The urumi (meaning, “curling blade”) is a long sword made of flexible steel, sharp enough to cut into flesh, but flexible enough to be rolled into a tight coil. Originating in South India, it was most popular in the North Malabar Coast of Kerala and is often mentioned in the ballads of the region.
In kalaripayat, the urumi is always the last weapon taught because of the danger it poses to the wielder. The weapon is called urumi in northern kalaripayattu and chuttuval in the southern style. The word chuttuval is derived from the Malayalam words chuttu (coil/spin) and vaal (sword).
The sword is a flexible band of steel three-quarters to one inch in width, and long enough to reach from the fingertip of one hand to the finger tip of the other hand when the hands are held outstretched (usually about four or five and a half feet).
It has a small handle with a cover. Often there are multiple belts on a single handle, which makes it more dangerous to the opponents and wielders alike. In modern times it is often made from used band-saw blades and packing bands.
Agility and skill are more important to master the weapon rather than strength or aggression. Twirling and controlling the urumi is a difficult and dangerous art, and is therefore taught only to the best. Incorrect use can result in the flexible sword wounding its wielder, and great concentration is required during use, even by experts. The urumi is most useful against multiple opponents.
When not in use, the urumi is worn around the waist like a belt. Since women often wore belts it was a convenient weapon for them to carry. Unniyarcha, one of the heroines of the ballads of the northern Malabar coast, was said to have been adept at wielding the urumi. It was also a good weapon for duels since thrusting with the point of the sword was not permitted in duels in South India.