Swords, lathis, spears: Pune’s females reviving the ‘masculine sport’ Silambam

Hindustan Times, Pune | ByTushar Rupnavar
Oct 05, 2017 09:21 PM IST

Despite its colloquial relevance as Mardani Khel (masculine sport), Silambam has found a huge following among the female population of the city and they are now keeping it alive


Anushka Mane (front) and Sakshi Patil display the prowess with the single stick, a type of Silambam weapon, in Pune.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)
Anushka Mane (front) and Sakshi Patil display the prowess with the single stick, a type of Silambam weapon, in Pune.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Kundlik Marotrao Kachale (30), completed his graduation with a BSc in Agriculture from the Marathwada Agriculture University with 74 per cent.

He even got placed in an agriculture-based private company during his final days of college, but instead of joining, Kundlik choose to work in reviving the sport of Silambam or Mardani Khel (masculine sport) which is disappearing from the public domain in this era of hi-tech modernisation.

Kundlik, who was a national kabaddi player, is now training over 1,500 enthusiasts - from a five-year-old to a 75-year-old. Several of his wards have impressed at national tournaments, while two have won gold medals at an international martial arts competition in Bhutan in 2016. 

"I belong to village Vaitagwadi from Parbhani district. I always loved to play Indian games like kabaddi and wrestling. I was captain of our agriculture college team. During my university kabaddi competitions I came in contact with my Silambam guru Sanjay Bansode. He trained me in various Silambam sports like lathi-kathi, swordsmanship, spears and dandpatta (the gauntlet sword). I won a gold medal at the national stick fighting competition held at Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu in 2011. This gave me the motivation to excel further,” says Kundlik. 

After winning a bronze medal at the national Silambam competition held at Patana Bihar, Kundlik then won a black-belt in martial arts. 

“I moved to Pune to prepare for competitive examinations, but was not able to concentrate on my exam preparation because of my love for Silambam. I quit the study and approached some schools in Pune, showed them my medals and certificates and even showed them a Silambam demo. Gogate school in Narayan peth allowed me use their ground,” he says. 

“Initially (2012), I started working with 45 students and in 2013, Maharashtra government included Silambam in school curriculum and gave it a ‘sport’ status. Now our players get grace marks under sports in Class 10 for Silambam. Right now, we have more than 1,500 students from New English School, Gogate Prashala, Nutan Marathi Vidyalaya, Ahilyadevi Prashala, Panditrao Agase School, Pune Cambridge school and World Aryan school. Six senior coaches and eight junior-level coaches trained under me are now conducting Silambam training in various parts of the city." 

"The sport of Silambam has a thousand-year history. This sport has deep roots in our soil. In Maharashtra, we call it Mardani Khel (masculine sport), Kalaripayattu in Kerala, Gatka in Punjab, Chhadipatta in Haryana and Silambam in Tamil Nadu. It is recognised as Silambam at international level. This was the war skillset of the Marathas we see in our history,but sadly, Silambam rapidly vanished from some parts of our country in the face of glamorous sports like cricket. So it's our responsibility to revive this ancient sport,” he says. 

Kundlik Marotrao Kachale, the professional Silambam trainer in Pune says discipline is the key. (HT Photo)
Kundlik Marotrao Kachale, the professional Silambam trainer in Pune says discipline is the key. (HT Photo)

Silambam go the girls

Since 2013, after the government included Silambam into school curricula, many have taken up this sport. Surprisingly, a majority of girls have come forward to learn Silambam in Pune city. 

Pune’s Arya Kakade took part at an international Silambam competition held in Malaysia. Prasad Chaudhari and Aditya Madage won gold medals in Bhutan in 2016. Two years ago, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) also started organising Silambam (Mardani Khel) competitions in the city to promote the sport.  

Players like Komal Shinde, Purvi Ganjve, Nachiket Bakare, Samiksha Sukate and Anushka Mane have won best-player awards from the Maharashtra government. They are all from Pune. 

“We give training free students who come from poor economic backgrounds. In this sport, prime importance is given to discipline. Most of our students are experts in lathi, swordsmanship and dandpatta, but have never misused these skills even once. There is a strict set of ethics for this sport and everybody is bound to it. Ethics like, never attack a person who does not have a weapon; never attack the innocent, children and women. At the timing of training end everybody takes an oath that s/he will never misuse this technique until and unless critical, and the rarest of rare situations arise, that too only to save lives and the innocent." Kundlik adds. 

Onomatopoeia , in action

Silambam is a weapon-based Tamil Nadu martial art. The word ‘Silambam’ has been derived from the sound the weapon makes while fighting is on - the figure of speech, onomatopoeia in action. 

There is no written record, but it is mentioned in mythological books. The text which was found explains Kampu Sutra, which was said to record advanced fighting theories in verse. These poems and the art they describe were allegedly passed on to other students of the Agastmuni School and eventually, formed the basis of Silambam. 

The literature reference indicates that Silambam has been practised as far back as the second century, BC. The bamboo staff - along with swords, pearls and armour - was in great demand with foreign traders, particularly those from Southeast Asia, where Silambam greatly influenced many fighting systems. The Indian community of the Malay peninsula is known to have practiced Silambam as far back as the 15th century. 

Silambam training involves the use of various stick-like weapons. (HT Photo)
Silambam training involves the use of various stick-like weapons. (HT Photo)

And then, the British came

The soldiers of Kings Puli Thevar, Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Maruthu Pandiyar (1760–1799) relied mainly on their Silambam prowess in their warfare against the British. Indian martial arts suffered a decline after the British colonists banned Silambam along with various other systems. They also introduced a modern western military training which favoured firearms over traditional weaponry. During this time, Silambam became more common in Southeast Asia than its native India. 

The ban was lifted after India achieved independence. Today, Silambam is widely practised in Malaysia, where demonstrations are held for cultural shows. 

Weapons used for Silambam

Staff - preferably made from bamboo 

Maru - a thrusting weapon made from deer horn 

Aruval - sickle, often paired 

Panthukol - staff with balls of fire or weighted chains on each end 

Savuku - whip 

Vaal - sword, generally curved 

Kuttu katai - spiked knuckleduster 

Katti - knife 

Kattari - native push-dagger with H-shaped handle 

Suruttu kaththi - flexible sword 

Sedikuchi - cudgel or short stick, often wielded as a pair

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