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Indian Martial Arts

  • Category
    History & Culture
  • Published
    14th Jul, 2021

An Indian man in Singapore has won the top prize in a government-initiated competition for migrant workers for choreographing and performing a sequence of Silambam - a traditional martial art form practised in India since the 4th century BC


An Indian man in Singapore has won the top prize in a government-initiated competition for migrant workers for choreographing and performing a sequence of Silambam - a traditional martial art form practised in India since the 4th century BC


  • The competition is part of the Tamil variety series Chill Pannu Maappi!, commissioned by the Ministry of Communication and Information
  • Migrant workers were invited to send in video submissions of their talents
  • Ganeansan started practising martial arts at the age of 12 and won a silver medal for India at the first Silambam World Championship in 2010.


Ancient text on Martial Arts

  • The Dhanurveda, an ancient treatise on the science of archery and the art of warfare, enumerates the rules of archery, rules of bow- and arrow-making, and describes the uses of weapons and the training of the army.
  • The Yajurveda highlights the importance of the science of archery and praises those who are well versed in it.
  • Sections of the Mah?bh?rata describe wrestlers and wrestling and boxing bouts
  • Mallapur??a, which was probably composed in Gujarat, listed various types and techniques of wrestling
  • M?nasoll?sa, an encyclopaedic work in Sanskrit, gives detailed information about various types of wrestlers and their training methods.

Different Martial Arts in India

  • Kalaripayattu
    • One of the oldest forms of martial arts, Kalaripayattu finds its origins in Kerala.
    • It can be performed with bare hands or using swords.
    • Believed to have been introduced by Parasurama this art form includes strikes and kicks.
    • Footwork is the most important aspect of Kalaripayattu, where Kalari means a training hall or school and ‘payattu’ translates to practice. 
  • Gatka
    • Originating from Punjab this martial art is believed to have introduced by the Sikh warriors. Its earlier version, called Shastar Vidya, was banned by the British after the Anglo-Sikh wars.
    • However, Gatka remains in the spirit and moves very much like the original art form, though its weapons have changed over time.
    • Gatka is performed, using sticks, kirpan, swords and kataar.
  • Silambam
    • From Tamil Nadu, Silambam uses animal movements as a form of attack and defence. It is becoming an increasingly popular art form, especially with women who want to learn the different self-defence moves to protect themselves.
    • A long stick or staff is used for mock fights or practice. Silambam is also one of the oldest martial art forms that use footwork and attack the body at different levels such as a snake, hawk, tiger, or monkey would. There is a use of force and smart strategies. 
  • Mardaani Khel
    • Originating from Maharashtra, this is a weapon-based art form. Mardaani Khel saw its emergence and growth during the Maratha Empire.
    • After the 1857 Revolt, the British banned martial art, and it was kept alive in the form of a folk game.
    • However, today its moves and weapons are less dangerous and lethal. The weapons used included bamboo sticks, daggers, javelin, darts, and swords. 
  • Thang-Ta and Sarit Sarak
    • This martial art form is from Manipur where ‘thang’ means a sword, and ‘ta’ means the spear.
    • Sarit Sarak, on the other hand, is the unarmed art form. Thang-Ta is also called Huyen Lallong and is practised using other weapons, such as axes and shields.
    • The sword, however, remains Thang Ta’s most revered possession with numerous moves that teach the trainee various techniques and drills.
  • Thoda
    • From Himachal Pradesh, this art form uses bows and arrows. Thoda means a wooden piece attached to the head of an arrow.
    • This martial art is also performed as a cultural and sporting activity.
    • Closely related to the legends of Mahabharata the Thoda game is played with two teams with 500 players in each. Not all are archers but are also dancers that help boost the morale of the team.
  • Lathi Khel
    • Finding its roots in Punjab and Bengal, the Lathi Khel is a form of martial arts that uses the oldest weaponry, the ‘lathi’ or stick for combat.
    • The stick can be used and wielded in different ways to make the blow lethal or light. The Indian Police uses the Lathi to date as a potent weapon. 
  • Pari-Khandaa
    • This martial art form, from Bihar, was created by the Rajputs. Pari means the shield and khanda means sword.
    • The moves, technique, and steps, are also used in the famous Chhau dance of Bihar.
  • Musti Yuddha
    • This unarmed martial art finds its origins in Varanasi. Punches, kicks and strikes are the arts fiercest weapons, and though this art form is not so popular today, it was at its peak during the Middle Ages. 
  • Kuttu Varisai
    • Again an unarmed art form, Kuttu Varisai concentrates on grappling and locking techniques.
    • Popular in South India this art form uses many steps from yoga and gymnastics.
  • Sqay
    • Practised in Kashmir, Sqay uses armed as well as unarmed combat moves. The sword or Tora, is paired with the shield or Bargula.
    • Competitions require a blue uniform and a belt on the waist, along with standard approved size of swords. 
  • Kushti
    • Traditional wrestling or Kushti is perhaps the most popular and ubiquitous martial art form.
    • Popularized by movies, Kushti began during the Mughal Era where the local sport called, Malla Yuddha, was combined with the Persian equivalent Varzesh-e-Bastani. 


India is the land of many martial art forms that need to be encouraged and learned by future generations. With karate, taekwondo, and Kung Fu courses available in schools and other training institutions, it is time that the Indian martial arts also find a rightful place. The first step is being aware of their existence. Several martial artists practice these Indian martial art forms. It is also time to give them recognition and learn from them before it is too late.


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