On the art of Gatka

The Sikh community’s martial arts form, Gatka, is taught in the city, but its practitioners emphasise that it should never be misused

Updated - January 28, 2020 06:01 pm IST

Published - January 28, 2020 12:35 pm IST

Children performing Gatka on the occasion of Nagar Kirtan (Shaheed Baba Deep Singh's birthday)

Children performing Gatka on the occasion of Nagar Kirtan (Shaheed Baba Deep Singh's birthday)

On a surprisingly sunny afternoon in Malviya Nagar on Republic Day, about 50 boys and girls between 8 and 18, wielding sticks, swords and other weapons, performed jumps and cartwheels on the road. They were part of a procession of about 150-odd people commemorating Baba Deep Singh’s 338th birth anniversary. The group didn’t travel more than 7 km from the Baba Deep Singh Gurudwara, stopping every few 100 metres across five hours to demonstrate the skills of Gatka, a Sikh martial arts form.

Ravinder Pal Singh, who led the team of boys along with his brother Sarabjeet Singh, says that today, it’s taught to remind children of their heritage, to keep them agile and fit, and to ensure that the spirit of fearlessness is kept alive. The brothers, who learnt Gatka from their father and Chacha (uncle), teach it at the Hargobind Ajit Gatka Akhara (International) Budha Dal, in the Harinagar and Mansarovar Garden schools, almost daily.

“My father’s uncle came from Lahore and started teaching Gatka in Delhi 50 years ago. My granduncle also performed Gatka at a Republic Day parade,” says the Ravinder Pal, 32, proudly. Today, it is used to showcase self-defence and fighting skills and is open to people of all faiths and communities. Over 100 traditional weapons, besides swords, are used. In daily practice wooden sticks are the norm.

After the fifth guru, Guru Arjan Dev, was killed by the Mughals, Guru Hargobind, his son, propagated the idea of learning Gatka to fight oppression. Later, in the 17th century, Guru Gobind Singh, known as the master of weaponry, developed it further.

“The moves keep a person physically agile, courageous, and sharp, but also mentally alert to respond quickly,” says Pal, calling it “mind art”. With practice people learn to fight both with and without weapons. “Wrist arm movements are very important in Gatka.” The Chakra, a round weapon with little wooden balls, has a number of wrist moves. Originally the weapon had sharp protrusions, which are now blunted in order to avoid injury. The Soti is a long wooden stick, while the Tega is a long, broad sword. All moves are made to the beats of the Dhol and Nagara, both percussion instruments.

This isn’t Pal’s full-time job though. He has an interior decoration business in the day time, and keeps his evenings free to teach. Manpreet Kaur, his wife, is also a Gatka teacher; she works with the girls. She started learning it at 15 and loved it, resolving never to give it up. “In today’s time it’s very important for girls to learn self defence methods and this art is just the thing,” she says. “For me practising Gatka is like exploring the deep ocean — never ending. The deeper I go, the more I want to learn,” she adds.

For three months, beginning from Guru Nanak’s Gurpurab (birthday) in November to Baba Deep Singh’s birthday celebrations in January, Gatka performers are busy with processions. Children should start learning as soon as possible, says Pal, who offers classes at home.. “It is open to everyone, but no one should misuse it,” he adds. Children too learn with weapons, but only at the centre, for safety. Weapons are expensive, with a metal sword costing between 20,000 and 25,000. There are about 10 schools in Delhi (Uttam Nagar, Mehrauli, are a few) with approximately 100 students enrolled in them in all. “We have few families learning together. Past students have opened their akharas in New Zealand, Canada and Italy,” says Pal.

A one time entrance fee of ₹1000 to take classes at the learning centre; for classes at home, a minimum of ₹500 per class. For more, contact Ravinder Pal Singh at +91 9891768780

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