There are so many views explaining the origin of Kali as a Filipino martial art. Some say it came from Kali, the Indian goddess of death. Others believe that it is a derivative of Kalis (kris), a sword famous in Mindanao. The easiest explanation is that it is a combination of the first syllables of Ka-mot (hand) and Li-hok (move). The last one, although smart, is of course the modern derivation.
Before I proceed, let me explain first the proof that the influence of India did reach the Philippines in prehistoric times through the Majapahit Empire established in Java. These influences are found in our Philippine languages and cultural concepts.
In Tagalog, for instance, "diwata" (goddess) came from "devata" a Sanskrit word with the same meaning. "Dukha" (poor) came from "duhkha," "guro" from "guru," and a lot more. We have Sanskrit-sounding plants such as champaka, lagundi, narangha, etc. There are also many place names with obvious Indian etymology.
Filipinos have a concept of "chakra"-- in my dialect it is called "suuk." Among Cebuanos "gaba" is the same as "karma." The use of sarong (skirt) or putong (turban) is also an Indian influence. Even the folk literature of the Philippines have similarities with the Hindu literature such as Mahabharatha and Ramayana.
With all these influences, I wonder why Hinduism never took root in the Philippines. I know no traditional devotion to Goddess Kali by local Filipinos. Even as a Filipinized Indian word, meaning dark, "kali" does not exist. Where did Kali, the martial art, come from then?
To answer that, we need to trace the etymology of kalis or kris, the sword. The origin of kalis can be traced back to Southern India, where the devotion to Shakti and Kali is strong. There is a golden statue of Shakti, an Indian deity, found in Agusan (Caraga region), which is currently on display in a Chicago museum.
If the devotion of Shakti reached Mindanao in prehistoric times, there is a great possibility that Kali too was venerated in the Caraga region. In Hindu religion, Shakti, as the divine force, also assumes the role of Kali. To simplify, Shakti is Kali and Kali is Shakti.
There are temples dedicated to Shakti in Tamil Nadu-- on the Asian map, it is the nearest Indian state to Mindanao. She is called Amma (mother) by the South Indians. I believe shakti and Amma became sakti (hurt), sakit (pain), ama (father), and ima (mother) in Philippine languages and in some lumad dialects particularly in the Caraga region.
Kalis, the sword, came from Java, the seat of Majapahit, a Hindu empire. It reached the Philippines together with Kali, the goddess. That kalis is a ceremonial sword also supports the argument that there is a Hindu element in its design and usage. All Kali statues wield curve blades. The origin of kalis can be traced back to her temple sword.
This is the nair malabar, a south Indian blade and the earliest Hindu temple sword with crude curve and handle designs. This is usually the sword associated with Kali.
After many changes, nair malabar evolved into kora of northern India, where Buddhism began. If you check the sword below you can see a Hindu deity and a Buddhist mandala (circle). Clearly, the sword is the proof of the transition from being a Hindu blade to becoming a Buddhist one.
Kora then became thinner and simpler with less curve and added piece to the handle.
After some time, kora became tulwar, another North Indian blade-- thinner and still curvy, but the handle remained the same.
Later it evolved into naga snake sword, but retained the handle.
This sword then evolved into a snakier one without losing the jagged edges and the handle design changed a little bit.
It was refined into a kris-like sword and its handle was simplified.
later, its handle changed but the blade remained the same. It became the naga snake sword below with a new handle. I believe this is what the earliest kris looked like.
When it reached Mindanao, the Buddhist naga snake sword already became what it is now. The handle changed incorporating Malay and Islamic designs. The handle was influenced by the Turk's yatagan and Javanese and Balinese decorative arts. Below is the Islamic yatagan:
A Hindu element was also included. Its "katik," the metal perpendicular to the handle and parallel to the head, was used again. It came from the earliest temple sword, nair malabar. Therefore, the current kalis or kris is the result of four influences: Malay, Islamic, Buddhist, and Hindu.
I would argue that kalis or kris, orginally, was a Buddhist sword, brought to or made by the Buddhists in Sumatra, the seat of Srivijayan empire that lasted until 1300. The earliest image of Kris on a stone relief can be found in the Buddhistic Borobudur Temple of Java built in 825 CE-- this date alone proves that kris was a Buddhist blade.
When the Majapahit Kingdom was established after the fall of Srivijaya, kris remained with the Hindus in Java. As a matter of fact, there is an image of kris on a stone relief in the Hindu temple of Prambanan built in 850 CE. Kris replaced nair malabar as the temple sword for Kali. After the passage of time, Hinduism with kali as the goddess and kalis as her sword reached the prehistoric islands of the Philippines.
The references I used were Philippine history books and online materials on Buddhism and Hinduism and Indian and Southeast Asian blades. I love to put footnotes and citations but I feel it would be too academic. My next post will examine if Kali, the martial art, really came from Mindanao.
Comment: the swords I used here, authentic or not and old or recent, are for pure representation so people will know what these swords look like. I am not a clairvoyant. I just cannot date and authenticate something without seeing and touching it. What is important is that you know what I was talking about.