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Traditional silambam gains popularity among Ennore kids
The growing popularity and acceptability of silambam in Ennore point to a renewed interest in Tamil folk traditions, even as parents swear by the health benefits, improved concentration levels and discipline the centuries-old martial art inculcates in children.
Known for the thermal power plant and its rocky and lengthy seashore, Ennore is slowly starting to don a new cap — that of producing a steady stream of silambam talent.
With more children in the area taking up the traditional martial arts form and winning laurels, practitioners from the area are hoping to take forward the area’s historical bonds with the combat sport to greater heights.
Twenty years ago, the area was known for silambam artists, but their reach didn’t extend beyond local temple events. If not for religious festivals, these artists hardly managed to find any cultural shows or events to showcase their talent.
The area, however, has transformed and is now known for producing several award-winning artists. In fact, awards and accolades have now become a common feature for the silambam practitioners in Ennore.
With three dedicated teams ready to participate in tournaments at all times, the 40-member group from Ennore has participated in and won several state-level tournaments, and have even proven themselves at national-level tournaments.
“The transition began ten years ago,” said J Durai, the president of the Thiruvallur District Silambam Kazhagam, whom this correspondent met with at a temple grounds near the Ennore Railway Station.
“The change in the parents’ approach and the growing awareness on the benefits attached to learning this martial art brought in that change,” said the 67-year-old silambam veteran.
Durai has over 50 years of silambam training under his belt, apart from several awards and movie appearances to his credit. He also takes silambam classes for the local youth.
“I underwent my training with a master from Madurai, and have been taking classes since I was 17 years old. I conduct silambam classes here for children on the weekends, for free.
I must have trained over 500 children from the area, and currently have 85 children learning under me,” he said, adding that he teaches variants of fighting with the surul kathi (metallic whip), maan kombu (deer horn), bamboo sticks, and more.
According to a parent, it was the awareness of health benefits, and the discipline and hard work attached to it that brought the martial art form back into the spotlight in the region. “We wanted to introduce our children to the sport for them to remain fit.
It requires a lot of energy, and it requires the working of all the muscles in the body to fight properly. It has also helped them increase their concentration levels,” she said adding that the residents, at large, are also showing keenness in “getting back to tradition”.
In April last year, the Madras High Court requested the Centre to recognise silambam as a national sport and to take necessary steps to get it introduced in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games as well. “Some parents send their children here so that the awards they win in tournaments and gain entry to colleges through the sports quota.
With more colleges accepting silambam, parents see it as a good investment,” said D Gunasekar, one of Durai’s students, who has participated in the state- and national-level tournaments.
Yet, these accomplishments remain under wraps as Durai refuses to advertise the team’s achievements, explaining that it was “a matter of remaining humble”.
The martial art is also getting more popular in Ennore due to growing awareness on the need for equipping one with some self-defence techniques. “In his classes, Durai sir teaches children how to take on people who are double their size.
If you learn how to fight with the surul kathi, you can even fight ten people at once. What happens is that the children get a sense of pride, and they no longer fear anyone anymore. That itself is a huge step forward,” said D Gunasekar.
With the rising instances of children being subjected to sexual assault in the city as well as across Tamil Nadu, many girls in the area too are showing keenness to take up the martial art. “When I started learning 15 years ago, there were only 25 students and very few girls.
Now, many girls are taking up silambam as a means of self-defence, and parents are also encouraging the girls to pick up this combat form as they believe their girls will be much mentally stronger with such skills under their sleeves,” said Gayathri K, a PT teacher in the area who studied under Durai.
While boxing and karate, which are ruling the rings in the global combat sports arena, hail from Western and Japanese background respectively, Silambam has its roots in the State, with some popularity in other Tamil populated countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
Having originated in around 1000 BCE, the weapon-based martial arts form finds its mention in Sangam-era texts and earliest Tamil epic Silapathikaram, along with distinct variants of the art form, depending on the type of weapon used.
In an attempt to raise awareness and preserve this art form from our own backyard, a few of Durai’s former students have opened the Friends Gramiya Kalai Kuzhu, a performing arts and martial arts troupe that performs at several events in the city.
Through their performances, they hope more people will learn about the martial arts form and Ennore’s historical ties with the place.
The martial arts’ future rests in the hands of parents, said Durai. “Some parents do not want to send their children for classes because they feel their child should focus only on the textbooks at school.
There is much that can be taught through silambam too. It improves concentration, physical fitness, and is a useful tool in their kit to face the present world with confidence,” he said.