Silambam Asia

Traditional Indian Arts

ஆசிய சிலம்பம்
- தமிழர்களின் பாரம்பரிய வீர தற்காப்புக் கலைகள்

About Silambam
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About Silambam

Silambam ( Tamil : சிலம்பம் ) or silambattam ( Tamil : சிலம்பாட்டம் ) of Indian Martial Arts is an ancient Dravidian martial art originated from Tamil Nadu ( South India ) and also practised in Sri Lanka and Malaysia. It is closely related to art of kalaripayat (kalari payat) from Kerala and the art of Angampora from Sri Lanka. Silambam trainings in Malaysia and Singapore, with components of kuttu varisai, traditional yoga and varma kalai, also known as Indian Traditional Martial Arts. In Tamil, the word silambam refers to the bamboo staff which is the main weapons used in this style. In Tamil, martial arts are known by the umbrella terms taṟkāppuk kalai ( Tamil : தற்காப்புக்  கலை ) "art of self-defence".

Unarmed silambam, called kuttu varisai ( Tamil : குத்துவரிசை ) , utilizes stances and routines based on animal movements such as the snake, tiger, elephant and eagle forms.

Silambam Transliteration Definition
Homophone of Silambam

A homophone is a word that has the same sound as another word but is spelled differently and has a different meaning.

stick fencing

Etymology Terminology of Silambam
Etymology and Terminology of Silambam

Etymological research on the Tamil word of 'Silambam' denoting the staff-play which has been very popular in Tamilnadu since the dawn of the Sangam era, is highly interesting. 'Silambam' is an onomatopoeic term from the swishing sound produced when an elastic cane staff or a staff of soft wood, fairly uniform in cross section and of a length which is a little less than that of the performer, is brandished with power and vigour and hit against another in the process of the play or duelling.

Letter from N.Sethuragunathan, Professor of Tamil, V.H.N. Senthikumara Nadar College, Virudhunagar, October 5, 1966 - Such nomenclature is sanctioned by the rules of derivation of nominals in Tamil grammar

Letter from Dr. M.Varadarajan, Professor of Tamil, University of Madras, October 17, 1966 - According to Dr. M.Varadarajan, " 'Silambu' means either a mountain or an anklet or merely 'to sound' (as verb). It might have been originally devoted to a sport in the mountains or a sport accompanied by some rhythmical sound." The practice of wearing jingling anklets called 'Silambu' in Tamil by the participants in this sport in some parts of Tamilnadu, might also have been the cause for its being named 'Silambam.'

Other Findings in Terminology of Silambam

The word Silambam in Tamil, was referred to as ‘Samu’ in Telugu, in the Sangita Saramruta of King Tulaja of Tanjore (1729-1735) indicating the practice of dance. It is the name by which bhāratanatyam was known, and the dance hall itself was called the ‘Silamba Koodam’ in the olden days. Bhāratanatyam is the most widely known and exalted of the classical Indian dance forms. It has existed in its present form for about 70 years, but its roots can be traced back several hundreds of years.


Silambam's main focus is on the bamboo staff. The length of the staff depends on the height of the practitioner. Ideally it should just touch the forehead about three fingers from the head, typically measuring around 1.68 metres (five and a half feet).

Different lengths may be used depending on the situation. Separate practice is needed for staffs of different lengths. The usual stance includes holding the staff at one end, right hand close to the back, left hand about 40 centimetres (16 inches) away. This position allows a wide array of stick and body movements, including in complex attacks, parry or blocks.

There are two types or category of Silambam, such as :
Azhangara Silambam அலங்காரச் சிலம்பம் -as exhibition arts ** not effective for combat / fights **
Por Silambam போர்ச் சிலம்பம் -as combative purpose and useful for fighting.

Each of below listed sub-sects is unique and may differ from one another in grip, posture ( Aṅka stiti அங்க ஸ்திதி / Nilay நிலை ), foot work ( Kaaladi Varisai / Kālaṭi Varicai காலடி வரிசை ), method of attack ( Tākkutal muṙai தாக்குதல் முறை ), length of the stick, movement of the stick etc. There are numerous sub-sects, styles of play or variation used in silambam.
( சிலம்பத்தில் பல வகைகள் உண்டு. அவையாவன )

