There was a brief performance today, at the Opening Ceremony, of Gatka, the Sikh martial arts by, the Shaheed Bhai Mani Singh Ji Gatka Akhara performers, who have come from UK to perform for the Mosaic festival 2012.
Theirs is a purely volunteer organisation, by dedicated enthusiasts who wish to learn the art for a passion.
The currently visiting group has 9 trained performers, ranging from ages 14-40 years.
The senior most person, is the Pehredar or the guardian, who guards the swords, and there is need to seek his permission before touching the swords.
Sikh martial art, Gatka, is a 500 year old art and is passed on from generation to generation.
Sitting with the group, in the wonderful breeze outdoors, at Celebration Square, their ustad (the leader of the group), Jaskeerth Singh, and shared interesting information about Gatka. He himself began the training at the age of five years, and at seven went in one his summer vacations went from UK to Amritsar for intense 10 week training for the art in DamDami Taksal School which teaches not just the martial art, but also the correct pronunciation of the recitation of the Holy book, Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
The Gatka tradition of a martial heritage originated, with Guru Angad Dev Ji the second Guru, who created wrestling arenas, as he wanted the Sikhs to be physically fit. However by the sixth Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji’s time, it had to be used in the warfare, after his father, Guru Arjan Dev Ji was tortured for a week and eventually martyred. Although the sword use was taught earlier too, but was never brought in practice.
The instruments used in the Gatka are not only the Kirpan, (the sword) and Dhaal, the shield, but for the novice, they use the Sottee, the stick. Another interesting weapon used is a circularly woven ropes called Chakri, which is designed to catch the arrows.
And it is not just a physical display of the sword, but a spiritual training too. Each of their performance begins with a detailed Ardas (supplication prayer) as follows:
Pritham Bhagauthi Simar Ke…
(Before we begin, we remember the sword).
Then follows a supplication to God, the sword, and the mention of their 11 Gurus.
This is followed by the narration of Sikh History, their sacrifices and the bravado.
I was particularly inquisitive as to why they mentioned the name of sword, along with that of the God, and not of Gurus, preceding it.
To this the Ustad Jaskeerth explained: “The sword is the giver and taker of life, like God. The concept is hard to explain, but the reverence of the sword, hence, is extremely high. “
They narrated two important stories from the Sikh history related to Gatka, and its use in warfare.
The first story is that of Baba Deep Singh Ji , during the times of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, who used Gatka, in the warfare, to prevent further desecration to the Golden Temple. Prior to going into battle, Baba Deep Singh Ji promised to continue fighting until he freed the Golden Temple from the oppressors. When he came face to face with the Mughal general Jehan Khan, he was beheaded by the general. But since he had promised to go and protect the Golden Temple, he was given, the sword in his right hand, and the head in his left hand, and his started to say Ardas ( prayers), while he continued his battle towards the Temple and beheaded the Mughal general too.
“This is not a legend, but a true story which has been documented by the Mughals too.”
Second story from the history is of Guru Gobind Singh Ji, when in the Battle of Chamkaur; only 40 Sikhs were left to fight a huge army, of 125.000 men. So he deputed 5 Sikh warriors to fight them at a time, until all were defeated.
During the performance of Gatka, nowadays too, they do display this symbolically, by having one person confront many opponents.
Do they allow only Sikhs to join the Gatka group now?
“No it is open to all, from any faith or color or community. Despite being used by Sikh Gurus, to defend themselves, and their faith,” he said, “we believe in inclusivity, following the saying s of our Gurus.”
He quoted the Gurus:
“Recognise the human race as one.” Guru Gobind Singh ji.
“There is no Hindu Muslim, we are all from one God. “ Guru Nanak Dev ji.
Not just performing in local Gurudwaras, Jaskeerth Singh said he had taught Gatka in “Royal Armouries Museum too.”
I noticed they have two girls in their group.
“Back in UK, our group has almost same ratio of boys and girls.”
He quoted Guru Nanak dev ji : “Why do we call her bad, when she gives birth to the greatest of Kings in the world.”
Hence, whatever a man, can do, women can do even better.
“They perform the same acts as the boys.” He said, as the two, ladies one his wife and the other the 14 year old youngest member of the group smiled.
“There was a famous woman Sikh warrior, Mata Bhag Kaur, in the times of Guru Gobind Singh ji”, added his wife.
Today they just gave a brief display and look forward to an elaborate performance on Sunday, and want to have 3 brave volunteers from among the audience, as Jaskeerat Singh plans to perform an act blind folded. He wouldn’t share any more details, and insists,
“Please tell everyone to come on Sunday, and watch it.”
With quite a good idea of the background of this, ‘war tested’ Sikh martial art, I know, watching them perform again on Sunday would be extremely exciting.
Hence please do come to watch them on Sunday at 4:30PM, at Celebration Square.
For more programs see: http://www.cre8iv80studio.com/index.asp