Anyone at the age of 76 years would settle for a peaceful life amid grandchildren, telling them stories. But Meenakshi Raghavan has defied her age and is usually seen wielding swords like a warrior.
Born in Vadakara, a town famous for its ancient Hindu temple Lokanarkavu and Kottakkal Bhagavathi Temple, at the tender age of seven, Meenakshi Raghavan was introduced to the ancient martial art, Kalaripayattu, which is the most popular traditional form of martial art in Kerala.
“It was my father who first showed Kalaripayattu to me. I was barely seven years old. As I was learning dance, I thought learning kalarippayattu will increase my flexibility. So my father took me to my guru V P Raghavan Gurukkal, who started training me in Kalari. I used to practise dance in those days and that was one of the reasons for me joining the Kalari as it increases flexibility in movements. Later on, my guru, V P Raghavan Gurukkal started training me in Kalari,” says the sari-clad Meenakshi gurukkal.
“In those days, girls were allowed to learn dance and stitching. Indulging in traditional martial arts or sports wasn’t easy for girls. Those days, girls were restricted from being a part of such sports, especially after marriage.” Says Meenakshi Amma.
After learning the traditional Kalaripayattu, Meenakshi was married to her guru VP Raghavan who runs Kalari School. But soon, her husband passed away and Meenakshi Raghavan was determined not to shut down the school. The challenge was to take up the daunting task of running the institute all by herself.
“After my husband’s demise, I was compelled to don the mantle of gurukkal. I wanted to keep his labour of love alive and flourishing. It was, perhaps, guru dakshina I paid him in my own way. I had to run the institute while maintaining the high standards he had set,” she says.
Today at the age of 76, she is can challenge anyone half her age in Kalari. Age is not a factor for Meenakshi Amma. The exclusivity of Meenakshi’s school is that she has been teaching this ancient martial art absolutely free of cost. She has till date not charged any fee from any student. Her students are as young as 5 and she mostly has girls as her pupils in her school.
She explains: “I say a single thing to every girl, learn Kalaripayattu. I’m self-sufficient, I don’t need any security.”
From the month of June to September, the season of Kalari training starts. Meenakshi is busy during these months where all age groups throng her institute to learn the martial art.
At 76, she conducts as much as 60 shows in one season. She even travels to Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Goa, Coimbatore and Chennai to conduct workshops on Kalaripayyattu.
She has two daughters; two sons and eight grandchildren are all trained in Kalaripayattu and her son Sajeev is also a gurukkal (master) at the institute.
She is a proud recipient of prestigious Padma Shri award and has been honoured with innumerable awards so far.
Today she is fondly addressed as Menakshi Gurrukkal or Meenakshi Amma. But, despite her advancing years, this inspirational grandmother has no plans to hang up her sword just yet.
(The writer is the founder of Powerful Teacher, an organisation working for senior citizens)