Sons of Sardars

Gatka—once patronised mainly by Punjab’s tribal leaders—is now a popular martial art, thanks to reality TV

TARN TARAN ~ Earlier this year, a group of Sikh youth from Punjab’s Tarn Taran district staked claim to a mention in the Guinness Book of World Records. In April, they had broken 59 coconuts on a teammate’s forehead with a baseball bat in less than a minute at a contest in Rome.

The young men belong to the Bir Khalsa Group (‘Bir’ means ‘brave’, and ‘Khalsa’, pure), proficient in Gatka, a Punjabi martial art. The breaking of coconuts was just a part of their performance routine.

Members of the group are found mostly in tribal villages around Amritsar, an area where heads of tribes have traditionally encouraged the young to take up Gatka. There is a religious basis for the discipline’s popularity too. Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh Guru, had advised his followers to be prepared at all times (‘Tyar Bar Tyar’) to fight adversity.

About 100 students are currently under Gatka training with the group. But with the group getting so much publicity, having recently performed for several reality shows on national and international TV networks, it may soon need to make space for many more apprentices.

Kawaljit Singh, who heads the Bir Khalsa, says that the group has been practising Gatka for the past 22 years.

The main objective of Gatka is self- defence, a martial art that Singh says even children ought to equip themselves with. It is a discipline, he adds, that keeps the young—the group’s members are aged between 10 and 34— engaged in a way that’s healthy, not least because it keeps them away from drugs and alcoholic drinks, a major problem in Punjab today.

Gurpreet Singh, Gurinder Singh, Naseeb Singh, Harpreet Singh, Ranjot Singh, Balwant Singh and Manpreet Singh are among the others in the group. They may be of varied ages, but are united by a common goal—of popularising Gatka.