Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Ancient Indian arts of self-defence: Akhadas carry the age-old tradition

Raeen Muslim Akhada boys test their skills

Shams Ur Rehman Alavi
Many of you must have heard about 'baana', banethi, binwat [binnaut], khari gatka.
These are all traditional arts of self-defence. These days, it's not easy to find the experts, as Akhadas are losing popularity to the sophisticated Gyms.

Some may have even seen the skills of people--a hen pushed under a cot and a man standing on the cot moving the lathi so fast that the hen unable to find away to get out of any of the four sides of the cot.

It was because the hen felt that a cloth was wrapped all around the 'palang' from four sides. Such was the lightning fast movements at which he moved his lathi!

The poor hen would rush towards all sides but couldn't come out because of the speed at which lathi moved, on all four sides made it impossible for it to get out. Umpteen such martial arts like the one in which a coin was tied in a piece of cloth and even this 'weapon' turned lethal for the attackers have now become history.

Or the breathtaking display of fire where a man plays with balls filled with embers creating a brilliant spectacle at night. Unfortunately, lot of practices and demonstration of the skills stopped, in most of the places. Akhadas still exist. But mostly before Muharram, a few days' practice.

When the martial arts came to us from the West, everybody imitates them and classes are run to teach them but our native arts are all gone. In fact, the native arts brought Hindus and Muslims nearer. There was display of such skills on Muharram, Dussehra and other religious events.

In Akhadas, Hindu Ustaads often had Muslim disciples and vice versa. Due to the vows of using such arts only in defence and for saving the weak against strong, the exponents of these arts never misused their skills. Still these arts were discouraged after independence.

While the thugs of the political parties on the loony fringe who have no command over any traditional arts are allowed to carry the guns, trishuls and all sorts of weapons, the real pahalwans who used to spread harmony and displayed their skills thereby causing awareness about health and fitness were shunted to the periphery.

On Muharram, Milad-un-Nabi and Dussehra, the Hindu and Muslim akhadas all over India used to display their skills. It was such healthy competition. Today all this is lost, though there are exceptions. in a few cities.

Unfortunately we are such monkeys that one day these skills would be brought to us in the name of Samurai by Westerns and we will all rush to learn them. Right now, it's Gym and walk, that's enough for the health-conscious!

[In picture: A scene of traditional Indian martial arts in India. Akhadas perform during Muharram and Milad Un Nabi processions]