A girl performs gatka at a recent Vaisakhi parade in Surrey. (file photo)

A girl performs gatka at a recent Vaisakhi parade in Surrey. (file photo)

VAISAKHI 2017: Martial art of gatka entertains at Surrey event

The display is meant to unify the body, mind and spirit

SURREY — One of the most entertaining displays to see during the Surrey Vaisakhi parade has its roots in ancient times.

Gatka is a traditional Indian martial art that involves a complex pattern of footwork combined with defensive skills using swords, sticks and other so-called weapons, or shastars.

Gatka goes back thousands of years and was originally developed in northern India for self-defence.

Today gatka is practised primarily for sport or ritual. In competition, opponents wield wooden poles called gatka, while holding shields (pari) in the other hand. Points are scored for making contact with the stick.

The ritual form is used for demonstrations at special occasions – such as Vaisakhi – and is usually performed to music.

Here’s a video from Surrey’s 2011 parade:

During those displays, audiences are likely to see swords swinging and often colourful chakar – a wagon wheel of ropes with wooden or plastic weights – spinning.

While the chakar, spun around the user’s body and overhead using a centre handle is an exciting spectacle, in battle it would have been a much less pleasant site. In their battle form, chakar would have had spiked steel balls around the perimeter and been thrown at the enemy, inflicting injury on anyone it made contact with.

Nunchucks, kirpans, lathi (heavy sticks or clubs) and soti (bamboo poles) are also among the array of weaponry used.

Regardless of the shastars, gatka emphasizes merging the body, mind and spirit – using the feet, body, arms and weapons in unison.

Black Press