  • Thulukkanam ( Tuṭukkāṇṭam துடுக்காண்டம் )
  • Kuravanchi ( Kuṟavañci குறவஞ்சி )
  • Kalyanavarisai ( similar to quarterstaff ( Kalyāṇavaricai கல்யாணவரிசை )
  • Marakkanam ( Maṟakkāṇam மறக்காணம் )
  • Panaiyeri Mallu ( Paṉaiyēṟi Mallu பனையேறி மல்லு )
  • Nagam-16 ( cobra-16 ) ( Nākam Patiṉāṟu நாகம் பதினாறு )
  • Nagatali ( Nākatāḷi நாகதாளி )
  • Nagasiral ( Nākacīṟal நாகசீறல் )
  • Kallanpattu ( thieves of ten ) ( Kaḷḷaṉpattu கள்ளன்பத்து )
  • Kallankampu ( Kaḷḷaṉkampu கள்ளன்கம்பு )
  • Kidamuttu ( goat head butting ) ( Kiṭamuṭṭu கிடமுட்டு / கிடாமுட்டு / கிடாமூட்டு / கிடைமுட்டு )

Tamil Proverbs
Tamil Proverbs
( தமிழ் பழமொழிகள் )

Transliteration Tamil Meanings
Koothaadi silambam porukku nillaathu. கூத்தாடிச் சிலம்பம் போருக்கு நில்லாது ! The mock silambam played for the gallery will be of no available in war!
Naanthaan koppan, Nallamuthupperan,
Velli Silambu eduthu vilayaada vaaren;
Thanga silambu eduthu thali katta vaaren.
நான் தான் கொப்பன்,
நல்ல முத்துப் பேரன் ;
வெள்ளிச் சிலம்பெடுத்து விளையாட வாரேன் ;
தங்கச் சிலம்பெடுத்துத் தாலி கட்டவாரேன் !
I am the hero; the grandson of Nallamuthu. I come with a silver staff to show my dexterity in silambam play and with a golden ornament to tie a matrimonial knot!
Aasan idari vizhunthaal, athuvum oru varisai. ஆசான் இடறி விழுந்தால்,
அதுவும் ஒரு வரிசை !
Even the fall of a silambam expert is considered to be a part of the techniques in silambam!
Kambukku etti nirkaathey,
Katthikku etti nil.
கம்புக்கு எட்டி நிற்காதே !
கத்திக்கு எட்டி நில் !
In staff fights, keep closer to the adversary; but in knife fights, keep a good distance from him!
Kalvi, kadal, kambu,
immoondirkum karai Kāṇḍaar ilar.
கல்வி, கடல், கம்பு
இம்மூன்றிற்கும் கரை கண்டார் இலர் !
There is no end for education, no bound for the sea, and no limit for silambam techniques.
Mun nindravan,
kambu asainthaal avan maranam.
முன் நின்றவன்
கம்பு அசைந்தால் அவன் மரணம் !
A slightly wrong movement on the part of an adversary's staff may bring a death blow on him.
Thalaikku vantha adi
thalaipagaiyodu ponathu.
தலைக்கு வந்த அடி
தலைப்பாகையோடு போனது !
The turban cloth saved the hit directed to the head!

Silambam History in India
Silambam History in India
( வரலாறு )

The references to Silappadikkaram in Tamil Sangam literature show that silambam has been practiced as far back as the 2nd century B.C.E. refer to the sale of silambam staves, swords, pearls and armor to foreign traders. Oral folklore traces it back even further, claiming a history of 3000 years. The ancient trading centre at the city of Madurai was renowned globally and said to be thronged by Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians among others who had regular sea trade with the Tamil kingdoms. The bamboo staff, one of the first weapons used in Indian martial arts, was in great demand with the visitors.

Indian martial arts suffered a decline after the British colonists banned silambam along with various other systems. They also introduced modern western military training which favoured fire-arms over traditional weaponry. The stick lost much of its combat superiority and some of silambam's vast techniques and styles were lost. During this time, silambam actually became more widespread in Southeast Asia than India. It is still practiced in Malaysia today, and demonstrations are held for certain festive occasions.

SILAMBAKKOODAM - Gingee Fort or Senji Fort (also known as Chenji, Jinji or Senchi) (Tamil தமிழ் : செஞ்சி கோட்டை) in Tamil Nadu, India is one of the surviving forts in Tamil Nadu, India. It lies in Villupuram District (Nearby cities: Villupuram City விழுப்புரம் நகரம், Puducherry, Tiruvannamalai) , 160 kilometres (99 mi) from the state capital, Chennai, and is close to the Union Territory of Puducherry. The fort is so fortified, that Shivaji, the Maratha king, ranked it as the "most impregnable fortress in India" and it was called the "Troy of the East" by the British.

