Top 10 Most Famous Martial Arts in India

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martial arts in india

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The mention of martial arts often evokes in our mind the likes of karate, kungfu or taekwondo. As we often get to see such representations of martial arts in popular films and sporting events, we tend to remain unaware of the martial arts in India. There are some famous martial arts in India which everyone must know about. Therefore, in this article we will be discussing on the top 10 martial arts in India, the benefits of practicing martial arts and when you can use it for self-defence. We will also mention some other Indian and universal martial arts that are practised in the world.

What is Martial Art?

A martial art is the art of combat practised between trainees in an open match. The word “martial art” is derived from a Latin word meaning “arts of Mars” where Mars is the Roman God of war. The reasons of practising such an art may vary. For example, it can be used for self-defence purposes, military applications, entertainment, sport and for law enforcement. Martial art also helps in advancing one’s physical strength, improving mental capacity and promotes inner growth. It is practised by many to preserve the culture and keep the tradition of ancient warfare alive. 

Origination of the Martial Arts 

The martial arts originated in Europe in the 1550s but in modern-day world it is associated with the eastern Asia. The first art of combat is as old as man himself as self-preservation was a necessity from the beginning. The urgent need to deter carnivorous animals and other enemies helped man in developing the art of combat.

Top Martial Arts in India 

The training received by martial arts practitioners has different forms or dimensions like sword fighting, hand to hand combat, resisting cavalry attack etc. Let us look at the top martial arts in India:

Kalaripayattu 

  • Kalaripayattu is a traditional martial art that originated in Kerela in the 13th century. It is still practiced in the northern and central areas of the state. 
  • Some areas of Tamil Nadu that shares a common border with Kerela also practices this art form apart from Tulunadu region of Karnataka. 
  • It is one of the top martial arts in India and the oldest form of combat. 
  • Kalaripayattu is one form of training that takes place in an arena or gymnasium with preset dimensions and mud flooring. 
  • The earliest record of the word “Kalaripayattu” was found in the Sangam literature. It meant “battlefield” or a “combat arena”. 
  • The word “Kalari tatt” means a “martial feat” whereas “Kalari Kozhai” refers to a coward in a battlefield. 
  • Kalaripayattu is said to be the inspiration behind other martial art forms like Karate, Kungfu etc. 

Gatka 

  • Gatka is an Indian martial art that originated in Punjab and is associated with the Sikh community. It is a most popular form of martial art. 
  • Gatka is also called Fari Gatka and the name is derived from “Gada” that means mace. 
  • Gatka utilizes a wooden stick to attack and a leather shield to defend. To gain a score, certain vital pressure points in the body must be touched. 
  • Mainly, it trains in the professional form of sword-fighting but through wooden sticks. 
  • It is rumoured that Mughal Emperor Akbar practiced Gatka. It is also said that Gatka was practised by the Sikhs to oppose the Mughal invasion. 
  • The sport ends when one has received 5 strikes in the body. 
  • By engaging both hands in this martial art form, the two sides of the body are said to be harmonised. Practicing Gatka leads to an all round development of the human being. 

Lathi Khela 

  • Lathi Khela is a martial art that originated in North India. 
  • It was once quite popular in Bihar and Bengal (now Bangladesh). 
  • A polished stick about 8 feet in length with a metal tip is used to launch an attack. Various techniques, steps and posturing are used to weaken the opponent. 
  • The practitioners wielding the lathi or the stick is known as a lethel or lathial. 

Silambam 

  • Silambam is an ancient martial art that originated in Tamil Nadu. Its origins can be traced to the Dravidians from ancient Tamil Nadu. This martial art is also used to train the Tamil communities from Sri Lanka and Malaysia. 
  • It is a traditional form of martial art that has been continuing for generations. 
  • The word “Silambal” can refer to several different nature sounds like a swift-flowing spring, the murmer of leaves or the chirping of birds. Alternatively, it might also denote the clashing of swords or the staff’s swinging motion. 
  • Silambam makes use of staff, swords, knives and lances. It was initially practiced with bamboo sticks. Steel swords and shields later came into the scenario. 
  • Silambam is quite similar to other forms of martial arts like Kalaripayattu from Kerala and Angampora from Sri Lanka. 

