By Haziq Qadri @haziq_qadri
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Videographer / director: Milton PT
Producer: Haziq Qadri, Ruby Coote
Editor: Marcus Cooper
Nicknamed ‘Sword Granny’, Meenakshi Raghavan from southern India has been practising martial arts for 66 years.
The grandmother began learning the martial art Kalaripayattu at the age of seven, when her father took her to a local fighter.
She explained: “I was never the angry or aggressive kind, but I used to dance. On seeing me dance, the teacher said, ‘Teach her Kalari also’.
“Around 10-12 years of age I left dancing and only did Kalaripayattu. I liked Kalari more so I continued doing it.”
Meenakshi went on to master Kalari – a dance-like martial art which uses swords and sticks - and regularly fights against men half her age.
And since 2009 Meenakshi has held classes in Vatakara where she teaches her 150 pupils how to defend themselves against attackers.
Meenakshi’s pupils are as young as five and she is especially proud of the self defence techniques she teaches to young girls.
She explained: “I say a single thing to every girl, learn Kalari. I’m self sufficient, I don’t need any security.
“I go out at night all by myself. With Kalari I don’t need security.”
And she is proud to see the confidence her classes breeds in her young pupils.
She said: “After playing with me they all say, ‘Because we came to Kalari we feel brave. We have confidence to walk on our own and mentally we feel powerful.’”
16-year-old Rinta, who is learning martial arts from Meenakshi, said: “ When people get older, they prefer to cocoon themselves inside their homes, but Amma performs with very high energy.
“I am learning self defense from Amma. I can now freely roam around my village, as I know all the techniques to protect myself.
"Amma is an inspiration to all of us. I wish to become like her when I grow old.”
The sword-swinging grandmother also performs in front of huge crowds, who travel miles to see her in action.
She explained: “The moment I get on stage the clapping starts.”
One particularly proud spectator is her granddaughter, Alaka Kumar.
She said: “I’m very happy and equally proud to be her granddaughter and to see her performing at 73. Because 73 is a very old age.”
But, despite her advancing years, this inspirational grandmother has no plans to hang up her sword just yet.
She explained: “Because I perform Kalari I don’t have these aches and pains. I feel very brave, I feel very happy.
"I can never get tired of doing this.”