I am a fairly regular attendee of Royal Armouries in Leeds and you can read many articles on this blog about some of what I have seen there.
For Half Term, 13-21 February 2016 Royal Armouries had a themed week looking at India. I went on four days to get in as much as I could.
This is the first of two articles about my experience and is drawn from a few different days. The theme of this article is Indian Warriors, the second article will be about Indian Music & Dance.
There were Gatka demonstrations on several days over the week. I attended two, one on Tuesday and another on Saturday. There are embedded videos of part of the Gatka demonstrations in this article.
I also attended three presentations about war in India which are described after the Gatka videos
Gatka is a Martial Art practised by Sikhs. Sikh tradition is to protect and defend not only themselves but also those they live alongside. Where possible their combat will avoid killing, however when a Sikh needs to kill an enemy the intention is to do so as quickly as possible. For this reason the main weapon in Gatka is the Talwar, a curved sword designed to give long and deep cuts that will kill instantly or lead to a quick death from bleeding out.
The demonstrations at Royal Armouries were by Gatka Online, more formally the Shaheed Bhai Mani Singh Ji Gatka Akhara. The two demonstrations I saw involved three men and one woman – it is important to remember that Sikhism sees male and female as equals and women have traditionally been included among their warriors.
The first Display I watched on Tuesday was predominantly non-stop action with a variety of weapons demonstrated singularly and in sparing. The second, on Saturday, included a very interesting and informative commentary.
There is a Spiritual aspect to Gatka and before using a weapon the warrior pays respect to the weapon with a ritual approach and touches the weapon to the forehead.
There are four basic steps in Gatka, called Pentra, these steps can be used unarmed or armed. The Pentra include moves that are both attack and defence. The theory of Gatka is that a warrior can defend against multiple opponents and can fight with both arms equally, or as equal as possible. Training commences unarmed, moving to bamboo training swords, Soti, then a weighted stick, Marati, to build wrist strength.
The art includes a deep understanding of spacial awareness, which is linked to the Spiritual nature. You can see an example of the spacial awareness in the Finale video below.
A number of different weapons were demonstrated but there are many others, including bows and throwing coits as well as wrestling styles. The coit, Chakra, has several designs and sizes and viewers of the TV show Zena would recognise it as the circular weapon she used.
One of the weapons that particularly impressed me was the Chakri. There is no similar weapon in any other culture, so no translation is available. The best description I can give is that it is a loose circular net with a handle in the middle and weights on the outer edge. The weapon is spun around forming a spinning shield. The Chakri in use here is plastic replica, originals are made of chain with iron balls, sometimes blades, as the outer weights. The intended use is the screen troops from arrows but it can also be used to deflect swords and indeed rip the sword from the enemy’s grip. With the first rank of infantry shielding the front and a second rank shielding above a large number of troops and wait out a sustained barrage of arrows.
The finale of the demonstration.
Of the three presentations I attended one was a lecture regarding some pivotal historical figures in India given by guest speaker Kishar Dabhi. The others were by members of Royal Armouries staff, Keith and Scott.
A brief history of England, later United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (UK) to put the presentations in context.
England first became involved in India during the rule of Queen Elizabeth I. After a number of excursions in to India a group of Merchants received a charter from the Queen to form the East India Company and ply trade between India and England.
The East India Company initially intended to trade in Spices but found the market was saturated via other European powers, principally Portugal. The Company soon turned their eyes towards the superior Silks and Cottons that could be obtained in India and cornered that market.
The East India Company were a profitable company with shareholders and raised both a private army and navy. With a Royal Charter they held the authority of the Crown to rule territories in its name. In many territories they raised local troops to supplement their own, in India these were known as Sepoys.
Indian Warriors – presented by Kishar Dabhi
This was an hour lecture with slides about three historical figures.
Pratap Singh (9 May 1540 to 29 January 1597)
Pratap Singh was the ruler of Mewar in North-East India, now in Rajastan. He ruled from the mountain fortified city of Chittorgarh.
