The fighting systems of Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are altogether classified as Indian martial arts, due to the similarity of each country to their shared cultures when it comes to combat styles. As a martial arts enthusiast, I searched for the common words involved in the Indian martial arts that are still being used at the present time and found a number of useful terms.
Terms and Definitions
The most popular term today is sastra-vidya, basically means weapon (sastra) and knowledge (vidya). Another useful term is the dhanuveda or the science of archery, which is derived from bow (dhanushya) and knowledge (veda). It is also defined as “applied knowledge” in one of the traditional eighteen divisions of Vishnu Purana. The term for military science or “combat knowledge” in the battleground is referred to as yuddha-vidya, which primarily consists of a series of battle foundations and tactics.
Since I already developed interest just by reading the definitions, I found myself digging into the roots of Indian martial arts.
During the pre-Gupta period, the combat styles were identified as mixed with bare-hand and armed techniques. Battles using improvised bow and arrows, swords, rocks and fist-fighting were detailed in Mahabharata. Malla-yuddha, the oldest unarmed battle ever recorded in Indian martial arts, was comprised of wrestling using knees, fists, strangulation and hair pulling.
The art of fighting evolved at the time of Sushruta Samhita (4th century), wherein the common knowledge of striking the 64 supposedly lethal points of the body was popularized. Through this information, the warriors gathered awareness in attacking and defending the said lethal body parts.
In 7th century, the Shiva Dhanuveda was created by the martial arts experts under the governance of Emperor Nagabhata and Mihir Bhoja I. The use of a two-handed wide-tipped thick extended sword called khadga was invented not only for combat but also for ritualised worship of the weapon called khadga-puja.
Recorded between 8th and 11th century was the discovery of the first existing Indian martial arts literature called Agni Purana. It explained the divisions, categories and positions of fighting such as samapada (standing with feet closed together evenly) and vaisakha (standing straight with feet marginally apart). It also covered topics in kha?gacarmavidhau (32 positions by means of the sword and shield at the same time), 11 strategies using rope during battle and the use of numerous weapons such as tomara (steel club), dagger and slingshot. This era amazed me for their clever classification of weapons and techniques, personally.
From 11th to 15th centuries, the soldiers and warriors were required to choose only a single weapon to master during their length of service. Most soldiers specialized in swordplay, while others preferred daggers. Their chosen weapon was the only option to use even in real battles.
Mughal era entered the history of Indian martial arts during the 16th century as established by the great conqueror named Babur. The people of Mughal tribe were trained in exceptional martial arts like wrestling and mounted archery. Aside from that, notable weapons were introduced in the name of the most popular talwar or scimitar.
Characterized by expert horsemen who preferred transportable cavalry units and light armour, Marathas ruled from 16th to 18th century. The Maratha dynasty was governed by their prestigious warrior Shivaji Raje, who learned to master swordsmanship and innumerable weapons at a young age.
Generally, everything was basic until the late 18th century due to British colonization with the use of modern firearms that eradicated the use of traditional weaponries. The use of firearms is still used in practice up to the present. Pretty amazed as I was, the time duration using uncomplicated weapons lasted for almost a millennium. This proved the broad expertise of the early people in terms of martial arts using deadly weapons.
Assuyuddha or khadga-vidy, also known as Indian style swordfight, included the use of common swords like the regular curve single-edge and the straight double-edge. The gauntlet-sword, the urumi (bendable sword) and the two-handed long sword are also among the types that were popular before.
Lathi khela or stick-fighting was also popularized, which was characterized as a long pole of wood, made usually made from bamboo, with steel caps at the end to stabilize the weapon. Both hands were used to hold the weapon during combat.
The use of ten feet long spear, bothati, was cleverly maximized during the Maratha dynasty by means of horsemen. It was modified further to a spear attached to a rope around soldiers’ waist. Renamed as vita, it could be pulled back after being thrown in a foe.
Dhanurvidya or archery was the noblest form of combat during the ancient times. This style was converted into a sport nowadays in the name of thoda, wherein the arrows were blunt and used to target the legs of the rivals.