Niyuddha Kala – Martial Arts In India

Niyuddha Kala as the name goes suggests that, which is a Yuddha but fought in close combat, like a duel. This is in contrast to Yuddha which is like a battle fought between two sides/armies using different modes of warfare.

The word Kala with Niyuddha suggests its practice as an art form. The line separating this practice as an art form from battle mode is very thin. As an art form the purpose can range from basic fitness to personal satisfaction to a spiritual experience.

India has been a centre not only for spiritual knowledge and practices but this knowledge had also shown the people how important it is to keep the body fit too. Fit not just to fight off illnesses but also to fight off threats to their society and civilization.

A lasting reminder of this fact is the presence of many Akahadas in India even today, where the sanyasis train in and practice martial arts besides spiritual practices.

A strong reminder of the timelessness of this art form is the presence of the picture of Hanuman, who is held as the divinity for Strength and Courage, Balam and Dhairyam, in many of these Akahadas.

A continuity of this aspect of Hanuman’s strength can be found in the tale of an encounter between Bhima and Hanuman during Mahabharata times, where Bhima and many others too were exponents of Martial Arts.

Martial Arts can be traced earlier to Parasurama. After creating the land of Malabar and Konkan, Parasurama established 108 centres of Martial Arts in this land.

Parasurama travelled all over the land of Bharata from South West India, in present day Kerala which is traditionally known as Parasurama Kshetra to different parts such as Ayodhya, Janakapuri etc. all the way upto the North Eastern part of India – eastern part of present-day Arunachal Pradesh, where we find the Parasurama Kund, the place where He did Dhayana during Sankranti Utsav in His times. To this day, Parasurama Bhakt go on Yatra to this Teerth on Sankranti.

Wherever Parasurama went, He set up centres of Martial Arts which have carried forward the tradition and training through the times.

Martial Arts was also popular and practiced during Mahabharata times as showcased by the duel between Mal Yuddha experts such as Bhima and Jarasandha and earlier between Krishna and Chanura as well as Balarama and Mushtika. Duryodhana was an exponent of martial arts too.

Today, people look upto China, Japan and Korea for Martial Arts. It was Bodhidharma, a Pallava prince from Kanchipuram in South India, who took this form of art to Vietnam and China from where it spread to Japan, Korea and other parts of S.E.Asia.

The very name Mamallapuram comes from the name Mamalla for its king, whose name means one who is an expert in Mal, wrestling form of Martial Arts.

Kerala even today has a temple dedicated for Martial Arts with a dedicated Devi called Kalari Amman in Kannur.

Mysore continues to host Martial Arts competitions and displays within its palace during the Dassera celebrations every year.

Thus, Martial Arts can be traced across the length and breadth of the land. While Kusthi, wrestling is the basic form of Martial art, there are local forms of martial arts with and without weapons, that have been practiced across the different regions of Bharat.

For instance,

  1. in the North-West, we can see martial arts having flourished in the form of Gatka and Sastra / Shastar Vidya of Punjab
  2. in the North-East, we can see it in Thang – Ta forms of armed and unarmed martial arts of Manipur. One can also see it in the ancient local wrestling form of Mukna in Manipur, which evolved to become Mukna Kangjei, the local form of ball and stick game, the precursor to the sport of hockey.
  3. in the East, we can see it being practiced and performed in the Paika Akhadas of Odisha. One cannot forget that one of the early revolutions against the British, even prior to the 1857 freedom struggle was from Paika in Odisha. Bengal also has its very own Lathi-khela form of martial art while Bihar has Pari Khanda a form of sword fighting that was practiced by Rajputs. Khanda means sword. A popular form of Shiva in Maharashtra who carries a sword is called Khandoba. These martial arts can be seen reflected in the popular Chhau dance of eastern parts of India.
  4. in the West, we have had the Marathas popularizing the Mardani Khel form of martial art and employing it successfully in their warfare against the Mughals and British
  5. Western and Central India have also been honing their martial arts skills using the Mallakhamb or the wrestling pole
  6. in North-India, the Kashmir region has its Sqay form of sword fighting martial art, while Varanasi has its own Mushti form of Kusthi
  7. in South-India, Tamilagam has been using forms of Martial arts such as Silambam, Mal Yuddham, Kara Tandavam etc., while Kerala has its own form called Kalari Payattu, Cheramam and so on. Andhra has its Kathi Samu and Karnataka still continues to host competitions in Indian Martial Arts during Dassera in Mysore.

These are just few of the prominent ones among the numerous forms that can still be seen in these regions in the realm of display performance, sport as well as in dance or percussion performances too, today.

Kumbh congregations are incomplete without the presence of Akahadas which are schools for sanyasis who also train in martial arts. For, these Akahadas were formed to protect the Dharmic civilization from external onslaughts, which they did valiantly for a 1000 years. After the 1857 Freedom struggle, the British Government banned most of the Akhadas as they could be places of potential uprisings against their oppressive rule. This made it illegal to practice to martial arts in India.

Post-Independence in the modern era, these Martial Arts have become Olympic sports.

Haryana with their Akhadas have become a training centre now for practising the wrestling form of Martial arts and have been winning laurels for India in international competitions and Olympics.

The trail of Martial Arts can thus be traced both forward and backward in times until present day, going to show how this civilization has not forgotten this art form albeit its practice having been played down a little in the last century.

While today, many of these artforms are seen as art performances, these martial arts have quietly played their role in the many struggles and resistances that this civilization has put up against external invading forces, to keep itself alive.

Each mode of combat has its place, role and significance for all times.

Hence the need to not only preserve them but also to propagate them for the benefits of good health that they offer to the practitioner too.

It is a tradition that we should be justifiably proud of. For, on the whole, martial arts has been a hoary tradition of this land going back by over 7 Millennnia.

More on various aspects of Martial arts in our following book and films:

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