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History of Gatka in India

Gatka originated in what is now northwest India and neighbouring Pakistan, its techniques ultimately rooted in the fighting methods of the medieval Panjab. The people of the area were feared warriors, known for their tall stature and relatively heavier build. Their system of fighting is termed shastar vidiya, originally used in reference to swordsmanship but also a generic word for armed combat. Gatka, referring specifically to its role as sword training, was used in much of north India. The Mughal emperor Akbar is known to have practiced gatka with a sword and shield.

With the spread of Sikhism during the 15th-16th century, Sikhs in particular became renowned throughout South Asia for their heavily martial culture. Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, was born into a kshatriya family, as were many of his first disciples. His successor, Guru Angad Dev, taught followers to train the body physically, mentally and spiritually, encouraging the practice of martial arts. The sixth Sikh patriarch, Guru Hargobind, propagated the theory of the warrior-saint and emphasized the need to practice fighting for self-defence against the Mughal rulers, during the reign of Aurangazeb, due to growing animosities.

The tenth patriarch, Guru Gobind Singh was a master of armed fighting who galvanized the martial energies of the Sikh community by founding the Khalsa brotherhood in 1699. The Khalsa's aims were to fight oppression, assist the poor, worship the one God, abandon superstition, and defend the faith. This is symbolised by the kirpan or dagger, one of the five Ks which every baptised Sikh is required to carry. In regards to training the brotherhood, Guru Gobind Singh pledged that he would "teach the sparrow to fight the hawk". The Akali Nihang, a stricter order of Sikh warriors, exemplified his principles of combining spirituality with combat training.

Following the Second Anglo-Sikh War of 1848 to 1849 and the establishment of the British Raj, the Sikh martial traditions and practitioners suffered greatly. Ever wary of the Sikhs, the British ordered effective disarmament of the entire Sikh community. The Akali Nihang, considered the keepers of all Sikh traditions, were regarded as disloyal to the colonists. More than 1,500 Nihang were killed by the British for plotting rebellion. According to folklore, some fled and spent the rest of their lives in the northern mountains.

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the Sikhs assisted the British in crushing the mutiny. As a consequence of this assistance, restrictions on fighting practices were relaxed, and gatka re-emerged after 1857. The old method of sword training was used by the khalsa Army in the 1860s as practice for hand-to-hand combat. As Sikh colleges opened during the 1880s, European rules of fencing were applied to create what is now called khela or sport gatka.

The European colonists also brought Sikhs from India to other British colonies to work as soldiers and security guards. Gatka is still practiced by the Sikh communities of former British colonies and neighbouring countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Source: Wikipedia

 

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