Silambam is a form of martial art involving the act of fencing using a long staff. The staff is typically made of bamboo and can vary in length according to the practitioners’ height. The kaaladi (footwork) involved in silambam is intricate and considered key to mastering the martial art form. It is only when the footwork is grasped before the masters are willing to teach the kuttu varisai (bare hands movement) and staff movements to amateur silambam practitioners.
The kuttu varisai is necessary to prepare practitioners to master the movements that comes with handling of the staff. Although these are key elements of footwork and hand movements under silambam, there are various sub-sects that offer and practise different styles of movements, footwork, postures and methods of attack.
Silambam is believed to have originated from the southern part of India from about 5000 years ago. Oral folktales mention how silambam may be linked to a story involving a sage called Agastya who encountered Lord Murugan and learned forms of meditation from him. Agastya then conceived texts and practices that formed the basis of silambam. There are also records of how silambam was present during the Chola, Chera and Pandya Empires in South India from 3rd century BC to 3rd century AD.
The early contacts between communities from South India and Southeast Asia have resulted in the practice of silambam being brought into the Malay Peninsula. In Singapore, silambam is taught in martial arts schools. As with other forms of traditional martial arts, practitioners benefit from values such as discipline and mindfulness that are inculcated through the practice. The art form is also increasingly popular as a form of self-defence.