Indian martial arts
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|Indian martial arts|
India is home to a variety of fighting styles. In Sanskrit they may be collectively referred to as śastravidyā or dhanurvidya. The former is a compound of the words śastra (weapon) and vidyā (knowledge), meaning "knowledge of weapon" or "knowledge of the bow". The latter term derives from the words for bow (dhanushya) and knowledge (veda), literally the "science of archery" in Puranic literature, later applied to martial arts in general. The Vishnu Purana text describes dhanurveda as one of the traditional eighteen branches of "applied knowledge" or upaveda.
Antiquity (pre-Gupta) 
Indian epics contain accounts of combat, both armed and bare-handed. The Mahabharata describes a prolonged battle between Arjuna and Karna using bows, swords, trees, rocks and fists. Another unarmed battle in the Mahabharata describes two combatants boxing with clenched fists and fighting with kicks, finger strikes, knee strikes and headbutts. Krishna Maharaja, whose battlefield exploits are alluded to in the Mahabharata, is credited with developing the sixteen principles of śastravidyā.
Many of the popular sports mentioned in the Vedas and the epics have their origins in military training, such as wrestling (maladvandva), chariot-racing (rathachalan), horse-riding (ashvarohana), boxing (musti yuddha) and archery (dhanurvidya). Competitions were held not just as a contest of the players' prowess but also as a means of finding a bridegroom. Arjuna, Rama and Siddhartha Gautama all won their consorts in such tournaments.
In the 3rd century, elements from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as finger movements in the nata dances, were incorporated into martial 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 and kathakali dancers who knew martial arts were believed to be markedly better than the other performers. Until recent decades, the chhau dance was performed only by martial artists. Some traditional Indian dance schools still incorporate kalaripayat as part of their exercise regimen.
Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Tamil 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 word kalari appears in the Puram (verses 225, 237, 245, 356) and Akam (verses 34, 231, 293) to describe both a battlefield and combat arena. The word kalari tatt denoted a martial feat, while kalari kozhai meant a coward in war. Each warrior in the Sangam era received regular military training in target practice and horse riding. They specialized in one or more of the important weapons of the period including the spear (vel), sword (val), shield (kedaham), and bow and arrow (vil ambu). The combat techniques of the Sangam period were the earliest precursors to kalaripayat. References to "Silappadikkaram" in Sangam literature date back to the 2nd century. This referred to the silambam staff which was in great demand with foreign visitors.
References to fighting arts are found in early Buddhist texts, such as the Lotus Sutra (c. 1st century AD) which refers to a boxing art while speaking to Manjusri. It also categorised combat techniques as joint locks, fist strikes, grapples and throws.[unreliable source?] The Lotus Sutra makes further mention of a martial art with dance-like movements called Nara.[unreliable source?] Another early Buddhist sutra called Hongyo-kyo describes a "strength contest" between Gautama Buddha's half-brother Prince Nanda and his cousin Devadatta. Siddhartha Gautama himself was a champion of swordplay, wrestling and archery before becoming the Buddha.
Classical period (3rd to 10th centuries) 
Like other branches of Sanskrit literature, treatises on martial arts become more systematic in the course of the 1st millennium AD. Vajra musti, a srtiking and grappling style, is mentioned in sources of the early centuries AD.Around this time, tantric philosophers developed important metaphysical concepts such as kundalini, chakra, and mantra.
The Sushruta Samhita (c. 4th century) identifies 107 vital points on the human body of which 64 were classified as being lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick. Sushruta's work formed the basis of the medical discipline ayurveda which was taught alongside various Indian martial arts, especially those that had an emphasis on vital points such as varma kalai. With numerous other scattered references to vital points in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that India's early fighters knew and practised attacking or defending vital points.
Around 630, King Narasimhavarman of the Pallava dynasty commissioned dozens of granite sculptures showing unarmed fighters disarming armed opponents. These may have shown an early form of varma adi, a Dravidian martial art that allowed kicking, kneeing, elbowing and punching to the head and chest, but prohibited blows below the waist. This is similar to the style described in the Agni Purana.
