Meet ‘Sword Granny’ aged 82 who teaches India’s Oldest Martial Art

Meenakshi Raghavan, better known as ‘Sword Granny’, is an 82-year-old woman who is dedicated to teaching India’s oldest martial art.

Meet 'Sword Granny' aged 82 who teaches India's Oldest Martial Art f

“When young girls and women look at me, they feel inspired"

Meenakshi Raghavan is unlike other 82-year-old women. This is because she runs a martial arts school in Vatakara, Kerala.

Known as ‘Sword Granny’, she takes her class through the movements of Kalaripayattu.

Every day, Meenakshi teaches Kalaripayattu to youngsters and the older men and women of the town alike.

She has built a team of teachers who work alongside her at the Kadathanad Kalari Sangham school.

Not only has Meenakshi become renowned for her age but her focus and commitment is empowering the next generation of young women.

Sword fighting is an essential part of Kalaripayattu, and the grandmother moves swiftly and with great grace when she swings her sword at the opponent.

Kalaripayattu is believed to have begun in Kerala about 5,000 years ago.

When European invaders arrived in India with guns and cannons, the martial art began to dwindle in popularity and it was eventually banned by India’s British colonial rulers in 1804.

But the martial art survived underground, experiencing a resurgence in the early 20th century and gaining new life after India’s independence in 1947.

Meenakshi’s martial arts school was started by her late husband Raghavan Gurukkal in 1949.

They met when she joined as a student and after his death, she took over the martial arts school.

She said: “This school is located at the same spot where my husband built it. And anyone is welcome here, we do not charge anything to our students.”

Meenakshi began martial arts at seven, under the guidance of her father, who recognised the importance of self-defence in a society where women were often vulnerable.

She now passes on her wisdom to more than 200 students, the majority of which are girls.

Meenakshi continued: “When young girls and women look at me, they feel inspired that if I can do such a thing at this age, so can they at their age.”

Meenakshi says self-defence is essential for young women in India and martial arts is the best way to equip them.

She believes Kalaripayattu instils self-confidence and mental resilience, crucial in a society where women face systematic marginalisation and violence.

In 2022, of nearly six million crimes recorded by police in India, 445,256 involved crimes against women, a rise of more than 30% since 2016.

Meet 'Sword Granny' aged 82 who teaches India's Oldest Martial Art

Meenakshi said: “Kalaripayattu plays an important role in building mental strength and self-confidence.

“Offering girls hope and empowerment.

“Given how crimes against women are increasing everywhere, it is important that young girls are equipped with the techniques of self-defence.

“It is not just a skill, it has become a necessity and essential for survival.”

Students learn in the red-sand training ground (kalari) and master the techniques passed down through generations.

Meenakshi stated: “When I train young girls and women, I keep in mind to teach them Kalaripayattu for its essence and their self-defence.”

She is now connecting with people outside Kerala, adding:

“I also have special groups with people coming from different countries who seek one-on-one training.”

Lead Editor Dhiren is our news and content editor who loves all things football. He also has a passion for gaming and watching films. His motto is to "Live life one day at a time".

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