• Martial Art Forms in India refers to the fighting systems of the Indian subcontinent. A variety of terms are used for the English phrases “Indian martial arts”, usually deriving from Dravidian sources. While they may seem to imply specific disciplines (e.g. archery, armed combat), by Classical times they were used generically for all fighting systems.
  • Among the most common terms today, śastra-vidyā, is a compound of the words śastra (weapon) and vidyā (knowledge).
  • Dhanurveda derives from the words for bow (dhanushya) and knowledge (veda), the “science of archery” in Puranic literature, later applied to martial arts in general.
  • The Vishnu Purana text describes dhanuveda as one of the traditional eighteen branches of “applied knowledge” or upaveda, along with shastrashastra or military science.
  • A later term, yuddha kalā, comes from the words yuddha meaning fight or combat and kalā meaning art or skill. The related term śastra kalā (lit. weapon art) usually refers specifically to armed disciplines. Another term, yuddha-vidyā or “combat knowledge”, refers to the skills used on the battlefield, encompassing not only actual fighting but also battle formations and strategy. Martial arts are usually learnt and practiced in the traditional akharas.

Martial Art Forms in India Indian martial arts - WikipediaIndian martial arts - Wikipedia

Antiquity (pre-Gupta)

  • An Indus valley civilization seal shows two men spearing one another in a duel which seem to be centered on a woman.
  • Dhanurveda, a section found in the Vedas (1500 BCE – 1100 BCE) contains references to martial arts.
  • The Mahabharata tells of fighters armed
  • The oldest recorded organized unarmed fighting art in the Indian subcontinent is malla-yuddha or combat-wrestling, codified into four forms in the Vedic Period. 
  • In Sanskrit literature the term dwandwayuddha referred to a duel, such that it was a battle between only two warriors and not armies. 
  • The Charanavyuha authored by Shaunaka mentions four upaveda (applied Vedas). Included among them are archery (dhanurveda) and military sciences (shastrashastra)
  • Kings usually belonged to the kshatria (warrior) class and thus served as heads of the army. Examples include such rulers as Siddhartha Gautama and Rudradaman.
  • In the 3rd century, elements from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as finger movements in the nata dances, were incorporated into the fighting arts.
  • A number of Indian fighting styles remain closely connected to yoga, dance and performing arts. Some of the choreographed sparring in kalaripayat can be applied to dance[15] and kathakali dancers who knew kalaripayat were believed to be markedly better than other performers. Until recent decades, the chhau dance was performed only by martial artists.
  • Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Sangam literature of about the 2nd century BC to the 2nd century AD. The Akananuru and Purananuru describe the use of spears, swords, shields, bows and silambam in the Sangam era. 
  • The ten fighting styles of northern sastra-vidya were said to have been created in different areas based on animals and gods, and designed for the particular geography of their origin
  • The Khandhaka in particular forbids wrestling, boxing, archery, and swordsmanship.

Classical period (3rd to 10th centuries)

  •  Vajra-musti, an armed grappling style, is mentioned in sources of the early centuries AD
  • Around 630, King Narasimhavarman of the Pallava dynasty commissioned dozens of granite sculptures showing unarmed fighters disarming armed opponents. This is similar to the style described in the Agni Purana
  • The 8th-century text Kuvalaymala by Udyotanasuri recorded fighting techniques being taught at educational institutions
  • The Gurjara people still keep up their tradition of gatka and kushti, and until today there are world-class wrestlers from the community competing at national and international levels.

Middle Ages (11th to 15th centuries)

  • Kalaripayat had developed into its present form by the 11th century, during an extended period of warfare between the Chera and Chola dynasties
  • In response to the spread of Muslim rule,[27] the kingdoms of South India united in the 14th century to found the Vijayanagara Empire. Physical culture was given much attention by both royalty and commoners in the empire, with wrestling being particularly popular with both men and women
  •  Royal palaces and market places had special arenas where royalty and common people alike amused themselves by watching matches such as cockfights, ram fights, and wrestling. One account describes an akhara in Chandragiri where noblemen practiced jumping exercises, boxing, fencing and wrestling almost every day before dinner to maintain their health, and observed that “men as old as seventy years look only thirty”

Mughal era (1526–1857)

  • The Mughals were patrons of India’s native arts, not only recruiting akhara-trained Rajput fighters for their armies but even practicing these systems themselves.[33] The Ausanasa Dhanurveda Sankalanam dates to the late 16th century, compiled under the patronage of Akbar.[34] The Ain-i-Akbari tells that the Mughal court had various kinds of fighting men from around the empire who would demonstrate their skills every day in exchange for rewards.
  • Avid hunters, a popular sport among the Mughals was shikar or tiger-hunting.
  • There is also a 17th-century Dhanurveda-samhita attributed to Vasistha.
  • The pehlwani style of wrestling developed in the Mughal Empire by combining native malla-yuddha with influences from Persian varzesh-e bastani.

