Sunday, 15 September 2013



Gatka is a traditional weapon based Sikh martial art. It is based on the basic principle of unification of the mind, body and spirit in a rhythm of life to train a saint-soldier to be able to defend himself/herself. It originated in the north-western part of India i.e. in Punjab. The people of the area, especially the Sikhs, have a tall stature with a heavy build and are known to be fearless and feared warriors. The system of fighting there is termed as “Shastar Vidya” (knowledge of the weapons/sword).

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Sikhs became renowned throughout South Asia for their great martial prowess. The Sikh Gurus taught their followers to train the body physically, mentally and spiritually. The need to practice fighting for self defence against the Mughals encouraged the practice of martial arts. The tenth Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh, galvanised the martial energies of the Sikh community and founded the ‘Khalsa’ in 1699. The aim of the same being to fight oppression, worship one God, help the poor and downtrodden, abandon superstition and defend the faith. He professed the qualities, importance and aim of being a warrior-saint.

The word ‘Gatka’ variously means a three hand span stick with a leather cover, a truncheon, a mace, a club etc. It is very common in Sikh circles to use the word ‘Gatka’ for all traditional martial arts.

The various weapons used in Gatka are:-
            Talwar             - one sided sword, about three feet long
            Tegh               - long sword, ten hands long
            Khanda          - straight double edged sword
            Dhaal             - circular shield
            Kataar            - push dagger with H shaped handle
            Chakar           - circular edged weapon
            Kirpan            - dagger
            Lathi               - bamboo stick
            Bagh nakh    - ‘leopard claw’ – spiked weapon worn on the hand

The art emphasises having something in both hands e.g. sword and shield, two swords, sword and stick, or any combination of the above weapons. Training with ‘both hands full’ is believed to be an excellent exercise for coordinating the two halves of the body.

Gatka is meant to be offensive as well as defensive. The foundation of the art is a methodology for use of feet, arms, body and weapon in unison. It favours rhythmic movement without hesitation, doubt and anxiety. The attack and defence methods are based on positions of the hands, feet and weapon. Chanting of holy verses normally accompany the exercises. The three beat per cycle drum played by a drummer helps in coordination during practice.

Gatka is today taught to the youth to stay healthy and agile. The art of self control keeps the youth away from drug abuse and other intoxicants to lead a disciplined and pious life.

Many organisations in India and abroad are doing a yeoman service in keeping the tradition alive as also weaning away the Sikh youth from use of drugs.

As Guru Gobind Singh said,

“Chun kaar az haman hiltey dar guzasht,
Halal ast burden ba shamshir dast”

(When all other methods of setting right a wrong have failed, raising of sword is pious and just).

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Shaheed Udham Singh

Shaheed Udham Singh

Udham Singh was an Indian socialist revolutionary and is one of the better known revolutionaries in India’s struggle for independence from the British rule.

He was born, Sher Singh, in a Sikh family on 26 December 1899 in village Shahpur Kalan in the present day Sunam tehsil in Sangrur district of Punjab which was then part of the Patiala kingdom. He lost his father in 1901 and mother in 1907. He and his brother were taken to the Central Sikh orphanage in Amritsar where he was given the name Udham Singh. He left the orphanage in 1919 after completing his Matriculation (Class 10) in 1918.

On the fateful day of 13 April 1919, Udham Singh and his friends were serving water to the protestors in the Jallianwala Bagh at Amritsar. These people were protesting peacefully against the arrest and deportation of their senior leaders under the infamous Rowlatt Act. At about 5.15 PM about 90 soldiers led by Brigadier General Reginald Dyer blocked the only exit and opened indiscriminate fire on the unarmed peaceful protestors. More than 2000 people were massacred and hundreds of others, including Udham Singh, were wounded. It was later proved from historical facts that the Governor of Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer, had approved the barbaric action. The incident greatly affected Udham Singh and he vowed in front of the Golden Temple in Amritsar to take revenge for the massacre.

Udham Singh then became a dedicated revolutionary and aimed to reach London by any means. He went to Africa in 1920 and then to Nairobi in 1921. He reached the United States in 1924. Udham returned to India in 1927 with a consignment of revolvers and ammunition.

He was arrested on 30 August 1927 and was sentenced to five years imprisonment for possession of unlicensed arms. He was released from jail on 23 October 1931 and took on various aliases and names including Ram Mohammed Singh Azad (Ram – Hindu, Mohammed – Muslim, Singh – Sikh, Azad – Free).

