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Pehalwan ji, wrestling no more?

Posted on January 15, 2009
Filed Under >Darwaish, Society, Sports
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Darwaish

There was a time when being a Pehalwan was a way of life, an art and a passion.

Thousands of people used to watch Rustum-i-Pakistan which was a very popular event in Lahore (just like a one day cricket game these days). You could easily find many Ukhara’s or Akhara’s (kinda small stadiums where traditional wrestlers exercise) in the city with Pehalwans doing their routine exercises but not anymore.

I have some wonderful childhood memories of having Khalis Lassi (sorry folks, I don’t know what Lassi is called in English but Khalis means Pure) near Pehalwani neighborhoods just behind Lahore Fort.

Going there once in a month with family for traditional Lahori Nashta+Lassi was just great. Not to mention some serious exercise was a must and we used to skip lunch after having that Nashta+Lassi. I don’t know if the quality and taste is still the same, I haven’t been there in ages which is sad.



Even today, if you ask any of your grandparents they would definitely tell you wonderful stories about the legendary Gama Pehalwan or Imam Bux (Bukhsh) Pehalwan or other world famous ambassadors of this beautiful sport (most recently the Bholu brothers: Aslam, Akram, Goga and Azam). People in their mid-twenties may still remember the grand event that took place many many years ago when a number of wrestlers (including Hulk Hogan, The Mask Man, The Under-Taker etc.) from all around the world came to Pakistan and we were entertained with traditional Pehalwani vs Hollywood wrestlers. I still remember Jhara Pehalwan vs Hollywood Hogan :o) which Jhara won of course.

[ATP adds: For a generation before that it was the great Japanese wrestler Anoki who came to Lahore to wrestle, I think, Akram Pehalwan... I believe Anoki won, big time!]

Sadly, the art of pehalwani has slowly been diminishing in Lahore. Though I have had a chance to see some healthy signs in Gujranwala (Gujranwala is called the ‘City of Pehalwans’). A serious effort is needed from people and the local government to revive this beautiful art/game in Lahore otherwise it’s not that far when we will only be finding Pehalwani in history books.

48 comments posted

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  1. Mohd alam says:
    February 17th, 2013 1:35 am

    Take a look at the Pakistani pro wrestler raja Sony palwan he is the heavy weight wrestling and streetfight champion of Azad Kashmir.he is from dadyal,and is also known as Shak khan. The pride of Pakistan!!!!!

  2. jatta says:
    May 25th, 2011 6:23 pm

    JAAT rUles……………………….

  3. shamsher ali says:
    December 4th, 2009 12:20 pm

    Have been reading about so many strongman wrestlers of yesteryears who were lucky to be patronized by princely states and achieved world wide fame and recognition in there eras, so hats off to all those patronizers who helped these great indian wrestlers.But every wrestler was not lucky enough to be spotted,those wrestlers from areas which were away from these princely states were famous in only there small regions as they didn’t get exposure or the luck was not on there side to be spotted for bigger arenas of wrestling.

    One such pahelwan was Ch. Rati Ram Malik or nick named Rattia Mhaal (in haryanvi Mhaal means pahelwan of pahelwans pronunced as Ma; hl) of village Nangal Kheri or Gadi (siva gadi) near the city of Panipat.He belonged to the JAT community.
    Born in 1900 or 1901. This man was 6.4 inches in height and was a true mascular specimen of the strength of the alaskan grizzly bears.He was stout and muscular with big heavy and broad bones and didnt had the usual heavy protruding belly of heavyweight wrestlers . His exercise routine included sometimes 10,000 dands and 10,000 baithaks when he was in full flow,besides these to gain strength in doing his baithaks he carried two men on his shoulders,he used to lift a concrete roller called GIRDI in haryanvi, which is used for agricultural purposes ,it weighs around 400 to 500 kgs and is still present in his native village.Only after watching this GIRDI can ONE imagine the monstrous strength of RATIA MHAAL.
    Guys this is no fabled 5000 year old story this is reality i myself have come across a wrestler who does 3000 dands and 3000 thousand baithaks and he told me how four of them of nearly same strength tried to lift that Roller but they could just move one part of it the other part still on the ground and in the process one of them injured his wrists .Now i would like to tell you that two of the same wrestlers had once lifted my own TATA SAFARI FROM A DITCH FROM THE FRONT PART,THE ENGINE PART WHICH IS THE HEAVIEST PART so these guys are no pushovers and these guys say they coulnt move the roller which Rati Ram Pahelwan picked with ease and threw it over his shoulder to practise his strength and repaeted it many times .The wrestlers themselves say that theirs fathers and older folk who as small kids saw Rati Ram Pahelwan lift that roller in even his older days say that how powerfull he was, so it became a benchmark for them and nobody has been able to lift it with help from others leave alone singlehandedly.
    Difficulty for lifting this roller increases as it is round and has no place to grip it so only option is to use sheer bear strength to hug it and lift it on the shoulders which Ratia Mhaal had and it is a testimony to his massive strength which is justified in the form of that roller.He used to eat 1 kg of ghee once at a time, 15 kgs of milk along with loads of dry fruits.He ate a vegetarian diet. And in preparation of a wrestling bout he ate ( 1 or ek mun) or 40 kgs of ghee in fifteen days

    Old folk tell how Ratia pahelwan once pulled a full grown male buffalo from a village well single handedly tied with a rope , and once while he was having his food in the fields a full grown donkey started honking near him he tried to shoo him away but the ass didn’t pay heed so he caught hold of the ass with one of its legs and threw it away like a pillow. People said he caught a full grown powerfull male buffalo tied with a rope to its neck and the buffalo was made to run it wouldn’t move against the strength of Ratia Mhaal such was his enormous strength. Once at the time of Ratia Mhaals older days in his 70′s a man tried to check his famous strength, he purpose fully filled his bullock cart with sugar cane which everybody claimed was nearly 700 to 800 kgs and got it stuck in a drain and asked for Ratia Mhaals help. Ratia Mhaal took his shoulders under the bullock cart and asked the driver to move the cart forwards with the bullocks help but instead of making the cart go forward the man tried to take the cart backwards with the bullock’s help but little did he imagine about Ratia Mhaals enormous strength that the whole bullock cart along with load and the bullock went rolling forwards from the ditch .Hence we can imagine how strong he would have been in his heydays it is unbelievable.