Martial arts were not exclusive to the kshatriya caste, though the warrior class used them more extensively. The 8th century text Kuvalaymala by Udyotanasuri recorded fighting techniques being taught at ghatika and salad educational institutions, where non-Kshatriya students from throughout the subcontinent (particularly from South India, Rajasthan and Bengal) "were learning and practicing archery, fighting with sword and shield, with daggers, sticks, lances, and with fists, and in duels (niuddham)". Hindu priests of the Gurukullam institutions also taught armed and unarmed fighting techniques to their students as a way of increasing stamina and training the physical body.
Gurjara Pratihar Age (6th–11th centuries) 
The Gurjara dynasty which belonged to Suryavansha and Chandravansh practised various fighting systems. Armed styles called shastravidya, archery called dhanurvidya, swordsmanship called khadgavidya, fighting on horseback called ashwarohana, and fighting on elephants called gajarohana were extensively perfected and widely practised. Unarmed combat arts were wrestling called mallayuddha, and its sporting form called mallakrida, whereas the striking art utilising mainly punching and kicking but also secondarly grappling was called mushtiyuddha. Vajramushti and its variant called lohmushti (meaning iron fist) were only practised by royalty and nobility. Because of their intense martial culture and adherence to Kshatriya Dharma as propounded in Bhagvada Gita and Vedic Dharmaśāstra only, they were able to defeat Arab invasions continuously especially in Battle of Rajasthan while Europe and Central Asia failed in defending themselves while also amass largest empire at that time in India.
Gurjara emperor Nagabhata I (750–780 AD) and Mihir Bhoja I (836–890) commissioned various texts on martial arts, and were themselves practitioners of these systems. Shiva Dhanurveda was composed in this era. The khadga, a two-handed broad-tipped heavy longsword, was given special preference. Khadga-puja i.e. ritualised worship of the sword on special occasions were performed to unite the warrior's soul with his weapon. In some places Gurjara gatka and kushti are still practised with much fervor as there have been some world-class wrestlers from the community competing at national and international level.
Agni Purana 
The earliest extant manual of dhanurveda is in the Agni Purana (dated to between the 8th and the 11th century), The dhanurveda section in the Agni Purana spans chapters 248–251. It divides the art into weapons that are thrown or unthrown. The thrown (mukta) class includes twelve weapons altogether which come under four categories, viz.
- yantra-mukta: projectile weapons such as the sling or the bow
- pāṇi-mukta: weapons thrown by hand such as the javelin
- mukta-sandharita: weapons that are thrown and drawn back, such as the rope-spear
- mantra-mukta: mythical weapons that are thrown by magic incantations (mantra), numbering 6 types
These were opposed to the much larger unthrown class of three categories.
- hasta-śastra or amukta: melee weapons that do not leave the hand, numbering twenty types
- muktāmukta: weapons that can be thrown or used in-close, numbering 98 varieties
- bāhu-yuddha: nine weapons of the body (hands, feet, knees, elbows and head), i.e. unarmed fighting
The duel with bow and arrows is considered the most noble, fighting with the spear ranks next, while fighting with the sword is considered unrefined, and wrestling is classed as the meanest or worst form of fighting. Only a kshatriya could be an acharya (teacher) of dhanurveda, Brahmins and Vaishyas should learn from the kshatriya, while a Shudra could not take a teacher, left to "fight of his own in danger".
There follow nine asana or positions of standing in a fight
- samapada ("holding the feet even"): standing in closed ranks with the feet put together (248.9)
- vaiśākha: standing erect with the feet apart (248.10)
- maṇḍala ("disk"): standing with the knees apart, arranged in the shape of a flock of geese (248.11)
- ālīḍha ("licked, polished"): bending the right knee with the left foot pulled back (248.12)
- pratyālīḍha: bending the left knee with the right foot pulled back (248.13)
- jāta ("origin"): placing the right foot straight with the left foot perpendicular, the ankles being five fingers apart (248.14)
- daṇḍāyata ("extended staff"): keeping the right knee bent with the left leg straight, or vice versa; called vikaṭa ("dreadful") if the two legs are two palm-lengths apart (248.16)
- sampuṭa ("hemisphere") (248.17)
- svastika ("well-being"): keeping the feet 16 fingers apart and lifting the feet a little (248.19)
Then there follows a more detailed discussion of archery technique.
