The Mardani martial art


Mardani khel_


Featured in British rapper M.I.A.’s recent hit music video, MARDANI KHEL is drawing more young women to self-defence classes.

Sarla Gaikwad, 21, is  a mild-mannered college student in Kolhapur.  But, when she picks up a sword, she transforms into a powerhouse of speed and agility.  The steel blade in her hands becomes a blur as she whirls it swiftly.  Gaikward is an expert in MARDANI KHEL, a martial art indigenous to Kolhapur region of Maharashtra.  “I can wield swords, DAND PATTA (long swords) and KATHI (bamboo stick) with ease.  I don’t remember if I was ever scared of venturing out in the dark or walking alone on the streets at night as I have grown up learning MARDANI KHEL,” she says.
MARDANI KHEL(manly sport) which traces its history to Maratha warriors, includes 14 ways to wield a sword, sticks and other weapons.  Like all martial arts, it also teaches you the weaknesses of the human anatomy in attack mode.
MARDANI KHEL has found itself a global audience after a British rapper released a video.  The video shot in Maharashtra an Cote d’Ivoire, opens with a clash of swords that blends into a musical arrangement.  There are girls in black displaying their skills in MARDANI KHEL on the ghats of Panchganga river in Kolhapur.  There’s even a shot of the signature move of a master slicing a vegetable placed on a student’s neck with a sword.

Mardani khel


“Three years ago, I got a call from a person who was familiar with my work.  They wanted to shoot a group of us performing at Panchganga.  We played for an hour and a half without a break,” says khel expert Snehal Murkute, 27, who appears in the video.  The former Kolhapur resident is now a school teacher and teaches MARDANI KHEL to youngsters.  Senior trainers, known as VASTADS, in older parts of Kolhapur are equally generous about teaching enthusiastic youngsters.  Babasaheb Tibile, Anandrao Thombare and Pandit PPowar are all MARDANI KHEL Masters, but do other jobs to earn a livelihood.

Thombare, 71, who worked as a security guard at Shivaji University for 33 years, says he has practised MARDANI KHEL every day since he was a child.  “I learnt it from my grandfather,” says Thombare who has travelled across the country to demonstrate his art.  A YouTube video of his performance has brought him many disciples in the last couple of years.

Mardani khel statue


The Kolhapur civic body started a programme to train girls and women in this art for self-defence in the aftermath of the Nitbhaya incident.  Kolhapur used to be the centre of the Maratha Kingdom which spread over southern and western pockets of Maharashtra.  The city and the villages around it had TALIMS (training centres) where skilled elders prepared youngsters for war.  After the revolt of 1857, the British banned the use of weapons and the TALIMS were forced to turn MARDANI KHEL into a folk game to ensure its survival.  The use of weapons such as swords, KATYAR (dagger), VEETA (darts), BHALA (javelin) and PATTA (long-bladed swords) continued, but the moves were much more stylish and less lethal.


Mardani khel practice


Today, there are more than 12 organizations and TALIMS where VASTADS and new-age physical trainers teach MARDANI KHEL.  At least 1,500 youngsters train at these centres every year.

————– Samrat.Phadnis@timesgroup.com

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