She flung herself into the air and landed back on earth with startling ease, all the while wielding a heavy sword (Vaal Veechu) in one hand, a stick (kambu) in another. Her feet touched the ground, only to leap again, this time cutting through the air with a metal whip, a surul vaal.
This is not a description of a mythical warrior princess lost in the pages of time. Our protagonist here is very real and living a life dedicated to reviving a 3000-year-old art form, Silambam.
A designer by profession, Aishwarya Manivannan found her calling around 5 years ago when her dance teacher suggested the martial art form to her for improving her posture and core strength.
“I had been learning Bharatnatyam for quite some time when my guru, Kavita Ramu (IAS) suggested to me to learn Silambam. The traditional art-form which is more than 3000 years old, intrigued me and I joined. As I began to train under my Silambam guru, Power Pandian Aasan, I realised that I had just jumped into an ocean of knowledge, and so, I dove deeper. He pushed me beyond my known capacities which made me feel so empowered. After a point, my interest and love for Silambam grew so strong that I had to leave Bharatnatyam to dedicate myself completely to this ancient art-form. And it was all worth it!” said Aishwarya while speaking to The Better India (TBI).
Now she juggles her life between being a Silambam champion, holding workshops to propagate the art form and managing Maisha Studio that she founded to encourage creative expression through various mediums.
With grit and a determined belief in self, Aishwarya not only broke gender stereotypes around the martial art form that usually conjures up images of well-built men sporting a thick moustache of pride, she also broke records at the global front winning four gold and one silver medal at the 2016 Asian Silambam Championship held in Malaysia.
“Silambam was not only physically but also spiritually empowering. It is like meditation, where you have to pour yourself entirely. This realisation pushed me further to share this treasure with more people, and I am glad that there are many more people who think the same. This art is finally gaining momentum both nationally and internationally,” she said.
In order to raise awareness about the art form, as well as the attire—a handloom saree worn in a dhoti style—Aishwarya uploaded a video of her performing Silambam acrobatics wearing a saree on National Handloom Day 2016. You can check it out here:
“The video garnered a lot of attention which was much beyond my expectation. The intent, however, was to popularise both Silambam and the traditional attire in the urban scenario. They are traditional art forms popular only in rural spaces, and I wanted to do my bit to change that by including the urban audience as well. Also, in general, Silambam is seen as a masculine art form and the video was meant to challenge that and show that one can be comfortable in a dress like saree,” she added.
Now emerging to be a prominent name in the art circle, especially with respect to Silambam, Aishwarya shares her dream to take it to the next generation.
“In Silambam, there is no age limit. And the benefits from Silambam are multifaceted and holistic especially for children as the art form focuses on the use of both hands vigorously which helps to trigger both the right and left sides of the brain thus aiding in brain development. This is the reason why a number of schools are getting interested in including it in their curriculum, and I hope this trend spreads to the entire nation,” said 30-year-old Aishwarya.
A stellar example of empowerment, we hope more such women in India follow her lead and step forward to raise the sword of personal victory and pride in self!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)