The section concludes with listing the names of actions or "deeds" possible with a number of weapons, including 32 positions to be taken with sword and shield (khaḍgacarmavidhau), 11 names of techniques of using a rope in fighting, along with 5 names of "acts in the rope operation" along with lists of "deeds" pertaining to the chakra, the spear, the iron club (tomara), the mace (gaḍa), the axe, the hammer, the bhindipāla or laguda, the vajra, the dagger, the slingshot, and finally deeds with a bludgeon or cudgel.
Middle Ages (11th to 15th centuries) 
The earliest treatise discussing the techniques of malla-yuddha is the Malla Purana (c. 13th century). Other old styles like varma kalai, and kalaripayat had developed into their present forms by the 11th century, during an extended period of warfare between the Chera and Chola dynasties.
Organised martial arts in ancient India included malla-yuddha, or combat-wrestling, codified into four forms, Stories describing Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in wrestling matches where he used knee strikes to the chest, punches to the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. Based on such accounts, Svinth (2002) traces press ups and squats used by Indian wrestlers to the pre-classical era.
There are scattered references to dhanurveda in other medieval texts, such as the Kamandakiya Nitisara (c. 8th century, ed. Dutt, 1896), the Nitivakyamrta by Somadeva Suri (10th century), the Yuktikalpataru of Bhoja (11th century) and the Manasollasa of Somesvara III (12th century) There is an extant dhanurveda-samhita dating to the mid 14th century, by Brhat Sarngadhara Paddhati (ed. 1888).
Mughal era 
After a series of victories, the conqueror Babur established Mughal rule in North India during the 16th century. The Mughals, Persians of Mongol descent, practised martial techniques such as wrestling and mounted archery. By combining indigenous malla-yuddha with Persian varzesh-e-bastani and Mongolian wrestling they created the grappling style pehlwani which has remained popular until today, particularly among Muslims. One of the Mughals' most enduring legacies on Indian martial arts was their introduction of the Turkish-influenced talwar (scimitar). Although curved blades had been used in India since ancient times, the straight khanda (double-edge sword) had enjoyed greater popularity until then.
Paika Rebellion of Khurda 
Paika is the Oriya word for fighter or warrior (Padatika Bahini). Their style of fighting, known as paika akhada, can be traced back to ancient Kalinga and was at one time patronised by King Kharavela. In March 1817, under the leadership of Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra, nearly 400 Khanda of Ghumusar in Ganjam marched towards Khurda in protest against British colonial rule. Many government buildings were burnt down and all the officials fled. The British commander of one detachment was killed during a battle at Gangpada. The paika managed to capture two bases at Puri and Pipli before spreading the rebellion further to Gop, Tiran, Kanika and Kujang. The revolt lasted a year and a half before being quelled by September 1818. With the rebellion put down, the colonists were more vigorous in their attempts to stamp out the martial practices of Odisha. Though preserved as a performance art, efforts are being made to revive the dead martial art.
Modern period (1857 to present) 
Indian martial arts underwent a period of decline after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century. More European modes of organizing kings, armies and governmental institutions, and the increasing use of firearms, gradually eroded the need for traditional combat training associated with caste-specific duties. The British colonial government banned kalaripayat in 1804 in response to a series of revolts. Silambam was also banned and became more common in the Malay Peninsula than its native Tamil Nadu. During this time, many fighting systems were confined to rural areas. A few became merely performance arts, such as karra samu (stick fighting) and kathi samu (sword fighting) from Andhra Pradesh. The resurgence of public interest in kalaripayat began in the 1920s in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout south India which characterised the growing reaction against British colonial rule. During the following three decades, other regional styles were subsequently revived such as silambam in Tamil Nadu, thang-ta in Manipur and Paika Akhada in Odisha
A wide array of weapons are used in South Asia, some of which are not found anywhere else. According to P.C. Chakravati in The Art of War in Ancient India, armies used standard weapons such as wooden or metal tipped spears, swords, thatched bamboo, wooden or metal shields, axes, short and long bows in warfare as early as the 4th century BC. Military accounts of the Gupta Empire (c. 240–480) and the later Agni Purana identify over 130 different weapons, categorised into thrown and unthrown classes and further divided into several sub-classes.