Pratap Singh resisted the Mughal ruler Akbar. He secured most of his land and remained in control against Akbar.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (c. 1627/1630 to 3 April 1680)
Trained as a warrior and horseman from childhood, with his formal training starting at the age of 12, Shivaji was in revolt against the Mughal rulers at the age of 15. By 1645 he held the forts of Torna and Kondana.
On 10th November 1659 in the foothills of Pratapgad Fort he agreed to one-to-one combat with Afzal Khan, the Mughal General. Wearing armour under his clothes and wearing a bagh nagh (a metal claw) on his left arm the diminutive teenager killed the much larger man.
After many years of succesful campaigning against the Mughals Shavaji was crowned King of the Marathas on 6th June 1674.
Lakshmibai, the Rani of Jhansi (19 November 1828 to 18 June 1858)
Born Manikarnika Tambe, she married the Maharajah of Jhansi at the age of 13 in May 1842. She was known from then as Lakshmibai after the Goddess Lakhshmi.
Her son, Damodar Rao, was born in 1851 but died aged four months. To secure inheritance of his lands the Maharajah adopted a cousin’s son and renamed him Damodar Rao. The adoption was witnesed by the British however when the Maharaja died in 1854 the British ruled that as Damodar Rao was adopted the succession was not valid and they seized the territory.
In 1857, during the Indian Rebellion, Lakshmibai requested permission of the British to raise an army for her protection and this was granted. In June of that year members of the 12th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI) seized the fort . The Rani paid these men to leave the area and in turn took control of the area. She informed the British who accepted the situation with the proviso she hand over control when British reinforcements arrived. She also intervened for a neighbouring Prince when Mutineers attempted to take control of his lands.
The British had by now decided that Lakshmi was herself in revolt and implicated her in the slaughter by the 12th BNI. They lay siege to Jhansi on 23rd March 1858.On 31st March the Rani escaped on horseback with Damodar Rao strapped to her back.
Accounts of her death vary but her tomb is in Gwalior.
The Battle of Plessey (23rd June 1757) – presented by Keith
This was a dramatised account by Keith dressed in the uniform of the East India Company. The account is not of a combatant but is made from accounts of the battle.
The battle took place at Palashi, anglicised as Plessey and was fought between the East India Company and the Principality of Bengal and French allies. This was during the reign of George II of the UK and Siraj-ud-daulah of Bengal.
War in Europe spilled in to India and Siraj-ud-daulah saw a chance to free Bengal from the British by siding with France.
The East India Company regiment in the area was commanded by Colonel Robert Clive, known now as Clive of India. There were a number of combats that lead to the Battle of Plessey, most notably the Seige of Calcutta (June 1756), where Siraj-ud-daulah was victorious over the defending British and the taking of the French town of Chandernagar (March 1757).
The British numbered around 3000, consisting of British troops and local Sepoy units. The Bengal and French force out numbered the British by more than 10 to 1.
Due to greater knowledge of the local weather the British had covers prepared to shield their gunpowder in case of rain. The French cannons being quietened the British won the artillery challenge.
The sides were still ill-matched however the largest part of Siraj-ud-daulah’s support came from his ally Mir Jafar. However Mir Jafar had secretly agreed to turn on Siraj-ud-daulah in return for the throne of Bengal.
The British were victorious and Clive kept his bargain with Mir Jafar and made him Nawab of Bengal.
The East India Company became Defacto rulers of Bengal with Mir Jafar as a puppet ruler.
The Indian Mutiny (10 May 1857 – 20 June 1858) – presented by Scott
Scott gave a twenty-minute talk on the history leading up to the Indian Mutiny, the cause and start of the Mutiny and the final ramifications. I am writing this from a British perspective but it is important to remember that this uprising was seen differently by Indian Nationalists throughout history and is today seen as a step towards Independence from Britain.