Thang-ta and Sarit Sarak 

  • Thang-ta and Sarit Sarak is an Indian cultural martial art  form from Manipur. 
  • It is also called Huyen Langlon where Huen means war and Langlon means Knowledge of Art. Thus, the combined meaning of Huen Langlon is the Knowledge of the Art of War. 
  • Thang-ta is the armed combat using shields and swords that are the most revered possession. Sarit Sarak is the unarmed martial art from the state. 
  • Thang and ta are the two weapons of this traditional martial arts of India. 
  • The guestures of the weapons are made in a certain way that symbolises the warding of evil spirits whereas other dance moves indicate protection. 

Mardaani Khel 

  • Mardaani Khel is one of the Indian martial art forms that originated in Maharashtra. Nowadays, you will find people practising it in Kolhapur. 
  • Mardaani Khel uses sword (Indian patta) and lances (Vita) to fight an opponent. 
  • Its origins are difficult to trace and it’s development took place largely because of the geographical conditions of Maharashtra. 

Inbuan Wrestling 

  • Inbuan wrestling was initiated in Mizoram in the 1750 in Duntland village. 
  • This martial art form has very strict rules and regulations like not stepping out of the circle and also prohibits kicking and knee bending while the match is on. 
  • As per the rules, the players must catch the belt of their partners that is wrapped around their waist. 
  • When the people residing in Burma travelled to the Lushai hills, this Indian martial art form came to be seen as a sport. 

Kushti 

  • Kushti is one of the most popular martial arts in India. 
  • One often get to see kushti or traditional wrestling in films. 
  • It started off during the Mughal times where Malla Yuddha, a local sport was combined with a Persian sport named Varzesh-e-Bastani. 
  • It is a martial art that remains ubiquitous till today. 

Thoda 

  • Thoda is one of the traditional martial arts of India that is extant today.  
  • This martial art form is inspired from the epic Mahabharata. 
  • There are two teams with 500 people each, including dancers who boost the morale of their selected teams. 
  • The two teams of Thoda are called Pashis and Saathis who are considered to be the descendants of Pandavas and Kauravas. 
  • It is practiced in Himachal Pradesh. 
  • The participants wield bows and arrows where the head of the arrow is covered with a rounded wooden piece to reduce its lethality. 
  • It is both a cultural and sporting practice. 

Kuttu Varisai 

  • Kuttu Varisai is an empty-hand combat that is mainly practiced in southern India and north-eastern part of Sri Lanka and Malaysia. 
  • The techniques mainly employed in this Indian martial art form are grappling, striking and locking techniques. 
  • Just like Kalaripayattu, its earliest mention was found in the Sangam literature in the first and second century B.C. 
  • It is an unarmed martial art from the Dravidian era that chiefly works on improving athleticism and footwork by applying yoga, gymnastics and breathing techniques. 
  • This martial combat also mimics the fighting styles of animals or birds like eagle, snake, tiger, monkey and elephant. 

Benefits of practising Martial Arts 

  • With consistent practise in martial arts, one gains physical strength that will be the major contributing factor in winning against the opponents. It puts the entire muscular system into function that keeps the body healthy. 
  • Martial arts also makes the mind strong and sharp. Since any form of physical exercise boosts brain power, martial arts too helps in developing one’s mental capacity. Besides, with the art of self-control, one equally develops their self-esteem and self-power.  
  • Practising martial arts benefits not only in physical and mental development but also facilitates inner growth or spiritual wellbeing. Performing certain breathing exercises is part of some martial arts firms. One needs to inculcate inner peace that will aid in mastering martial arts. Qigong is often combined with martial arts that contributes to its success. 

Right to Self Defence 

Martial arts can also be used for self defence. In India, Sections 96 and 97 of the IPC support self-defence. A person can defend themselves in scenarios of theft, robbery, mischief, property damage etc. However, the right to self-defence also has some restrictions that are mentioned in the Section 99 of the IPC. 

Other Popular Martial Art Forms  

Other martial arts in India 

  • Pari Khanda 
  • Kathi Samu 

Universally practiced martial arts 

  • Karate 
  • Judo 
  • Taekwondo 
  • Brazilian jiu-jitsu 
  • Hapkido 
  • Sumo Wrestling 
  • Aikido 
  • Muay Thai 
  • Kickboxing 
  • Boxing 

Final Thought! 

Practicing martial arts is not simply a combat form but is a discipline that strengthens our resolve and helps us fight not simply the external enemy but also our internal demons. Thanks to those who has kept their traditions, heritage and culture alive through the various martial arts in India. Martial arts was also the first sport to be included into the Olympics. Since then, enthusiasts of the art form have been participating and creating history.

Do you know the names of other martial arts practiced in India? Share with us in the comments section.

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