top of page

From Navodaya’s lineage of Kalarippayattu Martial Art films.   A new-age visual depiction of The Ballads of Malabar.


Vadakkan-paattu films of Udaya Studios Alappuzha

Unniyaarcha (1961)

Paalattu Koman (1962)

Othenante Makan (1969)

Aromalunni (1971)

Ponnaapuram Kotta (1973)

Thumbolaarcha (1975)

Kannappanunni (1977)

Paalattu Kunji Kannan (1980)

Vadakkan-paattu films of Navodaya Studio Kakkanad

Kadathanaattu Maakkom (1978)

Thacholi Ambu (1978)

the first Cinemascope in Malayalam.

Padayottam (1982)

the first indigenous 70mm.

acrylic & oil on canvas illustrations
by RK

title design
by yellowtooths

digital photo composites

by Sethu Sivanandan

additional sketches
by Alice Cheevel

photo realistic sketches
by Narayana Murthy

digital matte paintings
by Abhilash N.  &  Yesudas V George


Oil on Canvas



Digital Matte Painting

Yesudas V George


The Agasthya Myth

Agasthya Guru - the sage who designed the kalari principles and chevaka codes, is also believed to have authored into destiny the specific weapon by which

a swordsman’s life would be taken.

So, it was a belief that there exists somewhere ‘a sword for every chekavar

with his name written on it’.

Only that destined weapon could take his life!

copyright - jose punnoose


The Agasthya Myth explained

Agasthya Guru, the sage who is believed to have formulated the Kalari principles and the codes for Chevakar, had at one point taken pity on their plight.


For every saga of a victorious Chevakar, there were hundreds of others who in their prime of youth, got killed or maimed on the arena … orphaned their families …   their lives never chronicled in the ballads.

For those, Agastya Guru came up with expiation. He authored into the Chekava destiny the specific weapon by which a Chekava’s life would be taken. Thus came to existence ‘a weapon for every Chekavar with his name written on it’. Only that destined one could take his life!

This expiation option was meant for the faint-hearted. Hence, it was not unusual to hear a kalari-aashaan (guru), exasperated with his disciple, mutter -

“You’d better start looking for it … the sword with your name on it … just don’t waste my time”   


Of course it is a myth.

It was taboo even to mention the myth in the Chekava gatherings.

Because, it was meant for the ones who feared for their lives.

conceptjose punnoose


Oil on Canvas



The Legend of Chandu Chekavar

Of how the legend is born ...

A major ankam contest is about to take place. 

The challenger to the reigning champion, bitten by a serpent on the way, arrives in a palanquin … and tumbles out dead! 

Chandu was a mere spectator there ... a young kalari dropout, a chekava renegade.

He is pushed onto the stage to take the challenger’s place. 

Chandu defeats the champion, chops his head … and flings it over the cheering crowd. 

That was only a beginning.


A series of such stunning victories ensued. 

Lauded by illustrious ballads, the Legend of Chandu Chekavar was born.

In an undefeated reign of 12 years, Chandu’s arrogance grew.

He offended many - the brothel madame, the feudal lords, and the powerful of the land.

Demanding privilege, even his entourage antagonised the powerless peasants.

Of why Chandu seeks his destined sword ...

Chandu could have had his pick of any female in the land. Still, his advances were warded off by a beautiful and noble woman.

While preparing for the next ankam, Chandu takes a hard look at his self …  and finds him beyond the peak of his prowess. He had become opulent, wayward and decadent. Yes! ... also an unworthy person in the eyes of a chaste woman. 


Then, he has a nightmare … that he gets killed in the ankam!

Lacking in confidence, he decides to seek ‘the sword with his name on it’.

If he can get hold of it before the opponent does, he has his destiny safe in his hands!

Chandu seeks the destined weapon.

What follows is Chandu's adventures to find it.
The quest takes him to historical/ landmark places

Period of the story c13th A.D.

Places in the story


Naadaapuram - The medieval township/ city state of north Malabar.

Subject of many folktales and ballads, this was where the ankam duels got staged.

Thirunaavaya - An ancient settlement on the Bharathapuzha river. 