Maratha dynasty (1674–1859)

  • the Marathas became expert horsemen who favoured light armour and highly mobile cavalry units during war.
  • After serving the Dakshin sultanates of the early 17th century, the scattered Marathas united to found their own kingdom under the warrior Shivaji. Having learned the native art of mardani khela from a young age, Shivaji was a master swordsman and proficient in the use of various weapons
  • He took advantage of his people’s expertise in guerilla tactics (Shiva sutra) to re-establish Hindavi Swarajya (native [Hindu being a term traditionally applied to the native inhabitants of India throughout antiquity] self-rule) at a time of Muslim supremacy and increasing intolerance
  • The still-existing Maratha Light Infantry is one of the “oldest and most renowned” regiments of the Indian Army, tracing its origins to 1768

Paika Rebellion

  • Paika is the Odia word for fighter or warrior. Their training schools, known as paika akhada, can be traced back to ancient Kalinga and their art was at one time patronised by King Kharavela

Modern period (1857—present)

  • Indian martial arts underwent a period of decline after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century
  • The British colonial government banned kalaripayat in 1804 in response to a series of revolts.[47] Silambam was also banned and became more common in the Malay Peninsula than its native Tamil Nadu.
  • During the following three decades, other regional styles were subsequently revived such as silambam in Tamil Nadu, thang-ta in Manipur[49] and paika akhada in Orissa
Martial Art Forms in India Key Features
  • ‘Pari’ means shield while ‘khanda’ refers to sword. Therefore, both shield and sword are used in this art.
  • It involves fighting using Sword and Shield.
  • Its steps and techniques are used in Chhau dance of Bihar.
  • It was started in Mizoram, believed to have its genesis in 1750 A.D. in Duntland village.
  • This art consists of very strict rules that prohibit stepping out the circle, kicking and knee bending.
  • It also involves catching of the belt worn around their waist by the wrestlers.
  • When people migrated from Burma to Lushai hills then this art form was regarded as a sport.
  • It was originated and mainly practiced in South India and also popular in north-eastern part of Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
  • Techniques: Grappling, striking and locking techniques are used in this art.
  • This art was first mentioned in Sangam literature in the first or second century B.C.
  • Kuttu Varisai means ‘empty hand combat’.
  • It is an unarmed Dravidian martial art used to advance athleticism and footwork through yoga, gymnastics, breathing exercises etc.
  • It also uses animal-based sets including snake, eagle, tiger, elephant and monkey.
  • It is an unarmed martial art form. Since 1960 it is a popular art. Started in Varanasi. Kicks, punches, knee and elbow strikes are the techniques used by this martial art.
  • It incorporates the development of all three aspects physical, mental and spiritual.
  • The fights in this art are named on the Hindu God and divided into four categories.
  • The first is known as Jambuvanti that refers to the forcing the opponent into submission through locking and holding.
  • Second is Hanumanti, which is for technical superiority.

Third refers to Bhimaseni, which focusses on sheer strength and fourth is called Jarasandhi that concentrates on limb and joint breaking.

  • Lathi is one of the oldest weapons used in martial arts. It was originated in Punjab and Bengal.
  • Lathi refers to a ‘stick’ mainly cane sticks which is generally 6 to 8 feet in length and sometimes metal tipped.
  • It is also a common sport in various villages of the country.
  • It was started in Himachal Pradesh and Wooden bows, arrows are used.
  • Thoda name is derived from the round wooden piece attached to the head of an arrow to minimise its lethal potential.
  • It is a mixture of martial art, sport and culture.
  • It takes place during Baisakhi every year.
  • This martial art relies on a player of skill of archery and can be dated back at the time of Mahabharata where bows and arrows were used in the valleys of Kullu and Manali.
  • In the game, there are 2 groups of 500 people each. All of them are not archers but dancers also who came with them to boost the morale of their respective teams.

The two teams are called Pashis and Saathis, who believed to be the descendants of Pandavas and Kauravas of Mahabharata.

  • Gatka is a weapon based martial art form performed by Sikhs of Punjab.
  • Gatka means whose freedom belongs to grace. Others say that ‘Gatka’ comes from a Sanskrit word ‘Gadha’ means mace.
  • This art uses weapons like Kirpan, Talwar and Kataar.

