Wrestling is the oldest sport in India. It traces its origin to a bygone age. The earliest mention of Kushti or also called ‘Dangal’ is in the Mahabharata an epic that traces its origin to 4000BC. In this epic the warrior Bhima wrestles with the Rakshas King Jarasandha. This is a famous episode and the two had a wrestling bout that lasted for 13 days and in the end Bhima broke Jarasandha backbone and tore apart his body with his bare hands.
Over the centuries this Indian form of wrestling continued in India. It is different from the Free Style and Greo0 Roman style of wrestling which is universally recognized all over the world. This style of wrestling is confined only to the sub-continent and now is home only to India and Pakistan.
Kushti has simple rules and is fought between two protagonists in a large arena covered only with sand and loose mud. The men wrestle only on this natural environment and normally there is nothing like a ring. The game is a trial of strength and the victor who pins his opponent to the earth with both shoulders touching the sand and mud. No blows with the hands are allowed and the men grapple with each other face to face. There is no rest period or ‘rounds’ and the match once started goes on till one of the players is defeated or signals his acceptance of defeat. Earlier bouts never had a referee and normally this part was played by the Chief Guest who could be a maharajah. But modern Kushti matches have incorporated a referee.
The place where the wrestlers train is called an Akhara. This is a school for wrestlers where a strict regimen of diet, training and personal life is followed. Normally no non vegetarian food is served and the stress is on almonds, milk, fruits, pure ghee and Milk. The members of the Akhara also lead a celibate life and sex is taboo. The head of the Akhara is referred to as ‘Guru’ who is invariably Kushti champions himself. The exercise system for the Phelwans also follows the Indian system of exercise and includes exercising with large wooden clubs, Dands (Push ups) and Baithals (squats). Weights are rarely used and the wrestlers build up their strength by using clubs of various weights and sizes.
The sport almost died away but was revived in 19th and 20th century by patronage of the Maharajas and royalty in India. The Maharajah of Patiala Bhupinder Singh is famous for having nursed the world Champion Gama Bux. It is on record that Gama in a normal wrestling match floored the world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko in 1935.
Presently the Champion Phelwan in India is given the title Rustam-e –Hind after the hero of the Iranian epic. Unfortunately the sport is confined to India and Pakistan and is not an Olympic sport. Efforts are on to stream line the sport, but paucity of funds and lack of sponsorship is a big handicap.
The great Gama