On its sandbanks, once in 12 years, the famous Maamankam festival was conducted. The dispute for the right to conduct the festival led to the chavear (suicide squad) attacks against the ruling Zamorin king. Chandu meets the mystic bladesmith here.


Ponnaapuram fort - The gambler’s den of a famous warlord Kelu Mooppan.

Located in the Vayanad hills, the ‘fortess’ actually has been hewn out of a dense bamboo forest. Chandu had once pawned his sword here.


The caves of Hampi - At the the famous city, Chandu seeks the sword.

The stone pillars here, when struck by a weapon, could identify the metal by its timbre.


Lanes of Muciripattinam (Muziris) - Ancient port city of the Cheras.

Chandu meets a reclusive chekavar named Kannappar.


Market in Jaffa. Gustav Bauernfeind.1887 (representative image for Muziris)




Fortress with living bamboo-wall around it.

Yesudas V George



 (representative image for Maamankam)

Swordsmith/ Agasthya Guru

At Thirunaavaya, battle was ranging outside.

Inside a tent, at his kiln the old swordsmith was pouring over an astral chart with every martial-arts weapon in the universe listed in it.

Chandu looks over the man’s shoulder.

He sees a crescent shaped blade forming.

“This sword … would you wield it? …

Burn, bury or brandish ... if it were in your hands?”


As the man says this, seeing a chavear (suicide) charge coming up,

Chandu says .... 

“I shall launch it at the horde … to go slice and sever their heads”.


Sethu Sivanandan

Abhilash N.

While he is saying this, flung by Chandu, already the whirling blade was slicing through the charge.

The attackers come running like headless chicken.           

The old man mutters ...       

 “Hmmm … like the mythological Kalki ? ”

 “But, if you miss any of them, it will come around a boomerang …

  for your own head !!”

Digital Matte Painting

Abhilash N.

Kannappar, the reclusive Chekavar

Kannappar was once a star swordsman.

At the prime of his life he had disappeared.

During his quest for the destined sword, at Miciripattinam, Chandu finds Kannappar living as a recluse there.

Suspecting the obvious, Chandu dare ask the man now at the dusk of his life -

“Oh gurukkal … have you come in possession … of the sword with your name on it?”

The man evades the question, but uncovers an unknown facet about the myth -

“When you seek the sword with your name on it …. the sword starts seeking you!”

As if oblivious to Chandu's presence, the hermit Chekavar voices aloud a predicament that awaits Chandu too ...



"Has anyone ever considered what they shall do with it ...


Bury, Burn or Brandish? ... once it is at hand? ...

Even with it safely tucked under one’s pillow,

can one doze for an instant, peacefully? "

Bojamma, the brothel madame ...

Oil on Canvas



The Legend of Chandu Chekavar

Bojamma, the brothel madame ...
Mukheli, the once and aspirant king.

Once a young woman of Koorg, on becoming the concubine of the Mukheli (ruler) of Muddukeri - a township in Konganadu, the lady assumed the name Bojamma.

Ousted in a family coup, Mukheli with his harem had fled to the nearby Naadapuram and sought asylum. For sustenance, Bojamma did a makeover of the harem to a brothel.

At Chandu’s win at his kanni-ankam (first duel), the greatest victory parade Naadaapuram township had ever known went around with Chandu on their shoulders.

Witness differ on what happened towards sundown ... when the cavalcade reached the devadasi lane. Some say the madame extended her hospitality to his entourage.

It could be that Chandu invited himself and walked into her abode.

What Naanu Paanar’s ballad doesn’t mention, yet known by all townsfolk, is the altercation regarding payment terms that occurred the next morning at the brothel’s padippura (gate). At the refusal of Chandu’s cortege to compensate for their services, with a litany of choicest expletives, the inmates were heard abusing their clients for the night.


Sticking to the claim that it was an invitation, with a newfound bravado

Chandru bragged -

“Write down on your padippura that Chandu was here.

The fame alone would prove more than a compensation!”


A piqued madame booted everyone out.

She sent placations to Chandu after his stature rose further … and further.

Chandu didn’t relent. That snub, Bojamma never forgave.

