Gati in Theory and Practice

by Dr. Sujatha Mohan | 2015 | 88,445 words

This page relates ‘Gait identified in the martial arts of India’ of the study on the Theory and Practice of Gati (“gait”) which refers to the “movement of a character on the stage”, commonly employed (as a Sanskrit technical term) in ancient Indian Theatrics and the Dramatic arts, also known as Natya-shastra. This thesis explores the history and evolution of Gati and also investigates how the various Gatis are employed in regional performance traditions.

Gait identified in the martial arts of India

The martial arts have their source from the DhanurVeda, which is one of the eighteen branches of knowledge. The elements from the Yogasutras of Patanjali, were incorporated into the fighting arts. There are references of fights and combats are seen in Ramayana and Mahabhārata and in Purāṇas. The Nāṭyaśāstra also elucidates the sthānas, maṇḍalas and the nyayas for depicting the actions of imaginary fight on stage. These also come under the sixty-four arts that are practiced. This was known as āyuddhavidya, śāstravidya, yuddha kala, and many more terms. These terms referred to the knowledge of archery or the art of fighting. Mastering the science of archery was common in those days. There are references in Sanga literature in Tamil, like Purananuru and Silappadikara, about the fighting techniques. Works such as the Agnipurāṇa has references about these forms. The details given are similar to the sthānas of the Nāṭyaśāstra. The Dhanur Veda section in the Agni Purina[1] refers to the training into five major divisions for different types of warriors, namely charioteers, elephant-riders, cavalry, infantry, and wrestlers.

There follow nine asana or positions of standing in a fight.

1. Samapāda is standing in closed ranks with the feet put together[2]
2. Vaiśākha is standing erect with the feet apart[3]
3. Maṇḍala is standing with the knees apart, in the shape of a geese[4]
4. Ālīḍha is bending the right knee with the left foot pulled back[5]
5. Pratyālīḍha: bending the left knee with the right foot pulled back[6]
6. Jāta is placing the right foot straight with the left foot perpendicular, the ankles being five fingers apart[7]
7. Daṇḍāyata is keeping the right knee bent with the left leg straight, or vice versa; called vikaṭa if the two legs are two palm-lengths apart[8]
8. Sampuṭa is in the shape of a hemisphere[9]
9. Svastika is keeping the feet apart and lifting the feet a little[10]

Then there follows a more detailed discussion of archery technique.

The section concludes with listing the names of actions possible with a number of weapons, including thirty-two positions to be taken with sword and shield, which is known as khaḍgacarmavidhi.

They are:

  1. bhrānta,
  2. udbhrānta,
  3. āviddha,
  4. āpluta,
  5. vipluta,
  6. sṛta,
  7. sampāta,
  8. samudīśa,
  9. śyenapāta,
  10. ākula,
  11. uddhūta,
  12. avadhūta,
  13. savya,
  14. dakṣiṇa,
  15. anālakṣita,
  16. visphoṭa,
  17. karālendra,
  18. ahāsakha,
  19. vikarāla,
  20. nipāta,
  21. vibhīṣaṇa,
  22. bhayānaka,
  23. samagrārdha,
  24. tṛtīyāṃśapāda,
  25. pādardhavārijāḥ,
  26. pratyālīḍha,
  27. ālīḍha,
  28. varāha and
  29. lulita.[11]

The Nāṭyaśāstra refers to the nyāyas for wielding weapons. The actions of the bahu as āviddhā and āpāviddhā and sthānas like ālīḍha and pratyālīḍha, which looks similar to these movements, are mentioned. It can be noted from the text that he has given the uses of cārīs, maṇḍalas and karaṇas in yuddha and niyuddha. This was also a pastime for the kings in those days. We have a reference of almost all the gods and kings involved in many type of fights. Avatara purushas such as Varaha, Narasiṃhā, Parasurama, Rama, Kṛṣna and Kalki; Kings or Ksatriyas like Bhisma, Drona, Duryodana, Yudhishtira, Arjuna and Bhima; Demons Kings such as Ravana, Kaṃsa, Hiranyaakshan, Hiranyakasipu, Sisupala, and Jarasandha; Vali, Sugreeva, Hanuman and Jambhavan who had animal forms.

Many of the popular sports mentioned in the Vedas and the epics have their origins in military training, such as boxing (muṣṭi-yuddha), wrestling (malladvandva), chariot-racing (rathacalana) horse-riding (aśvārohana) and archery (dhanurvidya). Thus the martial arts are closely connected with sthānas, cāris, maṇḍalas and gatis of the Nāṭyaśāstra. Almost all these forms of martial arts developed around 11th century.

The martial art of Tamil Nadu is referred to as silamba and its variety of kai-silamba is based on animal movements such as the snake, eagle, tiger and elephant. The nilaikalakki is similar to gati from sthiti (nilai, meaning posture and kalakki meaning to disturb or shuffle) the styles differ from one another in grip, posture and footwork.

Kalaripayaṭṭu is the martial art form of Kerala. The body movements (meittozhil) includes a variety of poses, steps, kicks, jumps, turns, stretches, leaps and coordinated arm movements performed swiftly which is more acrobatic in nature.[12] These movements are similar to cāris and maṇḍalas of the Nāṭyaśāstra. The basic stances are similar to samapāda, vaiśākha. Kalarippayaṭṭu is designed in four successive stages of training. The Meippayattu is a series of body control exercises, systematically designed and practiced. This gives proper orientation to the body, suppleness and flexibility.

