Geographic Location

Silambam is believed to have originated from the southern part of India. 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.

Communities Involved
In ancient India, silambam was only taught to men of the Nair caste. It used to be a gendered martial art where practitioners were mostly men, and skills were passed down from father to son. In recent times, there are increasingly more women who practice the martial art form in both India and Singapore.

In Singapore, silambam is practised largely by the Indian community in Singapore including the Tamil, Malayalee, Telugu, Kannada and Gujarati sub-ethnic groups, as well as people from various backgrounds who are keen to learn on the practice.

Associated Social and Cultural Practices
Oral folktales on the origins of silambam in India 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.

In Singapore, silambam is taught in martial arts schools, such as the Kalari Academy and the Kalari-Payat Silambam Centre. 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.

Viability and Future Outlook

Silambam continues to be practised and transmitted through martial arts academies which offers classes and training programmes for people who are keen to learn the practice. 


Reference No.: ICH-015

Date of Inclusion: April 2018; Updated March 2019


Dass, Prabhavathi. “Silambam, Indian art of self-defence”, The Straits Times, 26 June 1987.

Vallikappen, Ankita. “A true friend of immigrants”, Asia One, 7 Mar 2014, Accessed 2 Feb 2018.

Ong, Justin. “’Let it Die Out’: The Singaporean martial art nobody wants to learn” Channel News Asia. 23 Sep 2017, Accessed 27 Dec 2018.

Kalari-Payat Silambam Centre Singapore. “Introduction”, 2018. Accessed 27 Dec 2018.

Silambam Asia. “Introduction” Accessed 27 Dec 2018.

The Kalari Academy. “Instructors”, 2018, Accessed 27 Dec 2018.

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