(Last Updated on : 22/03/2012)
Gatka is formalized Sikh martial art
in the Indian state
. It is a unique spectacle, physical as well as spiritual, to see hundreds of Nihang i.e. a warrior sect. Sikhs
move from one temporary cantonment to another with their magnificent garments of cobalt blue and canary yellow brightening the landscape, their swords catching the glint of the sun. Their elaborate conical turbans signify the merging of Hindu and Muslim faiths, reflecting Vedic literature
and philosophy with the fakirs' spirit of renunciation. Their army of horsemen, musicians playing the nagara i.e. kettledrum, masseurs, cooks, and dhobis are all members of this caravan. Their major source of income, besides performing at the Holla Mohalla festival in Anandpur Sahib
in Rupnagar district
, is as workers in Sikh gurdwaras.
History of Gatka
History of Gatka suggests in a great way that after the second Anglo-Sikh War from 1848 to 1849 and the setting up of British Rule, this sport suffered a major set back. The effect was so extreme that even farming equipments and tools were also banned. British regarded the Akali Nihang to be anti colonist. Above 1,500 nihangs were killed by the British Empire for conspiring rebellion. According to the folklore, some actually escaped and spent the rest of the lives the northern mountains.
Later of course, the Sikhs helped the British during the revolt of 1857, and the use of various technique of gatka came into play.
Development of Gatka
After historical, political, and cultural changes through the ages, development of Gatka has been immense and has now become a performing art rather than the original art of self-defence. On the akhara i.e. "arena", a pit dug in an open field or in the grounds of a gurdwara. In that one hears devotional hymns from the holy scriptures of Sikhism
, Sri Guru Granth Sahib
, and witnesses the enactment of religious poems. Beginning with the hymn "O Lord, give me so much power that I never fear performing a good deed", the men, pledged to celibacy, perform the Fateh namah i.e. worship of weapons, derived from the doctrine of Guru Gobind Singh
(1666-1708) that weapons symbolize divine power.
Art of Gatka
After this, they undertake a repertoire of martial exercises and technique of gatka. In the first individual exercise, double-edged spears or two swords are dangerously but rhythmically swirled around the body. In the second, kamandkoda, which is a two-foot long pipe attached to a thirty-inch chain with half a kilogram of weights connected to its end is manipulated in a dance with vigorous movement and jumps. Dual and group patterns include pharisoti i.e. "catch the stick", an attack-and-defence exercise using a shield made of a cushion and a stick with steel handles. An extension of this is a stylized performance of a war scene. In the similar safajiing dhal i.e. "plain war shield", an axe-shaped weapon replaces the stick. In another exercise, one "warrior" fights four or five persons with swords and shields. Alternately, they attack him with stones and he defends himself using shield and sword. The climax of the exercises occurs when a blindfolded warrior applies kohl to his partner's eye with a sharp-edged sword, while nagaras build to a crescendo, leaving the audience astounded. The training exponent begins with the Fateh nama, and the weapons used in Gatka are also of many types. The long sticks used for training are laid on a ceremonial cloth sanctified by drawing a "magical" circle around it. This is followed by a parikarma i.e. circumambulation by all trainees. During the parikarma their eyes focus on the sticks, creating a bonding. To the drumming sounds of dhol (drums
) and nagara, they move towards the sticks in a stylized, vigorous manner and gracefully pick up the weapons, then move away from the centre with a forceful jump to establish their positions. After this they swirl the sticks in salutation to all four sides, seeking the blessing of the four corners of the cosmos through chants and prayers.
A figure of eight is the basic matrix through which the more complex movements evolve. This is done by drawing four circles on the ground in an imaginary square format. Movements in the diagonal circles create the two figure-of-eight patterns in which the performers work. This is also the preparation for confronting opponents, who first greet each other by the Fateh nama. During the entire process of this stylized duel one's eyes are fixed on the other's, trying to read the other's mind and anticipate the next move, leading to immense concentration, alertness, and speed. The training is an experience to watch as surreal, exaggerated images are formed by the magnificence of their skill combined with the drama created by their clothing lit up by the glare of flaming torches and nowadays the headlights of trucks.