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Draped in a saree, armed with a sword Aishwarya Manivannan slays stereotypes

Blending tradition, beauty with strength and agility, a saree-clad Aishwarya Manivannan keeps the ancient martial art form of Silambam alive.

Aishwarya Manivannan - a Silambam practitioner

Aishwarya Manivannan - a Silambam practitioner (Source: The New Indian Express)


Sohinee Basu

Updated: 26 Oct 2021 4:20 AM GMT

Imagining martial arts and women is one thing and imagining saree-clad women doing acrobatic stunts, with a sword in hand, is a different ball game altogether. Yet, Aishwarya Manivannan, an artist, designer and an educator with the Loyola College, Chennai has been doing just this - donning the saree and arming herself with the Kombu (stick), Surul Vaal (metal whip), Vaal Veechu (sword) and showing off her skills at Silambam - a 3000-year-old ancient martial art form originating in South India.

Choosing Silambam over Bharatnatyam was the first conscious decision Aishwarya had taken after learning the dance form for a period of 4 years. At 23, while managing a full-time career, Aishwarya, upon learning how her dance could also improve if she perfected certain martial art forms like Silambam, immediately got interested in it. Seeing it not just any other physical activity, Aishwarya soon began to learn the ropes of Silambam and its rich heritage under her guru Power Pandian Aasan.

Silambam practitioners (Source: Aishwarya Manivannan)

"At 23, I started learning Silambam while managing a full-time career. I choose the art form over everything because I felt that there is a lot of potential in it and mainly because I felt that I can do something extraordinary through the art. I found a calling or purpose in Silambam. It inspired and fascinated me because of its history and character," Manivannan said in an interview with SheThePeople.

Responsible for improving the flexibility, agility, muscular endurance, cardiovascular strength, speed and stamina of the practitioner, Silambam can be therapeutic for both the body and the soul. "Originally, Silambam was employed in warfare by the royalty in South India. In those days, suitors seeking the hand of the bride contested using Silambam, and the person who won got the lady. Today, the art has evolved into a sport with tournaments being held at district, national and international arenas," Aishwarya mentioned to the New Indian Express during the 2017 Hyderabad Literary Meet, where she was a guest.

By wearing the saree, another example of a tradition whereby artisans are involved in intricately weaving and putting together the beautiful twelve-yards of grace, and blending it with Silambam, Aishwarya has managed to break stereotypes by redefining what it means to be feminine. Combining the tradition, beauty and strength of the saree and Silambam, Aishwarya has kept the age-old martial art alive, in its truest essence.

Through her prowess in Silambam, Aishwarya has also won four gold medals and one silver medal at the 2016 Asian Silambam Championship. Her goal remains to see Silambam become a part of the Asian Games or the Olympics, ideally both, she preaches the art she practises to students now, ensuring that this piece of history and art is never lost.

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