Among the areas that the East India Company controlled the most profitable was Bengal. It was in Bengal that the Mutiny took place, currently ruled by the East India Company in the name of Queen Victoria of the UK.
There are a number of causes for the rebellion, chief among them the rumour that cartridges being distributed by the East India Company for the new Enfield P-53 rifle were greased with tallow of either Pig or Beef fat. Cartridges at that time were used by first tearing using teeth before loading the rifle, given that the Sepoy troops various religious beliefs held the Cow as sacred and the Pig as unclean this would be incogitable. Officially the only unit of troops to receive cartridges were British, though of course it is impossible to know for certain that none were distributed to Sepoy units.
The first event in the Mutiny took place on 29th March 1857 at the Barrackpore parade ground, near Calcutta. Mangal Pandey of the 34th BNI talked of rebellion and when challenged he fired upon Sergeant-Major James Hewson and Lt. Henry Baugh. He was court-martialed on 6 April and hanged on 8 April, Jemadar Ishwari Prasad, who refused to arrest Mangal Pandey, was sentenced to death and hanged on 22 April.
On 24th April Lieutenant Colonel George Carmichael-Smyth, commanding officer of the 3rd Bengal Light Cavalry (BLC) at Meerut, had cartridges handed to 90 men for firing practice. Only five of the men accepted the cartridges. The remaining 85 men were court-martialed on 9th May, most were sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labour, the youngest 11 soldiers received a sentence of 5 years’ imprisonment.
The following day, Sunday, British troops were off duty. Indian troops, led by members of the 3rd BLC revolted and killed Officers and Civilians, including their wives and children. In the city itself, whether coordinated or not, civilians attacked off duty soldiers killing them along with more than 50 Indian Civilians who tried to assist the Britons. The 85 imprisoned Sepoys and around 800 other criminals were released.
Sepoys of the 11th BNI escorted some British Officers and their families to safety before then joining the revolt.
On 11th of May the first Mutineers, men of the 3rd BLC, reached Delhi where many joined the revolt and British Officials, including their families, and Indian Christians, were killed in rioting.
The Mutineers were of Hindu and Muslim faiths. The Sikhs and Muslim Pathans remained loyal to the British; Gurkha troops were also with the British.
At Cawnpore rebellion started on 5th June with members of 2nd BLC firing on the British. On 6th June troops lead by Nana Sahib attacked the British. On 25th June surrender was agreed with the promise that the British would be given safe-conduct to Allahabad via 40 boats on the Ganges. However on 27th June almost all those that were on the boats were slaughtered in what became known as the Satichaura Ghat massacre.
On 15th July with the British approaching Cawnpore the surviving British women and children were killed at Bibighar where they had been held as bargaining chips. A handful of survivors were thrown in a well and the dismembered corpses were thrown on top, crushing and suffocating them.
In turn the British murdered many Indian Civilians after retaking the area and executed all Sepoys that could not prove involvement, the treatment of both Hindu and Muslim prisoners forced them to eat Beef or Pork as appropriate and involved many other forms of breaching their faith and caste.
At Siege of Lucknow, which started on 30th May, the British managed to avoid a similar outcome with the first attempt to lift the siege resulting in the rescuers joining the besieged. The second attempt lead to the relief of those under siege and made a safe withdrawal in November.
There were atrocities committed by both sides throughout the Mutiny. There was no central organisation between the various areas that were involved and it was perhaps inevitable that with the more organised East India Company the British were to be the victors.
However the Indian Muting caused the British Government to remove authority from the East India Company who were blamed for not preventing such large loss of life. The Government of India Act 1858 dissolved the East India Company placing India under the British Crown. Queen Victoria became styled as the Empress of India on 1st May 1876 under the Royal Titles Act 1876.
The next article about the week-long event will be about Indian Music and Dance which I not only witnessed as a member of the audience but also took part in three Workshops, one on a one-to-one nature. I will place a link here when it is published.