Although he was kept under constant surveillance by the police, he managed to dupe them and escaped to Kashmir from where he went to Germany. He ultimately reached London in 1934 where he bought his own car, revolver and ammunition.

On 13 March 1940 a meeting of the East India Association and Central Asian Society was scheduled at Caxton Hall. Michael O’Dwyer was one of the speakers at the meeting. Udham concealed his weapon in a specially cut book and managed to enter the hall. At the end of the meeting O’Dwyer moved to speak to Zetland (Secretary of State for India). Udham Singh moved swiftly and opened fire. Two bullets hit O’Dwyer and he died instantly. Zetland, Lord Lamington and one other person were also injured. Udham Singh made no attempt to escape and was arrested.

On 01 April 1940, Udham Singh was formally charged with the murder of Michael O’Dwyer. He was convicted and was sentenced to death. He was hanged on 31 July 1940 in Pentonville prison and was buried in the prison grounds.

During his trial Udham Singh told the judge, “I am not afraid to die. I am proud to die, to have to free my native land and I hope that when I am gone, I hope that in my place will come thousands of my countrymen to drive you dirty dogs out, to free my country.”

His remains were exhumed in July 1974 at the request of the Indian government and were brought to India where they were given a martyr’s reception. He was later cremated in Sunam and his ashes were immersed in the Sutlej River. His secular sentiments were honoured when a Hindu Pandit, Muslim Maulvi and a Sikh Granthi together conducted his final rites on 02 August 1974.

He is popularly known as Shaheed (martyr) Udham Singh. A number of memorials/statues have been established to honour his memory.

Reactions to his actions are as follows:-

Mahatma Gandhi – “The outrage has caused me deep pain. I regard this as an act of insanity.....”

Jawaharlal Nehru – “Assassination is regretted but it is earnestly hoped that it will not have far reaching repercussions on the political future of India.”

Times of London – “Fighter for Freedom” and “An expression of the pent up fury of the downtrodden Indian people.”

Berliner Borsen Zeitung – “The torch of Indian Freedom.”

German radio – “The cry of tormented people spoke with shots” and “Like the elephants, the Indians never forget their enemies. They strike them down even after 20 years.”

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Hola Mahalla

Hola Mahalla

Hola Mahalla is a Sikh event which falls on the first day of the month of Chet as per the Nanakshahi calendar (calendar for the Sikhs). It normally occurs a day after the Hindu festival of colours, Holi.

Ther are different connotations as to the literal meaning of the term Hola Mahalla. Bhai Kahan Singh, an eminent Sikh scholar, opines that ‘Hola’ is derived from ‘Halla’ (military charge) and ‘Mahalla’ stands for an army column and thus would mean ‘charge of an army’. Dr MS Ahluwalia, another scholar, states that ‘Hola’ is derived from ‘Holi’ and ‘Mahalia’ (a Punjabi term) refers to an organised procession in the form of an army column accompanied by standard bearers and the beating of war drums.

The event was started by the tenth Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh ji, on 22 February 1701 in the Holgarh fort in Shri Anandpur Sahib. He made it an occasion for the Sikhs to display their martial skills in simulated battles. It later became an annual event. The three day event now mainly consists of various demonstrations of one’s fighting prowess like Gatka, sword fighting, exercises on horses and archery. This is followed by kirtan, religious discussions and poetry. For meals everyone eats the vegetarian food of Guru da Langar (see post of 17 December 2012). A large procession led by the panj pyaras and accompanied by the beating of drums and chanting of war cries is organised on the last day of the celebrations. A spirit of selfless community service is overwhelmingly evident in the organisation of the celebrations.

The festival is now celebrated to reemphasise the qualities of valour, brotherhood and fraternity amongst the Sikhs. It also underlines the need to be always prepared for self defence against any oppressor.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Hari Singh Nalwa

The Great Sikh General
Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh Nalwa was the Commander-in-chief of the empire of the Sikh army. He was responsible for expanding the frontiers of the Sikh empire to beyond the Indus River and right up to the mouth of the Khyber Pass.

He was born to Gurdas Singh and Dharam Kaur, in an Uppal Khatri family, in 1791 in Gujranwala, Punjab (in present day Pakistan). His father died in 1798. At the age of ten, in 1801, he took Amrit and became a baptised Sikh. He began to manage his father’s estate, Jagir of Balloki (in modern day Kasur district of Pakistan), at the age of twelve and also took up horse riding.

