History of Wrestling in India

Wrestling is one of the world most famous sport, mainly because all of us at some point have seen WWE/WWF/WCW. It a form of combat sport which involves grappling techniques such as clinching, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins and many more grappling holds. A wrestling bout is between 2 competitors in a ring where each of them attempt to gain a superior position over the opponent. Wrestling techniques have been incorporated into other martial arts as well as military hand-to-hand combat systems. 

Mythologically, One of the premier characters in Mahabharata, Bhima was considered to be a great wrestler of the time, and some of the other great wrestlers included Jarasandha, Keechaka and Balrama. In the other Indian epic, Ramayana also mentions wrestling in India and Hanuman is described as one of the greatest wrestlers of his time. The history of wrestling is seeded deep in the Indian culture. 

Whereat one hand it is quite famous to be a western sport, India too has a rich history of wrestling. Although wrestling is believed to have evolved in ancient Greece and the Roman empire, there is concrete evidence that the sport was also contested in ancient India. Developed in the Mughal Empire by combining Persian ‘koshti pahlevani’ and influences from native Indian malla-yuddha. 

Words ‘pehlwani’ and ‘kushti’ derive from the Persian terms pahlavani which means heroic and koshti which means wrestling or killing, together meaning heroic wrestling. The player of this sport is called ‘Pehlwan’ and the teacher is known as ‘Ustad’. One of the most famous practitioners of pehlwani was The Great Gama, who is considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time.

Babur was the first Mughal emperor, a wrestler himself could reportedly run very fast for a long distance while holding a man under each arm. Mughal-era wrestlers sometimes even wore bagh naka on one hand, in a variation called naki ka kushti or “claw wrestling”.

India reached its peak of glory in the IV Asian Games (later on called Jakarta Games) in 1962 when all the seven wrestlers were placed on the medallist and in between them they won 12 medals in freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling.

Somewhere, India was losing its own culture of wrestling and people preferred more entertainment-focused scripted Professional Wrestling. It all changed after Sushil Kumar’s bronze win in the 2008 Olympics. There was a sense of pride in the sport for people who have waited for a long time and barely get any medals in the Olympics. Sushil did it again in 2012 Olympics this time bagging a silver medal. Yogeshwar Dutt followed his footsteps in 2012 as he won the bronze medal. 2016 saw the rise of Sakshi Malik as she won the bronze medal in the Olympics. 

Many have made these wrestlers their idol and try to follow in their footsteps. The sport has a great future in India and we have a great legacy to back the sport. 

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