Gatka is one of the very ancient North-Western Indian martial art that is still predominant among the Sikh community and an inherent part of the Sikh religion. Gatka is primarily based on the belief that there should be a rhythmic unification of the mind, the body and the spirit. The martial art was used to train the sainted soldiers of the Sikh religion as a defensive skill to protect themselves against the numerous foreign invaders. The Sikh gurus efficiently merged the pre-existing Gatka techniques with that of their spiritual beliefs and ironed out a perfect system; most efficient and unique to win any hard battles. And in fact history does chronicle the valiant battles fought by the Sikhs using the effective Gatka against the many forceful and brutal foreign invasions.
As per the ‘Mahan-Kosh’- a Punjabi Language Encyclopedia compiled by Bhai Kahn Singh Nabha, the word Gatka means a three length hand-span stick, which is used as the first learning instrument in the martial art. The stick is in fact used as an effective instrument to teach students all the basic movements of the art along with the required mental aptitude needed for learning the Gatka. The martial art is wholly a work of hand weapons like the knife, the sword, the spear and so on and involves co-ordinated moves. The Panthra, a set of predefined exercises, teaches students the dexterity moves that are required for the hand, body and feet movements and also for the perfect use of the weapons. Every move of the Panthra requires the Gatka trainer to use both hands. The 4-step Panthra is the first move in the Gatka martial art and is the same for every weapon used.
According to the popular belief, Baba Buddha Ji, who is said to have lived from the time of Guru Nanak- the first Sikh Guru, to Guru Hargobind- the sixth guru, trained an army of Sikh soldiers on Gatka techniques. This army of saint-soldiers was called the Akhal Fauj or the Buddha Dal meaning the army of Baba Buddha. These soldiers were called the Akhali Sena. In fact Guru Hargobind emphasized the fact that his disciples should learn to fight for self-defense and formed a band of warrior-saints. The ninth Guru, Guru Tej Bahadar, is said to have single-handedly fought the mighty Mughals using the well-learned Gatka techniques. His son, the tenth Guru of the Sikh religion, Guru Gobind Singh is believed to have fought many valorous battles against the ruthless Mughals with his perfectly trained army of soldiers, who were called the Khalsa Brothers.
The weapons used in Gatka are called the Shastars. Some of the common Shastars used are:
Barcha: Barcha is the regular spear, where the spearhead is shaped like a hook to pull the opponent’s shield.
Chakram: Chakram is a flat and sharp steel ring. The normal rings are 5 to 12 inches in diameter and are fixed on the Turban. The Chakram is held between the index finger and the thumb and is flung on the enemy with considerable force. A normal Chakram can easily cut a three quarter inch bamboo stick even when thrown from a distance of thirty yards.
Dahl: Dahl is the normal shield which is about 8 to 24 inches in diameter. The shields are usually made of steel or leather. The Dahls are mostly flat or convex.
Soti: Soti is a bamboo stick with a hand-guard. The bamboo stick is toughened using fire. It is 1m long and is mainly used for practicing Gatka.
The Gatka Performers
Kirpan: Kirpan is a short and curved dagger that Sikhs usually carry by tradition.
Khanda: Khanda is the normal Indian sword used for fighting. The Khanda has a wide and straight blade.
Talwar: The Talwar is a sword that has a thin but very sharp blade. The Sikh community respects the Talwar and the instrument is considered scared
Lathi: Lathi is a long wooden stick that is made of oak. The Lathi is as long as the fighter.
Tapar: Tapar is typically an axe used in fighting battles. The battle-axe sometimes has a sharp dragger concealed inside its handle.
Chakar: The Chakar is a spinner that resembles the wheel of a wagon. It has weights attached to the end of each spoke of the wheel. The fighter holds the Chakar at the center and spins causing considerable harm to anyone near the wheel.
Tir Kaman: Tir Kaman is the typical bow and arrow used in battles. The arrow heads are made of steel. The bow is made of wood and steel strings.
Katar: Katar is a double-edged, straight dagger that has two side-bars. The double side-bars are provided for more protection and to get a better grip. The dagger is used to pierce the breastplate of the opponent.
The martial art is often taught to the beats of a drum in order to perfect the moves. As per Sikh beliefs, the Gatka dates back to over 1200 years. However, in the last few centuries, it is mostly the Nihang Singhs- a community of Sikhs who believe in dressing and using weapons as that used by the Gurus, practice Gatka in India.