Indian Martial Arts – Unbeatable and Uncomparable


‘Martial Art’,is the popular art form,in which different war tactics; like-swordsmanship, wrestling, boxing etc., are the medium of entertainment and self-defence are practiced. Almost all regions of India saw the development of martial arts. The roots of popular Japanese martial art ‘Karate’ and Chinese ‘Kung-fu’ appear to be connected to Indian tradition. As per Chinese literary tradition, Indian scholar Bodhidharma(5th-6th century AD) gave instructions about Indian martial arts.

martial arts

Indian Martial Arts

Ancient Indian literature has many descriptions about the art of welfare, both with and without arms. Dhanurveda contains rules related to warfare including bow-arrow. It also explains the art of making bow-arrow. Yajurveda also accepts the importance of bowmanship.

Indian Martial Arts

Mahabharata describes ‘wrestling’ and ‘boxing’. For example,describing the wrestling between Bhima and Jarasandha, deliberating various positions like ‘Parast bhanga’, ’Sampurna-murchcha’ and ‘Poorna-kumbha’ etc. Harivansh Puran describes Krishna and his brother Balarama to be expert in wrestling. This period also shows the evidences of bowmanship, swordsmanship, horse-riding, elephant-riding etc.

Kama Sutra describes wrestling (mallavidya) as one of the 64 arts. Mahabharata and Buddhist literature describes a Malla caste as expert in warfare. During the period of Buddha, Kusinara and Pawa were the two republics associated with wrestling. Wrestling was considered to be a respectable art form. Information about it are compiled in the Malla Purana which are composed in Gujarat. This describes the exercises related to the sports, diet, types of wrestling etc.

North India saw the pinnacle of wrestling between 6th-11th centuries, under the reign of Gurjara Pratiharas. Manasollasa (11th century), composed by Chalukya King, Someshvara-3 has description about various forms of wrestling and training.


Following are the description about the traditional Indian martial arts

Malla Yuddha

It is an ancient type of wrestling and two types-Dharnipata and Asura.In Dharnipata the victory is decided when the opponent’s back is made to touch the ground. Bhimasen and Hanuman are the examples of this category. Asura is a free-fight. In this the opponent can be hurt, but not to the extent of any fatal blow. Jarasandha is the example of this category.

malla yuddha

Mushti Yuddha

Initial phase of development of Mushti Yuddha are found in Rigveda and the epics. The ‘Shak’ inscription describes Rudradaman to be well-versed in the Mushti Yuddha, apart from being a trained horse and elephant rider.19 century Sikh King of Punjab, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army also practiced the Mushti Yuddha. Varanasi had been the center of Mushti Yuddha(boxing) since ages. In this warfare, use of kicks, use of elbow, boxing, and knees etc are popular.

vajra mushti


It is famous in Kerala and is among the oldest martial arts of India. Kalaripayattu means the sports of warfare which is practiced in the traditional ‘Kalari’ meaning gymnasium. The seven-step worship place is called the ‘puttara’.


 Styles of Kalaripayattu

Various arms including sharp and dangerous ones such as spear, sword, cosh, lance etc are used in the practice of Kalaripayattu. In this context a long thin sword made up of steel called Urumi is worth mentioning. Kalaripayattu is not the martial art limited to the domain  of men, women are also trained fighters in the Kalaripayattu. Unniyarcha is a famous female exponent of Kalaripayattu.

styles of kalaripayattu

Kalaripayattu is also practiced in Kerala in order to become a good Kathakali dancer. Moreover, this is also practised for the healing therapy.

Three famous forms of Kalaripayattu in Kerala are:

  1. Northern style – It is known to have originated from ‘Parashuram’ and its masters are called as ‘Gurukkal’.
  2. Southern style – It is related to Agastya rishi its masters are known as asaan.
  3. Central style – It is practiced on the ground surface named ‘Kalam’

Marma Shastra

Marma Shastra - Indian Martial Arts

It refers to the study of vulnerable spots in human body. It is different from the art of Kalaripayattu. There are total 108 vulnerable parts in human body. In case of pain in any body part, knocking the relevant warm spot gives relief. It is the self-healing therapy of body. Probably the Marma Shastra was the beginning of the acupressure, although china is considered to be its modern originator.

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