1. the knowledge/ science of the bow
  2. manual of archery
  3. a section of the Agni Purāņa (ca. 8th-10th century) dealing with warfare and combat techniques (A. Pur.); a similar 15th century treatise on bowmanship or archery which forms a part of the text Bŗhat Śārńgadhara Paddhati or “The Technique or Manual of the Horn Bow” by Śārńgadhara; another late compilation of similar nature said to be compiled during the reign of the 16th century Mughal Emperor Akbar; another later compilation from the 17th century attributed to an author named Vaśişţha.

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The Indian subcontinent is home to a variety of fighting styles.

Sanskrit terms for "martial art" include dhanurveda (from dhanus "bow" and veda "knowledge", literally the "science of archery" in Puranic literature, later applied to martial arts in general) śastravidyā (from vidyā "learning , knowledge" and śastra "sword, weapon"), literally "knowledge of the sword". The Vishnu Purana text describes dhanurveda as one of the traditional eighteen branches of "applied knowledge" or upaveda. The historical form of wrestling is called mallayuddha in the north and malyutham in the south.

In contemporary India, major martial arts styles practiced are Kalaripayattu in Kerala, Southern India (an umbrella term for diverse armed and unarmed styles), and Pehlwani wrestling in Northern India. Notable regional styles include thang-ta from Manipur and gatka from the Panjab region.

Further information: History of martial arts and Military history of India

Antiquity (pre-Gupta)

Further information: Asian martial arts (origins)
Indian epics contain accounts of combat, describing warriors such as Bhima. The Mahabharata describes a prolonged battle between Arjuna and Karna using bows, swords, trees, rocks and fists.[3] Another unarmed battle in the Mahabharata describes two fighters boxing with clenched fists and fighting with kicks, finger strikes, knee strikes and headbutts. In the 3rd century, elements from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as well as finger movements in the nata dances, were incorporated into martial arts.

Written evidence of martial arts in Southern India dates back to the Tamil Sangam literature of about the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD. The Akananuru and Purananuru describe the use of spears, swords, shields, bows and silambam in the Sangam era. The word kalari appears in the Puram (verses 225, 237, 245, 356) and Akam (verses 34, 231, 293) to describe both a battlefield and combat arena. The word kalari tatt denoted a martial feat, while kalari kozhai meant a coward in war. Each warrior in the Sangam era received regular military training in target practice and horse riding. They specialized in one or more of the important weapons of the period including the vel (lance or spear), val (sword), kedaham (shield), and vil ambu (bow and arrow). The combat techniques of the Sangam period were the earliest precursors to kalaripayat.

The word kalari is mentioned in Sangam literature from the 2nd century BC. The Akananuru and Purananuru describe the martial arts of ancient Tamilakkam including forms of one-to-one combat, and the use of spears, swords, shields, bows and silambam. The word "kalari" appears in the Puram and Akam to describe both a battlefield and combat arena. References to "Silappadikkaram" in Sangam literature date back to the 2nd century. This referred to the silambam staff which was in great demand with foreign visitors.

References to fighting arts are found in early Buddhist texts. The Lotus Sutra (ca. 1st century AD) refers to a boxing art while speaking to Manjusri. It also categorized combat techniques as joint locks, fist strikes, grapples and throws. The Lotus Sutra also referred to a martial art with dance-like movements called Nara. Another early Buddhist sutra called Hongyo-kyo describes a "strength contest" between Gautama Buddha's half-brother Prince Nanda and his cousin Devadatta. Siddhartha Gautama himself was a champion of swordplay, wrestling and archery before becoming the Buddha.

Some authors contend that the 4th century BC invasion of the borders of India by Alexander the Great laid the foundation of Indian martial arts by dispersing pankration techniques throughout the subcontinent, but to what extent parallels between Indian and Greek martial arts might also represent cases of parallel development is a subject of debate.

Classical period (3rd to 10th centuries)
17th century mural of Balarama in a south Indian temple. Martial arts are often associated with avatars in the Puranas.

Like other branches of Sanskrit literature, treatises on martial arts become more systematic in the course of the 1st millennium AD. Vajra Mushti, a grappling style, is mentioned in sources of the early centuries CE. Indian military accounts of the Gupta Empire (c. 240-480) identified over 130 different classes of weapons. The Kama Sutra written by Vātsyāyana enjoined women to regularly "practice with sword, single-stick, quarterstaff, and bow and arrow". Around this time, tantric philosophers developed important metaphysical concepts such as kundalini, chakra, and mantra.

The Sushruta Samhita (c. 4th century) identifies 107 vital points on the human body of which 64 were classified as being lethal if properly struck with a fist or stick. Sushruta's work formed the basis of the medical discipline ayurveda which was taught alongside various Indian martial arts, especially those that had an emphasis on vital points such as Varma Kalai. With numerous other scattered references to vital points in Vedic and epic sources, it is certain that India's early fighters knew and practiced attacking or defending vital points.

