Lathi Khela | Bangladesh

Name in Original Language

লাঠি খেলা

Area Where Played

Bangladesh

History

Lathi Khela is a traditional Bangladeshi martial art— a kind of stick fighting practiced mainly in the rural areas of Bangladesh. A practitioner is known as a lathial. The lathi is normally made of bamboo and is sometimes bound at short intervals with iron rings. Stick fighting has a long history in South Asia, tracing back to the region's aboriginal inhabitants. Rich farmers and other eminent people hired lathial for security, or to take hold of other people’s wealth and land, as a symbol of their power. Duels were used as a way to protect or to take land and other possessions. A proverb in some South Asian languages is "whoever wields the lathi keeps the cow". Zamindars (feudal lords) sent groups of lathial to forcefully collect taxes from villagers. Lathi training was at one time included in the Bratachari system of education. Lathi Khela is performed on land, generally in a field or yard, and mostly played on the occasions of wedding ceremonies, Sunnat e khatna, or village fairs etc. It is played almost everywhere in Bangladesh, in mostly dry season or in the Winter.

Detailed Description

Lathi Khela is a traditional Bangladeshi martial art— a kind of stick fighting practiced mainly in Bangladesh. A practitioner is known as a lathial. The word lathi means stick, and khela means sport or game. Therefore, : Lathi Khela translates to a game of sticks. The lathi is normally made of bamboo and is sometimes bound at short intervals with iron rings. A typical lathi measures 6 to 8 feet (2 to 2.4 m). Some are shorter and may be wielded like a baton or bludgeon. In the past, sticks could be paired with shields, as can be seen in noribari (mock stick-fight) demonstrations.

Rules

Features and Process:

Concert:

Lathi Khela begins with a heavy concert by a musical team to prepare the players and to gather spectators. They usually perform popular songs with their local and handmade instrument, such as the Dhol, Dhak, Khol, Harmonium, KoloshJaanj, Clarinet etc. The concert session runs for 15-20 minutes only. After the concert session, the lathial group enters into the field in an organized way, followed by the musical rhythm, and display several sessions of Lathi Khela.

Baauijak (call is for fight):

At the end of concert session, 'Sardar' (the lead person of the stick games team) takes the lead of the game. He comes forward to the spectators and delivers fixed lines of prose and poetry, in a long and loud voice, and his team members reply to the lines. The act is called Baauijak. The call is for the players to take position and start the game with dance, movement and choreography. Historically, the call used to be an announcement for the stick fighters get ready to fight against their opponents. Baauijak is the rigorous oral act-react between the competing team leaders, which is a final call and preparation session for the stick fighters. According to the team leader, the concept Baauijak was taken from the movement of a group of small birds, named 'Babui Pakhi'.

Noribari (paired game)

Two players confront each other in this session. Sometimes a veteran player, known as the Sardar, introduces the two competitors. During the game, the players show their skills through the technique of stick fighting. The two players keep fighting until one is being held by the other. Usually, the pair starts the game slowly and increases the tempo gradually. In this session, Sardar gives some comic punches to entertain the audience.

Kathibari (group display by Kathi or sticks)

Commonly, 6 to 8 players take part in this session of group display, known as Kathibari. The players perform with a specific rhythm along with different kinds of body movement and gestures. They stand around, sit, and recline in different position and engage with each other. It is another display of technique and skill in choreography.

Kathibari (land possession)

This session demonstrates a stick fighter’s high skill of defense and acquire. This session involves 1 player against a group of 8 players. The play symbolically represents a group of people attacking to acquire the land of an individual, and how the individual defends the invaders with only a stick. The individual is surrounded and attacked by the invaders at the center of the circle, but the individual defends himself using various techniques. The players maintain a particular rhythm to perform this game.   

Lathipech (twirling the stick)

At this stage of the game, players demonstrate the technique of twirling the stick in a various way. The players grab the middle of a stick and twirl it from both sides of his body in different motions.

In addition, the Sardar Bari’r Lathi Khela team presents some entertaining performances, such as jadu (magic), bohurupi (mask performance), chukrinach (dance of a young lady enacted by male performer) etc.