A form of self-defence that developed in the Undivided Punjab region, gatka is an armed martial art that uses a wooden stick. The word gatka comes from the Sanskrit word gatayas or motion, but in Punjabi, the word refers to a short wooden stick, called a gatka, used in practice and combat, which is why the martial art form is also known as gatkabaazi. Gatka is often performed during celebrations or festivals such as Baisakhi or Gurpurab with decorated sticks. Though traditionally practised in grounds known as akharas, training of the martial art form is also imparted in gurudwaras.
Scholars speculate that gatka is likely to have been established by the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind, who introduced the kirpan (dagger) for self-defence. Other accounts narrate that it was originated by Muslims and that the gatka was made out of the branch of a date tree. During British rule, the popularity of the martial art form reduced considerably since it was banned along with the kirpan and the neja (javelin) for the fear of rebellion and uprisings. During this period, the art form was secretly practised within akhadas, mostly in rural areas.
The training begins with learning the paintara, meaning footwork, or more broadly, the strategy for engagement. This is followed by an instruction of the weapons beginning with open-handed combat (bahu yudh) and a stick made of bamboo, known as marahati. In addition to this other weapons used in the art-form include, chakra (a round weapon with little wooden balls), soti (a long wooden stick), tega (a long and broad sword), tabar (axe), guraj (mace), barchha (spear), and the khanda (double-edged sword). Of these, the combination of the gatka and phari (shield) is the most common, followed by the kirpan and dhal (shield). The Dasam Granth dictates the usage of the weapons in gatka. The weapons may be classified by their use into mukata weapons – to be used either by hand or released from machines like the catapult or bow – and amukata weapons which are held in the hand. These weapons are placed either in the kamarkasa (cummerbund) or within the dastar (turban).
The weapons of gatka are often worshipped before combat through a shastra puja, where the weapons require to be arranged in particular formations; a popular one resembles a lotus flower. Following this, the weapons are offered salutations through the shastra namaskar. The Dasam Granth also provides invocations that may be made during training and displays. These are often chanted or performed along with war drums such as the dhol or nagara.
Apart from Punjab, gatka is also practised in parts of Afghanistan, such as the Hazara division of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well as by Trinidadians of Indian descent. In the early 2000s the martial art went through a revival through organisations such as Gatka Federation of India (GFI) and National Gatka Association of India (NGAI) and is played as a competitive sport nationally. Additionally, in 2013, the state government of Punjab began offering a diploma course in gatka at the Punjabi University, Patiala.
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