Around 630, King Narasimhavarman of the Pallava dynasty commissioned dozens of granite sculptures showing unarmed fighters disarming armed opponents. These may have shown an early form of varma adi, a Dravidian martial art that allowed kicking, kneeing, elbowing and punching to the head and chest, but prohibited blows below the waist. This is similar to the style described in the Agni Purana.

Martial arts were not exclusive to the kshatriya caste, though the warrior class used them more extensively. The 8th century text Kuvalaymala by Udyotanasuri recorded fighting techniques being taught at ghatika and salad educational institutions, where non-ksatria students from throughout the subcontinent (particularly from South India, Rajasthan and Bengal) "were learning and practicing archery, fighting with sword and shield, with daggers, sticks, lances, and with fists, and in duels (niuddham)".

Agni Purana
The earliest extant manual of dhanurveda is in the Agni Purana (dated to between the 8th and the 11th century), The dhanurveda section in the Agni Purana spans chapters 248-251. It divides the art into five parts, viz.

* yantra-mukta (projectile weapons such as the sling or the bow),
* pāṇi-mukta (hurling weapons such as the javelin),
* mukta-sandharita or muktāmukta (weapons that can be used for either hurling or thrusting, such as the spear),
* hasta-śastra or amukta (melee weapons that do not leave the hand, such as the sword),
* bāhu-yuddha (unarmed fighting).

The duel with bow and arrows is considered the most noble or manly, fighting with the spear ranks next, while fighting with the sword is considered unmanly, and wrestling is classed as the meanest or worst form of fighting. Only a Brahmin could be an acharya (teacher) of dhanurveda, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas should learn from the Brahmin teachers, while a Shudra could not take a teacher, left to "fight of his own in danger".

There follow nine asanas or positions of standing in a fight
1. samapada "holding the feet even", standing in closed ranks with the feet put together (248.9)
2. vaiśākha, standing erect with the feet apart (248.10)
3. maṇḍala "disk", standing with the knees apart, arranged in the shape of a flock of geese (248.11)
4. ālīḍha "licked, polished", bending the right knee with the left foot pulled back (248.12)
5. pratyālīḍha, bending the left knee with the right foot pulled back (248.13)
6. jāta "origin", placing the right foot straight with the left foot perpendicular, the ankles being five fingers apart (248.14)
7. daṇḍāyata "extended staff", keeping the right knee bent with the left leg straight, or vice versa; called vikaṭa "dreadful" if the two legs are two palm-lengths apart (248.16)
8. sampuṭa "hemisphere" (248.17)
9. svastika "well-being", keeping the feet 16 fingers apart and lifting the feet a little (248.19)

Then there follows a more detailed discussion of archery technique.

The section concludes with listing the names of actions or "deeds" possible with a number of weapons, including 32 positions to be taken with sword and shield (khaḍgacarmavidhau), 11 names of techniques of using a rope in fighting, along with 5 names of "acts in the rope operation" along with lists of "deeds" pertaining to the chakra, the spear, the tomara or iron club, the gaḍa or mace, the axe, the hammer, the bhindipāla or laguda, the vajra, the dagger, the slingshot, and finally deeds with a bludgeon or cudgel.

Middle Ages (11th to 15th centuries)
Further information: Origins of Kalarippayattu and Malla-yuddha

The earliest treatise discussing the techniques of malla-yuddha is the Malla Purana (ca. 13th century). Other old styles like Varma Kalai, and kalaripayat had developed into their present forms by the 11th century, during an extended period of warfare between the Chera and Chola dynasties.

Organised martial arts in ancient India included malla-yuddha, or combat-wrestling, codified into four forms, Stories describing Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in wrestling matches where he used knee strikes to the chest, punches to the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. Based on such accounts, Svinth (2002) traces press ups and squats used by Indian wrestlers to the pre-classical era.

There are scattered references to dhanurveda in other medieval texts, such as the Kamandakiya Nitisara (ca. 8th c.[citation needed], ed. Dutt, 1896), the Nitivakyamrta by Somadeva Suri (10th c.), the Yuktikalpataru of Bhoja (11th c.) and the Manasollasa of Somesvara III (12th c.) There is an extant dhanurveda-samhita dating to th mid 14th century, by Brhat Sarngadhara Paddhati (ed. 1888).

Mughal era (1526 to 1857)
The khanda, a native straight sword is a classical Rajput and Sikh weapon

After a series of victories, the Muslim conqueror Babur established Mughal rule in North India during the 16th century. The Mughals, Persians of Mongol descent, practiced martial techniques such as wrestling and mounted archery. By combining indigenous malla-yuddha with Turkic and Mongolian wrestling they created the grappling style pehlwani which has remained popular until today, particularly among Muslims. One of the Mughals' most enduring legacies on Indian martial arts was their introduction of the Persian-influenced talwar (scimitar). Although curved blades had been used in India since ancient times, the straight khanda (double-edge sword) had enjoyed greater popularity until then.