Fleeing from his kingdom, the petty ruler took refuge in the neighboring.

Here he found himself manning the front-desk of his harem now become a brothel.

His aspiration to return to his erstwhile throne caused Mukheli many P.R. blunders; one of which was the invitation of Chandu and entourage to share his harem. 


Oil on Canvas



The Legend of Chandu Chekavar

Unichaara, the chaste.

Unichaara was an epitome of chastity. 

Born of an affluent family where pursuit of literature and performing arts was considered much nobler than the barbaric duels and vulgar prances the peasents engaged in, was Unichaara.  

A fabulous dancer, many men coveted her.

Though he was hero to the masses, Chandu’s overture to the lady was met with a response consistent with Unichaara’s character - absolutely passive, stoic.

This news falling on Bojamma’s ears incensed the madame.

It was pure jealousy.

The madame found her placations to the local hero spurned … while a girl due to her virtue had won his admiration!


On a day of the village fair, Bojamma the madame and Unichaara the chaste found themselves face to face. The former slandered the latter’s chastity in public. The madame recited a list of Unichaara’s paramours and challenged her to prove her virginity.


In such situations, an archaic village practice was to dip one’s finger in a cauldron of oil boiling in front of the female deity. Unichaara, as if accepting the challenge, did so and emerged unblemished. But the vile Madame wouldn’t let go.

She crowed -

“Cheat! The girl applied python-tallow on her finger just before the dip … ”. 


An adivasi hunter vouched what the Madame said as true.

Hence the slur on Unichaara’s character remained.

Naanu Paanar, the balladeer ...

Oil on Canvas



The Legend of Chandu Chekavar

Naanu Paanar, the balladeer ...

As minstrel to the peasants and publicist to the chekavar, Naanu Paanar discharged his duties more than well.

When the champion’s challenger arrived dead on the palanquin, finding the situation slipping out of hands, it was Naanu who pointed out Chandu as a likely replacement and goaded the young man onto the arena. Striking the hot iron, Naanu took off with his couplets as with Chandu’s leaps on the anka-thattu.


Shrewd Naanu’s only interest was the efficacy of his ballads.

Hence, when Chandu tries to forestall his own death in combat, Naanu coaxes brothel madame Bojamma to convince Chandu that a Chekavar’s immortality is not in living a long life … but as a hero to make a mark and leave the world quickly.

He thus sells Chandu an atrocious idea .... to hand over the destined, mythical weapon onto to his opponent’s hand … or better still, launching it against himself at the threshold of victory.

That would be a fitting finale to Chandu’s life!

And Naanu would ensure that the ballad on Chandu, by becoming an epic, would make Chandu immortal!

Feudal lords Kanaran and Thampan ...

Kanaran’s prized bull, one dedicated to the temple endowments, encroached into Thampan’s stable and violated the latter’s cows. A furious Thampan had the bull caught and castrated.                                        

Hearing this, an enraged Kanaran lead a posse against Thampan’s bastion.

Forewarned, Thampan mobilised his horde and met the attackers halfway.


Out on a journey along with handful of his soldiers, the local king suddenly found himself caught unawares between the two groups. Lacking sword strength to quell the skirmish, the petty king advised an ankam to resolve the dispute ….... and had the adversaries placated and dispersed.


Kanaran arrived grandiosely at Chandu’s palatial kalari offering to sponsor an ankam.

He asked -

“Would Chandu Chekavar endorse my cause? If so, quote your price!”


The benefactor laid out bundles of gold coins to meet Chandu’s market price … and had come prepared even to double it.

Chandu said nonchalantly -

“Ten thousand gold coins … nothing less!”

Kanaran was stunned. Even Chandu’s bystander, pouring buttermilk for the guest, spilt the drink. Lord Kanaran’s net worth wasn’t anywhere around it.

His shock soon turned to amusement and he gently walked out.

It was no surprise to Kanaaran that his adversary Thampan was waiting outside, obviously to meet Chandu for the same reason.

Kanaran waited to see the outcome … and there came Thampan rushing out faster than he went in. Belittled by egoist Chandu, Lord Kanaran and Chieftain Thampan stared at each other. Bemused, they laughed at each other’s predicament, shook hands, made peace and left.


