Gatka – the oldest weapon of self-defence is now a modern sport

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Gatka – the oldest weapon of self-defence is now a modern sport: “Lathi me gun bahut hain sada rakhiye sang/ gahiri nadi nara jahan tahan bachawat ang/ tahan bachawat ang jhapati kutta ko mare/ dushman davageer hoye / tinhu ko jhare…”

Gatka - the oldest weapon of self-defence is now a modern sportThe lathi, as this famous poem eulogises, has always been a mighty weapon in North India, used as a defensive tool against dogs, enemies and even flooding rivers.

The poet could never have imagined that this modest weapon of self-defence – lathi or Gatka – in varying sizes and differing techniques – will become a popular sport in 48 countries.

It will also be a special attraction during the Khelo India Youth Games, commencing on June 4, in Haryana, with 256 players (128 girls and an equal number of boys), from 16 states vying in Gatka.

The martial art of Gatka, as a modern sport, is a standardised style of stick fighting between two or more opponents, intended to simulate swords. It has its origin in the Sikh history. Shri Guru Hargobindji, the sixth Guru, introduced the concept of Miri Piri (of temporal power and spiritual authority) to Sikh religion, letting people carry two swords.

He emphasised on the training of weapons called shatra vidya for self-defence. The Sikhs used weaponry techniques and Gatka throughout the 16th and 17th centuries for their protection against the invaders who had become mass murderers.

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Gatka was one among about 30 weapons, which the Sikh fighters, called Nihangs, practised. The Nihangs handed down the skills in shastra vidya down the generations, which are still displayed during their religious festivals and shows.

In the 19th century, the British had banned Sikhs from carrying any of their traditional weapons like sword, neja, bhala, gandasa etc to prevent rebellion. Most Indian martial arts had to be practiced in secret, hence they were confined to rural areas and survived as folk-sports. Gatka survived, replacing sword, during this period and was used like a kripan.

As modern sport Gatka, as sport, got a lease of life in 1936, when it was introduced by the Punjab University in Lahore (now Panjab University, Chandigarh), in inter-college and inter-varsity tournaments. The university standardized the sport. Gatka rules were drafted by Major Kartar Singh Akali (Director Physical, R.S.D College Ferozepur), in 1936.

The gatka tournaments, disrupted by partition, resumed around the 1970s.  In 1985, the sport was once again banned due to militancy in Punjab. With the efforts of Gatka Federation of India, Punjab Gatka Association and others, Punjabi University, Patiala, reintroduced the game in 2001 by conducting inter-college tournaments. Around 2009, the sport received recognition across inter-university tournaments.

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“Sports are an integral part of Sikh heritage, whereas a lot of research has gone into Sikh religion, little has been known about our tradition of martial arts. Since SAI and the Sports Ministry included Gatka in traditional sports, it will now grow as a sport,” believes H S Grewal, President, National Gatka Association of India.

Taken out of the religious context, Gatka sport competitions are like the Fencing game, players both male and female ¬ wear T-shirts and sweatpants with a headgear for protection. The material and size of Gatka and farri (shield) are standardised for junior and senior players.

In Punjab, where the sport originated, a 3 percent quota is reserved for Gatka medal holders, even PPSC recognises achievements in Gatka.

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