Silambam History in Malaysia
Silambam History in Malaysia

The bamboo staff, along with swords, pearls and armor - was in great demand with foreign traders, particularly those from Southeast Asia where silambam greatly influenced many fighting systems. The Indian community of the Malay Peninsula is known to have practiced silambam as far back as the period of Melaka's founding in the 1400s, and likely much earlier.

In eighteen century, the silambam martial arts had been known to public, when British colonialism imported the workers from Tamil Nadu of India. The Tamil people were those who introduce the Silambam to Malay people (Malaya ; known as Malaysia after independence).

In the Second World War era, the Silambam was very popular mostly in Selangor State, especially in Kuala Selangor, Kapar and Kelang (Klang). The British colonial government in Malaya (Malaysia) had forbidden it, but the art of self-defense still been taught secretly (in the forests or hidden places). Rather than practising silambam arts as a self-defence, Tamil people in Malaya (Malaysia) do understand about health factors of this art. Silambam is also contribute to several health benefits and it prevents several type of diseases. The British colonial forbidden this art because worry retaliation by Tamil community against them. Even this restriction never stop some Tamil people, they still doing trainings at night (in dark area / forest) with each member take turns climbing on top of trees or hide behind bushes of plants, doing surveillance to prevent their practising group from being captured by British colonial army troop.

In 1975, Parliment of Malaysia decided to reorganise the legislation & registration act of association for all the martial arts. This is the historical golden moment which set place for Silambam in Malaysia, to be recognised officially. With effort from Datuk V.L.Kanthan, ex-President of Youth Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and morale support from Mahaguru S.Arumugam, Malaysia Silambam Association (Persatuan Silambam Malaysia) has been registered on 1976. Gradually by years thereafter, association gained strength with more than 250 branches and more than 20,000 members in Malaysia.

Recently, Silambam arts has been introduced to general public and recognised by Malaysia Government. The Silambam art of self defence has been well-developed and became more popular, as a type of sport which is competed with special skills, set of rules and also been performed in various occasions at festive occassions, temples occassions, school events, wedding functions, private functions, national events and many more.

Silambam Asia - Traditional Martial Arts website has been established to promote the arts worlwide and international level. Several initiative towards development of Silambam Arts has been taken. Silambam trainings in Malaysia and Singapore, with components of kuttu varisai, traditional yoga and varma kalai, also known as Indian Traditional Martial Arts.


Oral folklore traces silambam back several thousand years to the siddha (enlightened sage) Agastya. While on his way to Vellimalai, Agastya discussed Hindu philosophy with an old man he met, said to be the Lord Murugan in disguise. The old man taught him of kundalini yoga and how to focus prana through the body's nadi (channels). Agastya practiced this method of meditation and eventually compiled three texts on palm leaves based on the god's teachings. One of these texts was the Kampu Sũtra (Staff Classic) which was said to record advanced fighting theories in verse. These poems and the art they described were allegedly passed on to other siddha of the Agastmuni akhara (Agastya school of fighting) and eventually formed the basis of the both silambam and the southern style of kalaripayat (also spelled as kalari payat / kalaripayattu).

Agastya - (Tamil தமிழ் : அகத்தியர் Agathiyar; Telugu : అగస్త్య; Kannada: ಅಗಸ್ತ್ಯ; Sanskrit: अगस्त्य; Malay: Anggasta; Thai: Akkhot) is one of the Saptarshis who are extolled at many places in the Védas and a revered Védic sage and earliest Siddhar. He is also believed to be the author of Agastya Saṃhitā. The word is also written as Agasti and Agathiyar. A-ga in Sanskrit means a mountain, and Asti means thrower. Agastya the Muni, son of Urvashi was born of both Gods, Mitra and Varuna. Agastya is also the Indian astronomical name of the star of Canopus, is said to be the 'cleanser of waters', since its rising coincides with the calming of the waters of the Indian Ocean. He was son of Pulasthya, son of Brāhma.

Siddhar were spiritual adepts who possessed the ashta siddhis, or the eight supernatural powers. Sage Agathiyar is considered the guru of all Siddhars, and the Siddha medicine system is believed to have been handed over to him by Lord Muruga, son of the Hindu God Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvathi. Siddhars are the followers of Lord Shiva. Agathiyar is the first Siddhar. His disciples and other siddhars contributed thousands of texts on Siddhar literature, including medicine and form the profounder of the system in this world. He is considered as the Father of Tamil literature and compiled the first Tamil grammar called Agathiyam. He is regarded to have lived in the 6th or 7th century B.C and specialized in language, alchemy, medicine and spirituality (yogam and gnanam). There are 96 books in the name of Agathiyar. Some Tamil researchers say that Agastya mentioned in Védas and Agathiyar mentioned in Tamil texts could be two different characters. In Tamil language the term 'Agam' means inside and 'iyar' means belong. One who belong inside (soul) is the Tamil meaning for Agathiyar. Silambam stick, staff or weapons, kuttu varisai, yoga and varma kalai known as traditional Indian martial arts practised since Tamil Sangam.

