Silambam is a weapon-based martial art of India, more specifically from Tamilakam (now Tamil Nadu region) in the Indian subcontinent, where it originated around 1000 BCE. This ancient fighting style is mentioned in Tamil Sangam literature 400 BCE.
Oral folklore traces Silambam back several thousand years to the siddhar (enlightened sage) Agastya. While on his way to Vellimalai, Agastya discussed Hindu philosophy with an old man he met, said to be the god Murugan in disguise. The old man taught him of kundalini yoga and how to focus prana through the body’s nadi (channels). Agastya practiced this method of meditation and eventually compiled three texts on palm leaves based on the god’s teachings. One of these texts was the Kampu Sutra (Staff Classic) which was said to record advanced fighting theories in verse. These poems and the art they described were allegedly passed on to other Siddha of the Agastmuni akhara (Agastya school) and eventually formed the basis of Silambam, siddha medicine, and the southern style of kalaripayat.
References in the Silappadikkaram and other works of Sangam literature shows that silambam has been practiced as far back as the 4th century BC. The bamboo staff – along with swords, pearls and armor – was in great demand with foreign traders particularly those from Southeast Asia where silambam greatly influenced many fighting systems. The Indian community of the Malay Peninsula is known to have practiced silambam as far back as the period of Melaka’s founding in the 15th century, and likely much earlier.
The soldiers of Kings Puli Thevar, Dheeran Chinnamalai had Silambam army named “thadii pattalam”, Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Maruthu Pandiyar (1760–1799) relied mainly on their Silambam prowess in their warfare against the British Army. Indian martial arts suffered a decline after the British colonists banned Silambam along with various other systems. They also introduced modern western military training which favoured fire-arms over traditional weaponry. During this time, Silambam became more common in Southeast Asia than its native India where it was banned by the British rulers. The ban was lifted after India achieved independence. Today, Silambam is the most famous and widely practiced Indian martial art in Malaysia where demonstrations are held for cultural shows.