Gatka is commonly referred to as an India Martial art. Specifically Gatka refers to the martial art used by the Sikhs of northern India. Actually Gatka is the name of a stick used to practice sword fighting. The word Gatka is a slang expression coined in the nineteen hundreds to describe a number of stick, staff and sword styles made for use in public demonstration. Much of the Gatka forms practiced today are Europeanized versions of segments of what was the original martial art of India known as Shastar Vidyaa.
Shastar Vidyaa is a part of the vast Vedic tradition which dates back nearly ten thousand years. Yoga, Meditation, Aryuvedic medicine also share these same roots. Shastra Vedia is the complete science of war from hand to hand combat to battlefield strategy. It was exported to the oriental along with Buddhism and became the foundation for the Chinese and Japanese martial art tradition.
There is no author or acknowledged teacher of Gatka who originally developed this martial art. Although through its long history there have been many great Gatka masters. The earliest was Krishna Maharaja. It is believed that he had mastered of all sixteen principals of the Vidyaa. The Mahabharat which is an epic story of a conflict during the Vedic period is full of accounts of Krishna’s and his ability on the battlefield. In Mahabharat is the first known reference of Shastar Vidyaa. There are other figures from classic Indian history as well. Ram Chander was acknowledged as a master as were the Rajput kings.
The Rajputs had developed an entire culture around their knowledge of Shastar Vidyaa that lasted for centuries. But by the time the Muslims had invaded India their once proud martial tradition had degenerated in nothing more than rituals and dogma. A very significant event took place during this time. Fifty two of the last remaining princes of Rajastan where taken prisoner by the Muslims. In desperation to free them the Sikh Guru Hargobind of the Punjab was approached for help. He had had many skirmishes with the Muslims and had begun to form an army of his own. Guru Hargobind was successful in freeing the princes and in gratitude the Rajputs taught he and his fledging Sikh army Shastar Vidyaa.
The tenth spiritual master of the Sikhs Guru Gobind Singh would bring the Vidyaa to its fruition. By enjoining the spiritual tradition passed on to him through the nine successive Sikh Gurus and the knowledge contained within Shastar Vidyaa he created the basics of Sikh Dharma. Previous to Guru Gobind Singh the Sikhs had a single Holy book known as the Adi Granth. To this he added two other Granths, Sarab Lo Granth and Dhasam Granth which contain the martial tradition of the Vidyaa. The marriage of these spiritual and temporal powers was embodied in the elite warriors known as Nihangs. Through the strength of their Dharma the Nihangs eventually drove out the Muslims and Moghals from India and permanently close Indian’s northern border to invasion.
Ranjit Singh was a Sikh king who ruled over Punjab for many years. Although he was a small and awkward man he enlisted and trained some of the most dynamic Sikh warriors ever. So strong was his fighting force that he and his brave Singhs stopped the land hungry British in their conquest of India. With all the resources the British had available to them they chose not to attempt an invasion of Punjab while Ranjit was king.
Rather they allowed the empire to collapse from within. Sadly the wealth and prosperity of the Sikh kingdom had corrupted it. Betrayal, murder and conspiracy with the British after the Ranjits death reduced the once great empire to ashes in a matter of days. The British never had to fire a shot to seizes control of the riches of the Punjab.
Even with the Punjab effectively enslaved by the British the Sikhs were still a dangerous force to deal with. Again rather than confront the Sikhs directly and chance a holy war the British infiltrated them. Their plan was to convert Sikh Dharma in a branch of Christianity and thus pacify the Sikhs forever. British controlled Sikh religious and political parties were established as a means to subvert the Dharma. The two Granths written by Guru Gobind Singh which formed the triad of the Dharma were removed from the temples. They were replaced with table organs known as harmoniums to add a Christian flavor to the Sikh worship. Weapons of any sort were banned in Punjab with the threat of life imprisonment and the confiscation of land.
The Akali Nihang Singhs were the protectors of the faith from the time of Guru Gobind Singh. They alone who had the complete knowledge of the Vidyaa’s original traditions and history of the Sikhs Dharma. Once the British realized this they were hunted down and killed. Over 1500 of these great warriors were slaughtered in their attempt to crush Sikhism. To preserve the Dharma the most knowledgeable of the teachers were sent off to hide in the forest and villages of Punjab. Their mission was to find in their live time five students to pass the Dharma on to.
Today Shastar Vidyaa in India is all but forgotten. There remains a only a handful of qualified teachers of this once great art but many are to old to teach. And students willing to endure the long painful process of mastering the science are rare. Remnants of Shastar Vidyaa can be found in northern India as Gatka and in the south in Kalaripayatt. Both are simplified ceremonial versions of Shastar Vidyaa used in religious celebrations and sporting events.