Learning Silambam
Learning Silambam
( சிலம்பம் பயிற்சி )

Beginners are taught footwork ( kaaladi ) which they must master before learning spinning techniques and patterns, and methods to change the spins without stopping the motion of the stick. There are sixteen of them among which four are very important. Footwork patterns are the key aspects of silambam and kuttu varisai ( குத்துவரிசை ) ( empty hands form ). Traditionally, the masters first teach kaaladi for a long time before proceeding to kuttu varisai. Training in kuttu varisai allows the practitioner to get a feel of silambam stick movements using their bare hands, that is, fighters have a preliminary training with bare hands before going to the stick.

Gradually, fighters study footwork to move precisely in conjunction with the stick movements. The ultimate goal of the training is to defend against multiple armed opponents. In silambam as well as kuttu varisai ( குத்துவரிசை ), kaaladi is the key in deriving power for the blows. It teaches how to advance and retreat, to get in range of the opponent without lowering one's defence, aids in hitting and blocking, and it strengthens the body immensely enabling the person to receive non-lethal blows and still continue the battle. The whole body is used to create power.

The usual stance includes holding the staff at one end, right hand close to the back, left hand about 40 centimetres (16 inches) away. This position allows a wide array of stick and body movements, including complex attacks and blocks. As with some northern Chinese systems, the silambam staff is said to have "one head", meaning that only one end is primarily used for attacking. When the student reaches the final stage, the staff gets sharpened at one end. In real combat the tips may be poisoned. The ultimate goal of the training is to defend against multiple armed opponents.

Silambam prefers the hammer grip with main hand facing down behind the weak hand which faces up. The strong hand grips the stick about a distance hand's width and thumb's length from the end of the stick and the weak hand is a thumb's length away from the strong hand. The weak hand only touches the stick and to guide its movement. Silambam stresses ambidexterity and besides the preferred hammer grip there are other ways of gripping the staff. Because of the way the stick is held and its relatively thin diameter, blows to the groin are very frequent and difficult to block. Besides the hammer grip, silambam uses the poker grip and ice pick grip as well. Some blocks and hits are performed using the poker grip. The ice pick grip is used in single hand attacks. The staff is held like a walking stick and just hand gets inverted using the wrist.

In battle, a fighter holds the stick in front of their body stretching the arms three quarters full. From there, they can initiate all attacks with only a movement of the wrist. In fact, most silambam moves are derived from wrist movement, making it a key component of the style. The blow gets speed from the wrist and power from the body through footwork ( kaaladi ). Since the stick is held in front, strikes are telegraphic, that is, the fighter does not hide their intentions from the opponent. They attack with sheer speed, overwhelming the adversary with a continuous non-stop rain of blows. In silambam, one blow leads to and aids another. Bluffs may also be used by disguising one attack as another.

In addition to the strikes, silambam also has a variety of locks called poottu. A fighter must always be careful while wielding the stick or they will be grappled and lose the fight. Locks can be used to disable the enemy or simply capture their weapon. Techniques called thirappu are used to counter the locks but these must be executed before being caught in a lock. Silambam also has many different types of avoiding an attack like blocking, parrying, enduring, rotary parrying, hammering ( with the stick ), kolluvuthal ( attacking and blocking simultaneously ) and evasive moves such as sitting or kneeling, moving out, jumping high, etc.

Against multiple attackers, silambam exponents do not hold out their sticks as they do in single combat. Instead they assume one of the numerous animal stances which makes it difficult for opponents to predict the next attack.

An expert silambam stylist will be familiar with varma adi ( Tamil : வர்மக்கலை / Telugu : మర్మయుద్దకళ ) ( pressure-point fighting ) and knows where to strike anywhere in the body to produce fatal or crippling effects by the least use of power. In one-on-one combat an expert would just slide his stick to opponents wrist many times during combat. The opponent may not notice this in the heat of battle until they feel a sudden pain in the wrist and throw the stick automatically without knowing what hit them. When two experts match against each other one may challenge the other that he will hit his big toe. Hitting the big toe can produce crippling effects on the fighter, making them abandon the fight. This is called solli adithal which means "challenging and successfully hitting".