D.H. (2005). Kalarippayat: India's Ancient Martial Art. Paladin Press. ISBN 1-58160-480-7.
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- Zarrilli, Phillip B. (1992). "To Heal and/or To Harm: The Vital Spots (Marmmam/Varmam) in Two South Indian Martial Traditions Part I: Focus on Kerala's Kalarippayattu". Journal of Asian Martial Arts. 1 (1).