The word Kalari means "threshing floor" or "battlefield" in Tamil and Malayalam. Training for Kalaripayattu, a martial art of Kerala is traditionally done inside the Kalari. Also the past village schools of Kerala, run by the traditional astrologers families were known by the name Kalari or Ezhuthu Kalari.
Every Kalari has a Puttara (meaning "platform where flowers are kept" in Malayalam). The Puttara is a seven tiered platform placed in the south-west corner and houses the guardian deity of the Kalari. The seven tiers symbolise the seven abilities that each person must possess: Vignesva (strength), Channiga (patience), Vishnu (power to command), Vadugashcha (the posture), Tadaguru (training), Kali (the expression) and Vakasta - purushu (sound). Other deities, most of them incarnations of the Bhagavathi or Shiva, are installed in the corners. Flowers, incense and water are offered to the deity every day. Before starting the day's practice, it is the norm for practitioners to pray to the deity. Not only is the Kalari a temple of learning, but it is also a temple of religious worship with a cult and ritual of its own.
There is also a Guruthara inside all kalaris. Guruttara means "the place where a lamp is kept burning in reverence to all the gurus (masters) of the kalari".
Kalari also meant to be the pre-school in Kerala. At the age of three children used to be placed in Kalaris during 20th century. It is still in practice at some villages in Kerala.
The teacher in Kalari is called Asan. The traditional astrologer caste Kaniyar / Ganaka were the Preceptors of fencing techniques  Probably due to the same reason they are still known by the title Panickar at certain regions of Kerala. A legendary belief had been existed that the duty of training martial art was assigned to this class of people by Parasurama in Keralolpathy. Remnants of such traditions are still known to exists in some families of Kalari Panicker and Kalari Kurup (a sect of Kaniyar in the central Kerala). Asan get much respect from the students during entire life compared to a pre school teacher of recent time.[clarification needed].
Kalaripayattu has spread and gained importance in Europe and USA after 2010 due to the efforts of Guru Anil Machado & Yogini Shiva Rea. They have led many westerners to take up Kalaripayattu.
Construction of a Kalari
Traditionally the Kalari is constructed by digging a hollow in the ground forming a sunken area four feet in depth, forty-two feet in length and twenty-one feet in breadth. This is usually called KuzhiKalari. Kuzhi means "portions formed by caving in the earth" in Malayalam.
The entrance to the Kalari is in the east, to let in the morning sunlight, and leads into the forty-two foot leg running East-West while the twenty-one foot leg runs North-South. Another consideration taken when constructing the kalari is that it is built in the south-west side of the main plot, just like the puttara which is kept in the South-West corner of the Kalari itself. The floor of the Kalari is leveled using mud.
AnkaKalari and Ankathattu
Ankathattu is a four to six feet high platform constructed temporarily for the purpose of fighting duels. Ankam means war in Malayalam. This platform is constructed as per tradition and is in the center of the ground from where people can watch the fight. The entire arrangement is called Anka Kalari.
Historically, in Kerala, quarrels between local rulers were resolved by fixing an Ankam, a duel to the death, between two Ankachekavars, each ruler being represented by one Ankachekavar. The ruler represented by the surviving Ankachekavar was considered the winner.
Kalari in literary works
Information about Kalari is found in the Tamil literary work Purananuru. The word "kalari" appears in the Puram (verses 225, 237, 245, 356) and Akam (verses 34, 231, 293) to describe to both a battlefield and combat arena. It speaks of the Kalari talents of Tamil kings of the Chera, Chola & Pandya dynasties.
- Social revolution in a Kerala village: a study in culture change. New Delhi: Asia publication house. 1965. pp. 26–27.
- L. Krishna Anantha Krishna Iyer (Diwan Bahadur); The Cochin tribes and castes; 1909
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- Utopia and the Village in South Asian Literatures. New Delhi: Palgrave Macmillan. 2012. p. 142.