Chandu had not only priced himself out of the ankam events ... but also antagonised two powerful men.

Here was an opportunity Bojamma found heaven sent ... to plot Chandu’s downfall.

Of how Chandu wields the destined weapon ...

Successful in his quest, with the destined weapon safe in his hand, Chandu is ready to face his challenger!

At the ankam confirmation ceremony, Chandu finds that his opponent is a young chekavar. Come to avenge his father, it is the son of the champion he had first defeated 12 years ago. Chandu’s second shock is in finding that every townsfolk - the ones he had offended … and, even his erstwhile entourage is arrayed behind his opponent!


To his alarm, back in his home, he cant find the destined weapon!

Has he misplaced it? Did somebody purloin it? At the crucial hour when he desperately needs it, did it simply disappear?

What if it falls into the hand of an opponent … the present or a future one?


the petty local ruler ...

When Naanu Paanar’s ballad about Chandu’s exploits echoed over the countryside, its melody rejuvenated the scorched tillers in the fields. To its beat the harvesters scythed in unison, the threshers found their bruised feet hurt no longer.


The lords found their granaries filled and overflowing.

Everyone was happy due to the revenue from the land.

Chandu’s duels, to which the cheering masses flocked, were sold-out events.

Craftsmen, cattle traders, potters, weavers, punters and even harlots … everyone filled up their purse if they could set up shop around Chandu’s anka-thattu.

The king was content at the windfall of taxes.

But, by pricing himself out of the market with an atrocious fees quoted to the two lords, Chandu jeopardized his as well as everybody’s life.

For him, it meant no more income.

For the townsfolk, no new ankam … no new ballads for Naanu Paanar… no exciting event or business at the town center … no tax revenue for the king!

Chandu had antagonised the king too.


ANKAM - The Duel


The Legend of Chandu Chekavar

Of Cheerakaadan Chathunni and sons ...

Upstart Chandu’s first clash was with the then champion Cheerakaadan.

Years later, Chathunni’s son Kunjikannan had come to avenge his father.

Facing him on the anka-thattu, Chandu sprung his famous kick.

He rose up in the air and somersaulted to the rear of Kunjikannan.

Despite specific training imparted by Bojamma on Chandu’s tactic,

the young challenger was amazed.

He recovered and swung around with a dazzling swordplay


But then Chandu came up with an unexpected trick.


He again kicked and launched himself high into the air once again.

Anticipating the somersault towards his rear, Kunjikannan turned around.

But this time Chandu came down to the original spot. Before Kunjikannan realised the mistake and turned around, Chandu’s sword-handle came crashing on his back.


Suddenly, two younger brothers of Kunjikannan jumped on to the anga-thattu.

Now, when Chandu is facing three ferocious adversaries, the question in his mind is

" ... who among them held the purloined sword with Chandu’s name written on it?"

Chandu's amoral escapades

Of how Unichaara rebuffed Chandu's advances

Thrikarthika night festivity was taking place at Unichaara’s family mansion.

Like a true hero in all northern-ballads, hoodwinking the guards,

Chandu daringly entered her penn-maalika (women’s upper quarters).


"A pond where women bathe,

Fair lady hid him beneath her mane.

In boudoir a mistress swooned,

when Chandu rose from below, unawares".    

Abhilash N.

Looking her in the eye, Chandu expressed his desire to mate with Unichaara.

But, the land’s fairest lady didn’t respond to Chandu’s amorous overture as in Naanu’s chronicles.

Opening her chamber, Unichaara coolly escorted the lascivious trespasser out. 

On the way out, reverently introducing ‘the celebrated swordsman who happened to drop in un-invited’

to all the guests, she gracefully bid a red-faced Chandu, farewell.

Of how Unichaara again rebuffed Chandu's advances


Sometime later, crowing her discovery of Unichaara’s many paramours, the brothel madam Bojamma slandered the chaste lady’s character.

With her disgruntled suitors trumpeting this, Unichaara’s marriage prospects dwindled.  