He was sent to the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in 1804 (aged 14) to settle a property dispute. The case was decided in his favour. After learning that his ancestors had served the Maharaja as also after watching his skills at horse riding and as a musketeer, Maharaja Ranjit Singh appointed him at the court as his personal attendant.

In 1804, he was attacked by a lion that also killed his horse. He refused offers of help from his fellow hunters and killed the lion using only his shield and dagger. He thus earned the nickname of ‘Baagh Maar’ (lion killer).

Hari Singh Nalwa fought a number of battles during his lifetime. The important ones among them were battle of Kasur (1807), Battle of Sialkot (1808), Battle of Attock (1813), Battle of Multan (1818), Peshawar (1819), Battle of Pakhli (1819), Battle of Mangal (1821), Battle of Mankera (1822), Battle of Nowshera (1823), battle of Sirikot (1824), Battle of Saidu (1827) and Battle of Jamrud (1836).

He was grievously wounded in the battle of Jamrud in 1837 and died as a result of these wounds. He was cremated in the fort of Jamrud.

Hari Singh Nalwa served as Governor of Kashmir (1820-21), Greater Hazara (1822-37) and Peshawar (1835 till his death). His administrative skills and bravery coupled with his benevolent nature made sure that he was sent to the most troublesome spots in order to create a dynamic, people friendly and efficient administration.

He built a number of forts, towers, tanks, Gurudwaras, temples, mosques, havelis and gardens. He built the fortified town of Haripur in 1822. He built all the Sikh forts in the Trans Indus region, Jehangira and Nowshera on both banks of the river Kabul and Sumergarh in Peshawar. He also built a fort at Jamrud and reinforced Akbar’s fort in Attock.

He built Gurudwara Panja Sahib in the town of Hassan Abdal. He also donated gold required to cover the dome of the Akal Takht in Amritsar.

In his lifetime he was a terror for the then so called ferocious tribes near the Khyber pass. He permanently blocked the routes of invaders through the Khyber Pass at Jamrud. In his death, his formidable reputation ensured victory for the Sikhs against a vastly superior Afghan force.

Dr Vanit Nalwa, a seventh generation of the hero, states that in the two and half centuries that Afghanistan has existed, US, Russia and Britain have tried to subdue the Afghans with little or no success. The Sikhs won the only decisive real and unmatched victories against them. He stopped the plundering, looting and invasions of the Afghans so much so that the raiders were absolutely scared of him. So scared that they resorted to wearing feminine apparel, shalwar kameez (now known as the Pathan Suit), to escape his wrath since they knew that the Sikhs did not attack the defenceless and the weak including women and children. They earlier used to wear only a single robe garment similar to that worn by the Arabs. Afghan mothers used to silence their crying children by saying, “Khamosh bash- Haria raghle” (quiet child, Haria has come).

The editor of the Tit Bits newspaper of England wrote in one of his columns around 1881:-

"Some people might think that Napoleon was a great General. Some might name Marshall Hendenburgh, Lord Kitchener, General Karobzey or Duke of Wellington etc. And some going further might say Halaku Khan, Changez Khan, Richard or Allaudin etc. But let me tell you that in the North of India a General of the name of Hari Singh Nalwa of the Sikhs prevailed. Had he lived longer and had the sources and artillery of the British, he would have conquered most of Asia and Europe…."

Bey - Bahut hoya Hari Singh doolo, jida naam raushan door-door saare,
Dilli Dakhan te CheenMacheen taayn, Baadshanha nu khaufzaroor saare,
Raja Karan te Bikramajit vaangu, Hatam Tai vaangu mashoor saare,
Kadaryar jahaan te nahi hone, sakhi oh budand hazur saare. 

                                  (Qadir Bakhsh urf Kadaryar in Kissa Sardar Hari Singh, c.1840)

Bey- Hari Singh was exceptionally brave; his name and fame travelled afar. Kings in Delhi, Deccan, China and Tibet trembled at the mere mention of his name. The legendary Raja Karan, Raja Bikramajit and Hatim Tai were all famous, said Kadaryar, but none could match him (Hari Singh) in philanthropy.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Sam Manekshaw

Many of you who read this blog would think as to what an article on Sam Bahadur is doing in a write-up about Punjabi traditions and stories of valour. However as you read through I hope your doubts will be put to rest.

Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji (SHFJ) Manekshaw also known as Sam Bahadur (Sam the Brave) was the first Field Marshal of the Indian Army. He was born on 3 April 1914 in Amritsar, Punjab. His parents Hormusji Manekshaw, a doctor, and his mother Heerabai, had moved to Amritsar from Valsad, Gujarat.

Sam completed his primary education in Amritsar and moved to Sherwood College in Nainital thereafter. After completing his education in 1929 he wanted to go abroad (London) to study medicine and become a doctor. However his father opined that he was too young to go abroad. He then got him admitted to Hindu Sabha College in Amritsar. Sam then volunteered to join the Indian Army and was amongst the first batch of Indians to qualify in the examination for the same. He joined the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun on 30 September 1932 and graduated from there on 4 February 1934. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and first served 2nd Battalion THE ROYAL SCOTS and later with 4th Battalion 12th FRONTIER FORCE REGIMENT. After partition, though this regiment opted to join Pakistani Army, he remained in the Indian Army.

His military career spanned four decades from the British era and World War II, to the wars against China and Pakistan after India’s independence in 1947.

In the Second World War he was deployed on the Burma front. He was severely wounded on 22 Feb 1942 while gallantly leading his company to capture a vital enemy position, Pagoda Hill. He was hit by a burst from a LMG and took many bullets in his stomach and body. Major General DT Cowan spotted Manekshaw holding onto life. The General was aware of the valour of Manekshaw in the face of stiff resistance from the Japanese and immediately fearing the worst quickly pinned his own MILITARY CROSS ribbon to Manekshaw saying that, “A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.” He thus has the distinction of being honoured for his bravery on the battlefield. When he was brought nearly dead to the hospital and the surgeon asked him as to what had happened, he replied that he was “kicked by a bloody mule.” This shows the true spirit of the man in even a hopeless situation.

He attended the Staff College at Quetta from 23 August to 22 December 1943 and was posted as Brigade Major of Razmak Brigade till 22 October 1944. Upon partition since his regiment opted to join Pakistan Army he was first empanelled with 16 PUNJAB Regiment and later to 3rd Battalion 5th GURKHA RIFLES. However he could not command the battalion since the events of partition kept him as a staff officer at the Army Headquarters. This has always been disappointing for him.

He commanded 167 Infantry Brigade in Ferozepur and was later posted as Commandant Infantry School. He took over command of 26 Infantry Division in December 1957. Thereafter he was Commandant of the Staff College at Wellington, Tamil Nadu and was later appointed to command 4 Corps after General Kaul resigned. He was appointed GOC-in-C of Western Command and later Eastern Command. He became the eighth Chief of the Indian Army on 7th June 1969. As Chief he masterminded the complete annihilation of the Pakistan Army in the 1971 war leading to the surrender of more than 93000 troops and creation of a new nation Bangladesh. He retired on 15 Jan 1973.

He was honoured with a Military Cross in 1942, Padma Bhushan in 1968 and Padma Vibhushan in 1972. He was conferred the rank of Field Marshal on 1 Jan 1973.

Field Marshal Manekshaw died of complications from pneumonia at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu on 27 June 2008. He was laid to rest in Ootacamund, Tamil Nadu with full military honours.

Some of his famous quotes showing the character of the man are given below:-
After being given command of the retreating 4 Corps during the war with China in 1962“There will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.”
After assisting a young Indian Army officer with his luggage when the grateful officer asked Sam, "What do you do here?". Sam replied "I everyday help officers like you with their luggage, but I do in my past time command this Infantry Division".

Note. I have surfed/gone through a lot of material on Field Marshal Manekshaw but have not been able to locate the school in which he studied in Amritsar. There are also no details of any remembrance to this great man in his birthplace of Amritsar. His birth centenary will occur on 3 Apr 2014. Let us hope that Amritsar will remember him and give a befitting tribute to this great son of Amritsar, Punjab and India.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Basant Panchami

Basant Panchami
Basant Panchami is one of the six seasons (Ritus) which corresponds to Spring. It is celebrated every year on the fifth day (panchami) of the Indian month of Magh.

In the Vedas the day is dedicated to Goddess Saraswati. She is worshipped as the Goddess of speech and learning who bestows the greatest wealth to humanity, the wealth of knowledge.