The Ausanasa Dhanurveda Sankalanam dates to the late 16th century, compiled under the patronage of Akbar.[citation needed] There is also a 17th-century Dhanurveda-samhita attributed to Vasistha.

Maratha era (1650 to 1857)
Marathas used their own form of war art called "Mardani khel" Maradni means manly and khel means game. This martial art suits maharashtras hilly region where it was originated. It involves deep stance rapid movements.Use of double edged pata swords known as dand patta is prominent.

Modern period (1857 to present)
Indian martial arts underwent a period of decline after the introduction of firearms and especially after the full establishment of British colonial rule in the 19th century. More European modes of organizing police, armies and governmental institutions, and the increasing use of firearms, gradually eroded the need for traditional combat training associated with caste-specific duties. The British colonial government banned kalaripayat in 1804 in response to a series of revolts. During this time, many martial arts were confined to rural areas. The resurgence of public interest in kalaripayat began in the 1920s in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout south India which characterized the growing reaction against British colonial rule. Since then, other regional styles were subsequently revived such as silambam in Tamil Nadu, and thang-ta in Manipur.


  • As in other respects of Indian culture, Indian martial arts can be roughly divided between Northern and Southern India, more or less corresponding to the major ethnolinguistic grouping of Indo-Aryan vs. Dravidian speaking populations.
  • The main difference is, again as in Indian culture in general, that Northern India was more exposed to Persianate influence during the Mughal period, while Southern India is more conservative in preserving medieval traditions.
  • In addition to this major division, there are numerous styles of folk wrestling particular to individual tribes or castes.

Northern India
The typical form of martial art in Northern India is Pehlwani or "Indian wrestling", adapted from the Persian Varzesh-e Pahlavani during the Mughal period. Gatka is a style of śastravidyā associated with the Sikhs of the Punjab in particular. Thang-Ta is an armed style associated with the Meitei of northeastern India in particular.

Southern India
Typical martial arts of Southern India are Kalaripayat and Varma ati, which developed into their extant forms from around the 11th century, during the extended period of warfare between the Chera and Chola dynasties. A traditional martial art of Sri Lanka is Angampora.

The resurgence of public interest in kalaripayat began in the 1920s in Tellicherry as part of a wave of rediscovery of the traditional arts throughout South India which characterized the growing reaction against British colonial rule.

In Andhra Pradesh, there is Kathi Samu ("sword fight"), especially patronized in the principalities and Zamindaris of Vizianagaram in the northern most coastal Andhra and Karvetinagaram in the southern Chittoor district. The swords used for Kathi samu are of various types. Besides the long, curved sword, they also use a Limcha and the Pata, a sword with a wooden cover. A shield (daal) or the horn of a lamb is also used as a shield. While the leaders (Senapathis) use a shield, the ordinary soldiers use a horn. As practiced today, Kathi Samu is purely a performance art and not competitive.

The performance starts with the skilful display of stick fight (Karra Samu) as a prelude to the sword fight demo and the skills shown in the use of the sword. The stick fight is called vairi. The starting is called pataka or ettubadi. A sword fight demo follows this. Each time two members of the team come into the garidi (fighting place) and show their skill in sword fight, using each time one particular type of sword. At the end comes the pair using two swords, one in each hand. Other important aspects of the sword-skills are noteworthy. The first among them is the Dal Farri Khadga - a display of two people with swords and shields. Another skill is Gareja: a man holding four swords, two in each hand and move them to protect himself and to strike at the foe. During the village festivals and also in the marriage processions of some communities in the Guntur, Krishna, East and West Godavari districts, Karra samu is a necessary attraction. When the marriage procession or the temple procession stops at a centre where four roads meet, the karra samu experts come forward and show their skills usually to the beating of the dappu. The performance starts with the showing of individual talents. A fighter comes into the arena (Garidi) and points out his stick in different angles to the beats of dappu. In some areas Tasha, an instrument, which gives fierce inspiring noise, is also used. Sometimes a whistle called Bigil is used. Then the fighter holds the stick in the middle and shows his mettle by moving it in all directions as though he is protecting himself against several opposing fighters. All the other team members also show similar skills.


The Sanskrit term for a wrestling match is malla-yuddha. It is today applied to indigenous traditions of folk wrestling in South India, while wrestiling in North India is dominated by the Persian-influenced Pehlwani.

Mukna is a style of folk wrestling from Manipur. Inbuan Wrestling is a folk style of Mizoram.

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