Over time, weaponry evolved and India became famed for its flexible wootz steel. Armed forces were largely standardised and it is unclear if regular infantry were trained in any recognisable martial system other than standard military drills. More sophisticated techniques and weapons were employed by fighters trained in the warrior jati[disambiguation needed].
As in other respects of Indian culture, Indian martial arts can be roughly divided into northern and southern styles. The main difference is that northern India was more exposed to Persianate influence during the Mughal period, while Southern India is more conservative in preserving ancient and medieval traditions. The exception to this rule are the northeastern states which, due to their geographic location, were closed off from most pre-European foreign invaders. Northeast Indian culture and fighting methods are also closely related to that of Southeast Asia. In addition to the major division between north and south India, martial systems in South Asia tend to be associated with certain states, cities, villages or ethnic groups.
North India 
- Gatka is a weapon-based style adapted from shastar vidya by the Sikhs of the Panjab.
- Mardani khel is an armed method created by the Marathas of Maharashtra. This traditional martial art of Maharashtra is practiced mainly in Kolhapur.
- Musti yuddha is a style of kickboxing, popular in the Middle Ages but now confined to Varanasi.
- Lathi is an ancient armed martial art of India. Lathi or stick martial arts are mainly practiced in Rajasthan and Bengal region of India. Lathi still remains a popular sport in Indian villages.
- Banethi is an art from the state of Uttar Pradesh as a training tool for swords. It involves the rapid cyclic wielding of staves or ropes.
- Pari-khanda is a style of sword and shield fighting from Bihar. The art was created by rajputs. Pari-khanda steps and techniques are also used in Chau dance.
- Thang-ta or huyen lalong is an armed system created by the Meitei of Manipur.
South India 
- Kalaripayattu has its roots in the combat training halls (payattu kalari) of Kerala's traditional educational system.
- Kathi samu is a primarily sword-based art originating with the kshatriya caste of Andhra Pradesh.
- Paika akhada is an armed system formerly practised by the warriors of Odisha.
- Silambam is a weapon-based style from Tamil Nadu which focuses on the bamboo staff.
Wrestling arts are found throughout India and were generically referred to in Sanskrit as mallavidya or 'science of grappling'. True combat-wrestling is called malla-yuddha, while the term malakhra refers to wrestling for sport. Malla-yuddha was codified into four forms which progressed from purely sportive contests of strength to actual full-contact fights known as yuddha. Due to the extreme violence, this final form is generally no longer practised. The second form, wherein the wrestlers attempt to lift each other off the ground for three seconds, still exists in south India. Malla-yuddha is virtually extinct in the north where it has been supplanted by Mughal pehlwani. Vajra-musti was another old grappling art in which the competitors wrestled while wearing a cestus-like knuckleduster. In a later variation, the duellists fought with a bagh nakh.
- attested in Classical Sanskrit only, specifically in the Anargharāghava.
- attested from Epic Sanskrit; see Luijendijk, D.H. (2008). Kalarippayat: The Essence and Structure of an Indian Martial Art. Oprat (LuLu.com). ISBN 1-58160-480-7.
- Zarrilli, Phillip B. A South Indian Martial Art and the Yoga and Ayurvedic Paradigms. University of Wisconsin–Madison.
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- Luijendijk 2008
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- Sports Authority of India (1987). Indigenous Games and Martial Arts of India. New Delhi: Sports Authority of India. pp. 91 & 94.
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- P. C. Chakravarti (1972). The art of warfare in ancient India. Delhi.
- (1.) bhrāntam (2.) udbhrāntam (3.) āviddham (4.) āplutaṃ (5.) viplutaṃ (6.) sṛtaṃ (7.) sampātaṃ (8.) samudīśañca (9.-10.) śyenapātamathākulaṃ (251.1) (11.) uddhūtam (12.) avadhūtañca (13.) savyaṃ (14.) dakṣiṇam eva ca (15.-16.) anālakṣita-visphoṭau (17.-18.) karālendramahāsakhau (251.2) (19.-20.) vikarāla-nipātau ca (21.-22.) vibhīṣaṇa-bhayānakau (23–24.) samagrārdha (25.) tṛtīyāṃśapāda (26.-28.) pādardhavārijāḥ (251.3) (29.) pratyālīḍham (30.) athālīḍhaṃ (31.) varāhaṃ (32.) lulitan tathā (251.4ab)
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