The festival is celebrated with great fervour and enthusiasm. Men, women, girls and boys wear yellow clothes. The yellow colour is a sign of auspiciousness and spirituality. It also represents prosperity, happiness, intellect and energy. The colour signifies the ripening of the spring crops. The yellow flowers of mustard crop cover the entire fields in such a way that it seems as if gold is spread over the land glittering with the rays of the sun.
People wear yellow clothes, offer yellow flowers in prayers and put a yellow tilak on their forehead. Kesar halwa (yellow in colour), boiled rice dyed in saffron and traditional sweets of yellowish hues are prepared.

The festival heralds the onset of spring and the end of winters in North India as beautifully stated as “aayi basant paala uddant” (winters will blow away on the arrival of basant).
It is traditional to undertake kite flying on the day of basant panchami. The event is filled with a lot of enthusiasm, cheering and thrill. The grounds and terraces of buildings are full of people in yellow clothes and the sky is full of colourful kites. Songs are played at high volume and people dance with rhythm while flying kites. They also indulge in what can be termed as ‘kite-fights’. The joy and cheering on cutting an opponent’s kite has to be seen to be experienced and no words can describe that feeling. At various places even judges are appointed and prizes for the best kite flyer, most beautiful kite, biggest kite etc are also awarded.

The festival is however losing its appeal due to the supposedly busy schedule and ‘couldn’t care less’ attitude of the people. A little effort from all in the neighbourhood is all that is needed to keep this tradition alive.

Saturday, 12 January 2013



Lohri is a North Indian festival which is celebrated on the last day of the Indian calendar month of Paush. It is celebrated a day before Makar Sankranti. By the Gregorian calendar the festival is celebrated on 13th January (99 % of the time) while it may sometimes also fall on the 12th or 14th January. It is a festival dedicated to the end of the winter season and people generally believe that the severity of winter starts decreasing on this day, though the season itself lasts till about mid March.
Lohri commemorates the hero of Punjab, Dulla Bhatti, who staked everything to save the honour of girls who were harassed and molested by Mughal soldiers. A Muslim-Rajput warrior, he is remembered for rescuing a girl from the soldiers, adopting her and later marrying her off with a Hindu boy just as his own sister. He is also described as a Robin Hood kind of hero who looted the merchant caravans and royal treasures and distributed the bounty to the poor and needy. He rescued many women from the invaders and restored them to their parents. His story is immortalised in the traditional Lohri song, “Sundar Mundriye”.
Sunder mundriye ho!
Tera kaun vicharaa ho!
Dullah Bhatti walla ho!
Dullhe di dhee vyayae ho!
Ser shakkar payee ho!
Kudi da laal pathaka ho!
Kudi da saalu paata ho!
Salu kaun samete!
Chacha gali dese!
Chache choori kutti! zamidara lutti!
Zamindaar sudhaye!
Bum Bum bhole aaye!
Ek bhola reh gaya!
Sipahee far ke lai gaya!
Sipahee ne mari itt!
Bhaanvey ro te bhaanvey pitt!
Sanoo de de Lohri, te teri jeeve jodi!
Beautiful girl
Who will think about you
Dulla of the Bhatti clan will
Dulla's daughter got married
He gave one 
ser of sugar!
The girl is wearing a red suit!
But her shawl is torn!
Who will stitch her shawl?!
The uncle made choori!
The landlords looted it!
Landlords are beaten up!
Lots of simple-headed boys came!
One simpleton got left behind!
The soldier arrested him!
The soldier hit him with a brick!
Cry or howl
Give us Lohri, long live your pair (to a married couple)!

The festival is also associated with the harvest of Rabi crops. The crop of Sesame seed (til) and groundnuts comes during this season.
During the day children go from door to door singing folk songs in praise of Dulla Bhatti. They are given groundnuts, rewris, jaggery, gachack etc, and sometimes money. Turning them back empty handed is considered inauspicious.
Everyone gets together at sunset and a large bonfire is lit at a central place. People wear their brightest clothes and dance the bhangra and gidda to the beat of the dhol. They toss groundnuts, sesame seeds, gur, rewris and popcorn on the bonfire and sing and dance till the fire dies out. Traditional dinner of Makki di roti and Sarson da saag is served to all.
Lohri is more than just a festival for the fun loving, sturdy, robust, enthusiastic, energetic and jovial Punjabis. Lohri is symbolic of their love for celebrations and also brings an opportunity for people to get together to share each other’s company.