The basic leg exercises are:

  1. Nerkkal,
  2. Veetukkal,
  3. Konakkal,
  4. Thirichukal,
  5. Iruthikkal and
  6. Pakarachakkal.

The Nerkkal is lifting the leg straight in the air till the knee touches the chest. The Veetukkal is the application of leg in the high swinging are or circling kick. The Konakkal is kick high to right or left ankles. Iruthikkal is kick and sit i.e. lift the leg like the Nerkal and bring back that leg and sit keeping it on the ground. The Pakarachakkal is a combination of Nerkal on either side in continuation. At first, the leg is pushed up in the air and without placing it on the ground the body will be turned into the opposite direction while the leg will be swinging in the air. All these can be compared with jangha movements like kṣiptā (kicking movement),[13] parivṛtta (circling movement),[14] and cāris like pārśvakrānta (sideward movement),[15] ḍolāpādā (swinging movement)[16] and daṇḍapādā (lifting movement)[17] given by Bharata.

After mastering Meippayaṭṭu, the student is initiated into the next stage of fighting with wooden weapons called Koltari. vativu, chuvaṭṭu and atavu.

There are eight vativus namely:

  1. gaja vativu (elephant form),
  2. siṃha vativu (lion form),
  3. aśva vativu (horse form),
  4. varāha vativu (boar form),
  5. sarpa vativu (serpent form),
  6. mārjāra vativu (cat form),
  7. kukkuta vativu (cock form) and
  8. matsya vativu (fish form).[18]

One more maura vativu (peacock form) is also practiced in some kalaris. They are not static forms, but configurations of movements that embody both the external and internal essence of the animal after which they are named. The gatis thus used are mainly enumerated in Abhinayadarpaṇa and are based on movements of animals.[19]

The horse is an animal, which can concentrate all its powers centrally, and it can run fast by jumping up. The pose, preparation for jumping, and forward movement is asvavadivu. When a peacock is going to attack its enemies, it spreads its feathers, raises its neck, and dances by steadying itself on one leg. Then it shifts to the other leg and attacks by jumping and flying. The capability of doing this attack is known as mayuravadivu. A snake attacks its enemy by standing up; however, its tail remains on the ground without movement. From this position, it can turn in any direction and bite a person. This ability to turn in any direction and attack by rising up is known as sarpavadivu. When a cock attacks, he uses all parts of his body: wings, neck, legs, and fingernails. He will lift one leg and shake his feathers and neck, fix his gaze on the enemy, and attack. This is kukkutavadivu,[20] apart from these vativus, there are basic foot positions and movements, which are technically called chuvattus.

In chuvaṭṭu, the attention is centred on the role of the feet. There are five such basic chuvaṭṭus such as:

  1. vaṭṭa chuvaṭṭu,
  2. ākka chuvaṭṭu,
  3. neekka chuvaṭṭu,
  4. kon chuvaṭṭu and
  5. ottakkal chuvaṭṭu.

These vativus and chuvaṭṭus are scientifically combined to form what is called aṭavus.

Mardani khel is that which is practised Maharashtra with armed techniques for use in single combat as well as defence against several opponents. Shivaji who was a warrior known for his artistry in wielding the weapons was proficient in mardanikhel. The Orissan martial art traces back to the paika class of warriors who were particularly known for their use of the khanda or double-edge straight sword. Their method of sword training called pari-khanda is still used as the first part of chau dance. King Kharavela patronised paikaakhanda. The Manipuri art of huyen-lalong was once practiced by the tribal people. Thang ta was named after the main weapons, the thang (sword) and ta (spear). Unarmed huyenlalong is called sarit-sarak and is used in conjunction with thang-ta when the fighter loses their weapon. Kashmiri swordsmanship, an ancient art is known as sqay. Martial art in Northwest India and adjacent Pakistan is referred to by several terms but the most common one is śastra-vidya.

These types of martial arts connected with movements of animals or also seen in the Burmese art called bonto, which, as twelve defence posture inspired by the boar, bull, cobra, deer, eagle, monkey, paddy bird, panther, python, scorpion, tiger and viper. The stances and movements in karate have similar actions as in sthānas and cāris. Shikodachi resemble the vaiśākha sthāna and zenkutsudachi resembles the ālīḍha. Apart from the above list of stances the cāris like syandita, elakākrīḍitā, apakrāntā, ākṣiptā, vikṣiptā, bhujaṅgatrāsitā, udvṛttā and others were recognized in karate.[21]

Footnotes and references:


Agni Purana. chapters 248–251


Ibid. 248.9




















Kalarippayaṭṭu: The ancient martial art of Kerala -Balakrishnan p.40


Nāṭyaśāstra IX.261.










Kalarippayattu: The ancient martial art of Kerala -Balakrsnan p.40


Kalarippayattu: The ancient martial art of Kerala -Balakrsnan p.40-45


Natyasastra and national unity byDr. Padma Subrahmanyam.p167

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