It is displayed in various occasions, celebrations in the state including fairs.

  • This art was created by the Meitei people of Manipur.
  • Thang refers to a ‘sword’ while Ta refers to a ‘spear’ and is an armed martial art whereas Sarit Sarak is an unarmed art form that uses hand to hand combat.
  • In 17th century this art was used by Manipuri kings against Britishers later on when Britishers captured the area this technique was banned.
  • Thang-Ta is also known as HuyenLallong, which is a popular ancient martial art which uses other weapons including an axe and a shield.
  • It is practiced in 3 different ways: Firstly, ritualistic in nature linked with tantric practices, secondly, mesmerizing performance of sword and sword dances and thirdly, is the actual technique of fighting.
  • It is a kind of Staff Fencing originated in Tamil Nadu, a modern and scientific martial art.
  • Techniques of Silambam: Swift movements of the foot, use of thrust, cut, chop, sweep to achieve mastery & development of force, momentum & precision at different levels of the body, snake hits, monkey hits, hawk hits etc.
  • Silambam is promoted in Tamil Nadu by the rulers Pandya, Chola and Chera and the reference to the sale of Silambam staves, pearls, swords and armours can be seen in a Tamil literature ‘Silapaddigaram’.
  • This art also travelled to Malaysia, where it is a famous sport apart from a self defence technique.
  • For mock fighting and self-defence the long-staff technique is used. Infact, Lord Muruga (in Tamil Mythology) and sage Agasthya are credited with the creation of Silambam.
  • Even during Vedic age, training was imparted to young men as a ritual and for an emergency.
  • It is the oldest martial art in India originated in the state of Kerala in 4th century A.D.
  • Techniques of Kalaripayattu: Uzhichil or the massage with Gingli oil, Otta, Maipayattu or body exercises, Puliyankam or sword fight, Verumkai or bare-handed fight etc.
  • Kalari is a Malayalam word which means School/gymnasium/training hall where Martial arts are practiced or taught.
  • Kalaripayattu was introduced as martial art by a legend, sage Parasurama, who built temples.
  • This art is used as a means of unarmed self-defence and a way to achieve physical fitness today. Also used in traditional rituals and ceremonies.
  • It includes mock duels (armed and unarmed combat) and physical exercises, important aspect is the style of fighting and is nor accompanied by any drumming or song.
  • Its important key is footwork which includes kicks, strikes and weapon-based practice.
  • Its popularity also increases with the movie Ashoka and the Myth.

Women also practiced this art, Unniyarcha; a legendary heroine won many battles using this martial art.

  • It is a traditional form of gymnastics performed with a wooden pole (made of wood from sheesham or Indian rosewood and polished with castor oil), a cane, or a rope.

Though Madhya Pradesh declared Mallakhamb the State sport only in 2013, it had been developed as a competitive sport since 1981, with rules and regulations introduced at the first National Championship that year.

KATTI SAMU (SWORD FIGHT) & KARA SAMU (STAFF FIGHT) In this type of Martial arts person use Staff (Mainly Made of Bamboo) or Sword to defend or attack the enemy. Originated from Andra Pradesh and Some Parts of Telangana.
  • regarded as one of the oldest and most important martial arts to have been practiced in ancient Tamilakam (present day Indian state of Tamil Nadu).
  • The practitioners of Adimurai defeat the opponents by striking them either using their legs or hands.

It is believed that Adimurai originated from Southern Parts of Tamil Nadu Tirunelveli, Kanyakumari.

  • Mardani khel is an armed Indian martial art from Maharashtra.
  • It is particularly known for its use of the uniquely Indian patta (sword) and vita (corded lance).

The early history of mardani khel as a distinct system is difficult to trace prior to the 1600s, but it is said to owe its development to the particular geographic conditions of Maharashtra.

  • Sqay is an Indian martial arts form of sword-fighting originating in the Kashmir region of ancient India.
  • It is governed by the Sqay Federation of India.
  • Armed sqay makes use of a curved single-edge sword paired with a shield, or one sword in each hand.
  • Unarmed techniques incorporate kicks, punches, locks and chops.
  • Sqay have different techniques single sword double sword free hand techniques and lessons of both free hand and sword.
  • This is one of Manipur’s most ancient martial arts.
  • The fighting equipment comprises a sword and a shield, now modified to a stick encased in soft leather and a shield made of leather.
  • The contestants fight a duel, and victory goes to the person, who scores the maximum points.
  • In ancient times, sword and spears were used by the contestants.
  • Victory in this martial art, depends more on skill, than brawn and brute force.


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