Martial Arts in India

India has a long tradition associated with martial arts.. In fact, ancient martial art forms existed to guide communities through warfare. Battles and weaponry could only subsist in the knowledge of classified science and technique of such fighting styles.

Now martial art displays are popular with visitors, with different regions offering different performances and traditions.

Some of the martial art forms from various periods and regions are listed below.

1. Kalaripayatu

The most popular martial art form that India is associated with is the Kerala grown Kalaripayatu. This fighting style is replete with intense training and challenging the body with graceful, yet lethal, kicks and use of weapons.

One of the oldest and richest art forms, the form is said to have been developed by Sage Parasurama about 3000 years ago. While many local Kalari schools are spread across Kerala, you can see a comprehensive performance in Fort Kochi and Cochin.


If you are interested, you can also travel to places like Kottayam and Mahe for an up close performance.

2. Wrestling or Kushti

The art of wresting was fast replaced by modern day gyms. Largely popular in north India, places like Varanasi and even Delhi had wresting rinks, known as ‘akharas’. Even though the population of these is dwindling, there are some passionate wrestlers who are still striving to popularise the sport. You can see a few small choruses along the banks of the Ganga in Varanasi. In fact Varanasi has 41 akharas in the old city.


3. Silambam

The Tamil Nadu bred form of weapon based martial art Silambam is an interesting one. In this, the performers emulate the movements of animals like that of a snake, tiger or eagle, learning from their nimble and athletic movements. Largely fought with staff fences, Silambam is said to be 5000 years old. Though largely this involves the use of weapons, there is another part of it which is based on unarmed fighting form.


One can see and learn Silambam performance in Pondicherry at the Mohanam School.

4. Gatka

The Sikhs of the country are known for their valour. The strapping young men of Punjab took to Gatka from the early 1800s. Gatka literally means stick in Punjabi and the use of swords, sticks, kirpans and kataars are still seen in this fighting style. The martial art form requires high agility and has a high aggressive tone to it. Though Gatka is not practiced regularly, you can see it in fairs and festivals in rural Punjab. The Harvest festival, Baisakhi, in April is a good time to catch a display.


5. Thang Ta

Developed in the North eastern state of Manipur, Thang Ta is the deadly martial art form which is also known as Huyen Lallong. The weapon based art form was developed by Meitei and dates back to 17th century. It was first used to fight the European colonists in Manipur and bears resemblance to Myanmar’s banshay. To see one of the performances, visit local festivals where the art form is showcased.


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