At this vexing predicament, Chandu sent Unichaara a kuri-maanom (palm-leaf) proposal in secret.

”Allow me defend your virtue with an ankam against all your detractors ... and win.

… In return, you need consent to yield to me.” 

To this Unichaara, unexpectedly, did respond. Pat came Unichaara’s reply ...

“The moment I accept to yield to you, I become blemished.

Mother goddess, justly, should let you lose in the duel to death.  

... or, maybe .... you’d win.

You dare take that chance?  Sure you would!

Oh, but I can’t.  For, I care for your life”. 

Abhilash N.

With this very intelligent reply, she had deftly parried his approach.

Chandu realized that there do exist true gems among womanhood.

And, though hero to the masses, it made him feel like a vermin.

An alternative ending - forbidden ballad segment.
The Story of Chandu's ladylove.

Chandu Realizes ...

Every townsfolk - the ones he had offended and even his erstwhile entourage is arrayed behind his opponent! And, the ankam is scheduled to take place in 21 days’ time.  

On returning to his abode, Chandu finds the place deserted - his disciples, attendants … all having left.

As he sits lonely and forlorn, there she walks in.                                 

She takes charge of his household.                                         

For the next 20 days, while preparing him for the event,

Unichaara becomes his trainer, masseur and sparring partner.

It is her martial arts skills that surprises Chandu the most.

An accomplished classical dancer, she may not have been trained a chevaka girl, …

but her knowledge and abilities were top class … better than any trainer a duelist could wish for.


At her instructions while sparring, Chandu was amazed.

“No, don't. Don't engage! ... just step aside … ”

“... Swing right foot forward … as in your first ankam”.

Chandu was shocked!

“Backward flip, now! ... the one you have surprised every opponent with!”

The woman … she knew by-heart every duel, every single manoeuvre of his!

“… Now feign! You have only gained a step, whenever you feigned!”

It would seem that she had witnessed every one of his event!!

… that’s being more ardent than anyone in his entourage!

Sethu Sivanandan

"A smirk, a spin, again sword Chandu flings.

No challenger remaining, the blade returned whirling,  

It sliced his head off, while upright stood he.  

Thus a legend he became! A legend he shall remain!!"

Naanu’s Epic of Chandu was already echoing in his ears,

assuring immortality for him.    

Suddenly, he heard another voice ...


Yelled above the rancorous crowd, it drowned out Naanu’s ballad.

 “ … Live!  You have to win … and live!”

It was Unichaara - his weapons-holder, confederate and Girl-Friday on the arena - screaming from behind him. Chandu turned to look at her.


"The whirling blade,

with mere a graze,  

sets in its path all ablaze."

Sethu Sivanandan

Arena. The climactic duel.   Multitudes cheering. But, Chandu finds his resilience ebbing away.

Time to give up?

Models -  Thushara Nambiar,  Paul Mathew, Nelson K Johnson.


Duality of the climax

To become immortal, Chandu has to commit an act of immolation with the destined sword, now held in his own hand.

That is what Bojamma, coaxed by the balladeer Naanu, proposes.

With confidence to transcend his destiny, Chandu has to vanquish his challenger ... and realise that his purloined sword in the hand of his fallen opponent, served no purpose. That is what Unichaara proposes.

Should Chandu become a hero in the eyes of the world ...

or in the eyes of his ladylove? 



Like the Cassia Fistula (kanikkonna), 
Thunbergia Coccinea (kalyalanapandal poo) 
is also a hanging cluster flower of Kerala.

Author - Jose Punnoose

(for the subject research, pleae see  )

Screen treatment by Jijo with suggestions and contributions from

B R Prasad, Josey Joseph, Geo Kuttappan, Suresh Kanthan, RK, K Sheker, Prakash Moorthy, Samhita Arni, C.V Sarathy, Dharani, Jayendra, P.C. Sriram, ...

(for the screen treatment, pleae see )

Oil on canvas by Radhakrishnan (RK).  Title design by yellowtooths

Digital Matte Paintings by Abhilash N. and  Yesudas V George.

Additional graphics by Sethu Sivanandan, Narayana Murthy and  Alice Cheevel.

bottom of page