Gatka has been part of north Indian culture for over 300 years. Guru Angad Dev, encouraged followers to train the body physically, mentally and spiritually.
Guru Hargobind propagated the theory of the warrior saint and emphasized the need for his followers to practice fighting for self-defence. When fifty-two Rajput princes were captured by the Muslim conquerors, he assembled an army to free them. This led to further exchanges in the martial cultures of the Sikhs and Rajputs. Both the Rajputs and Punjabi communities favored the sword as their main weapon.
Gatka is a weapon-based Indian martial art created by the Sikhs of the Punjab. The Punjabi word gatka refers to the wooden stick used in sparring matches. The term might have originated as a diminutive of the Sanskrit word gadha or mace. A more popular theory is that it derives from the Punjabi words gat and ka. Gat means grace, liberation, and respect in one’s own power, while ka means someone who belongs or is part of a group. Gatka would therefore translate as “one whose freedom belongs to grace”.
Like all people who watch it, I was also truly mesmerized by it. It was more seen as an army’s practice before going to the war. Gatka is not gender specific and both boys and girls and perform it side by side. In India Gatka is generally at public display during religious processions. It is a showcasing of the might of Sikhs. The Gatka Federation of India, in collaboration with Punjab Gatka Association, for the first time, has formulated and standardized the in-depth Rules and Regulations Book in September 2009 for playing of Gatka game with pictorial guidelines and providing training to the budding Gatkebaaz through workshops, seminars and camps under the new Gatka rules.The best part of Gatka training is that it is not religion based. Anyone can join Sikhs in practicing this great martial art. It’s objective it help you defend against an attack.
The weapons used in the training process are :
- Barcha — The spear is a long shafted weapon and has a hook at the spearhead used to pull away the opponent’s shield.
- Chakram – The chakram is a flat steel ring, five to 12 inches in diameter, from half an inch to an inch and a half wide, and with a sharp outer edge. While not being used, it is carried “fixed” to the Turban. Several of different sizes were often carried on a pointed turban, the “dastar ungaa” or behind the back. It is held between the thumb and index finger and thrown towards the opponent with an underhand flick. Thrown with sufficient force and accuracy it can cut off a green bamboo three-quarter of an inch in diameter at a distance of thirty yards.
- Dahl or Shield. It is nearly always round and varies in diameter from about eight inches to about twenty-four. Some are very nearly flat while others are strongly convex. The edges may be flat or rolled back in the reverse curvature of the shield. It is held by two handles fastened to ring bolds that pass through the shield and are riveted to bosses on the outside, sometimes formed to spikes. Between the handles there is a square cushion for the knuckles to rest against. The handles are so placed that, when tightly grasped, they force the backs of the fingers against the cushion giving a very firm and comfortable hold. These shields are nearly always of steel or leather.
- Gurj or Mace: Indian maces have great variations in their shape. From simply curved steel bars to Persian influenced maces with openings in the head which gives a whistling sound when the blow was struck to plane massive heads. They often have guard hilts like the Khanda
- Katar – The Katar is a double-edged and straight bladed dagger used to pierce armour. The handle has two sidebars to provide protection and a better grip.
- Khanda – This is a typical Indian sword and has a broad, straight blade, usually widening towards the point, which is blunt. Sometimes it is also double-edged.
- Kirpan – The Kirpan is a short curved dagger and all Sikhs are required to carry it by tradition.
- Lathi – The lathi or quarterstaff is a wooden stick as tall as the warrior and made of oak.
- Marati – Trainig device: The Marati is a bamboo stick with wooden or cloth balls on its ends. It is mainly used for training purposes but there are variations with blades or burning cloth on its ends, to attack and distract elephants and for psychological warfare.
- Soti – This is made from fire hardened bamboo or ratan, 1m long and usually has a hand guard. It is mainly used for practice and “playing Gatka”, the training fight. For combat they were replaced by oak ore ironwood sticks, without hand guards.
- Tapar – The battle-axe is very distinct from the normal axe and sometimes has a dagger concealed in the handle.
- Talwar – The sword is usually curved with a thin and sharp blade. The Talwar is greatly respected and treated with care.
- Tir Kaman – The bow and arrow is a potent weapon. The arrow is made of steel heads with reed shafts. The bow is also composite and made of layers of wood and steel.
- Chakar – The Chakar looks like a wagon wheel with weights at the end of each spoke. The chakar is wielded by grasping the centre and spinning it around, causing damage upon anyone coming too close to the spinning weights.
If someone observed carefully, then it was performed in the opening ceremony of the commonwealth games. It is truly an art that needs to be remembered and kept alive. Though in this modern world where weapons have changed many would not agree, but the gatka techniques and the meditation that it involves while practicing does really makes the mind calm of a warrior. That calm mind helps him to fight better in any domain of life.