    It is said that he threw his opponents in matter of seconds ,all these sayings of his enormous super human strength are proved only after one watches the GIRDI or Roller which he lifted for his strength training and repeated it many times,it still lies in the village Nangal Kheri, todays wrestlers and power lifters try to lift it but even 4or 5 of them can only lift one part,the other part remians on the ground few of them have got there wrists broken trying to lift it. Had this super human called RATIA MAAL got the required exposure he would have pinned all the wrestlers during the 1920s to 1950 the time of his prime. With no disrespect to some famous pahelwans of that era it was there good fortune that Ratia Pahelwan remained famous only the region from sonipat to karnal and was not patronised by a princely state. Once this famous wrestler was spotted by a British Officer while he was on a hunting expedition he took Ratia Mhaal who was a 20 year old then and told him to join British Army and train as pahelwan and that he would give him all the support to train as he saw his emormous strength . But his mother brought him back saying he was there only son and if something happened to him who would look after their vast lands. Only if he had taken this opportunity for a bigger stage he would have got the fame he deserved .

    Older folk in the village nangal kheri say they didn’t knew much about Gama Pahelwan and other big wrestling names as there were no means to get such news in that era as it was a backward area then and moreover there was nobody to guide Rati Ram as his elder brother had an untimely death who was equally strong and wanted to make his younger brother Rati Ram a wrestler whose mere mention would make wrestlers lose the sleep as he had seen the monstrous strength of his younger sibling, Ratia Mhaal was 18 when his elder brother died, people say his brother challenged Rati Ram in his training days to till one acre of land with plough pulled by Rati Ram and one acre of land ploughed by a pair of oxens and Ratia Mhaal did it before the oxens could plough one acre such was his super human strength .

    People say had there village been close to any of the princely states and like royal patrons Indor, Kolhapur, Rampur Patiyala who famously gave a big filip to wrestling, the story of world champion would have been different.There are no records of Ratia Maals wrestling bouts because of illetracy and remoteness but according to older folks once in a wresting dangal(competiton) in a nearby annual fair a famous wrestler from Uttar Pradesh who was 6.9 feet in height(as they say he was more than a palm taller than Ratia Mhaal) and who famously had super strength to tear people apart he challenged all jats from delhi to kurukshetra that he would smash two jat wrestlers to the ground at a time at this point Ratia Mhaal accepted his challenge and within seconds Ratia Mhaal hurled this 6.9feet big giant on the ground and caught him from his feet and hurled him towards a tree bark like a doll at this moment the big giant from uttar pradesh was terrified and was trembling with fear he fell at Ratia Mhaal’s feet and begged for his life and vowed never to use such egoist language in his life again. Old folk now say that he was famous wrestler from U.P but dissappered quickly from the mela as he didn’t want subcontinent people to know that with his reputation and strength how he was destroyed by man named Rati Ram from nangal kheri who later on was called Ratia Mhaal after many such astonishing victories .People saw Ratia Mhaals real strength that day that how he threw such a big and heavy man like a gudia (doll).

    The people in these areas claim that this fair, handsome and powerfull pahelwan called RATIA MHAAL was three times as powerfull as the GAMA pahelwan and that RATIA MAAL would have defeated the great Gama with ease such was the enormous strength and technique of this POWERFULL HULK called RATIA MAAL.OlD folk say he ran terror in opponents eyes and shiver around there spines when he caught opponents by their waists and hurled them over as even the heavist of wrestlers can be no more than 200kgs whearas Ratia Mhaal hugged that girdi or roller of over 400kgs to practice his strength.
    His ankles(or gatte as we call in our language) were around six inches wide (LATERAL MALEOLUS AND MEDIAL MALEOLUS) these are the two protruding bones sideways just before the leg bone is attached to the feet and knees were equally broad .I got this measurement from an old man who
    said he was in awe of Ratia Mhaal and he measured it out of curiosity when this wrestler died at the age of 85.That man
    joined all his eight fingers and showed they were this wide (and that man had thick fingers) he gave a 3.5 inch width for his wrists.Mind you i am talking about the width of the ankles and wrists measured sideways and not girth.

    He said Rati Ram Pahelwan’s pyre needed four times the wood of a normal well built man as he had massively wide and heavy bones but even at 85 years of age he still had a stout and strong muscular body without any signs of fat though not as muscular as the one he had been at the time of prime of his youth as he himself saw the strong man at the time of his funeral,he said people were worried that despite four times wood needed for his pyre (than an ordinary well built man) it won’t burn his heavy bones and in the morning their apprehension was vindicated as they found big unburnt bones when they went to collect his ashes . It is unfortunate that this powerful hulk remained hidden from the pages of Indian wrestling history because of the remoteness of the area.
    COME AND VISIT village NANGAL KHERI adjacent to National Fertiliser Lmtd. near the famous town PANIPAT,Hrayana and have a look at the concreate roller (GIRDI) and one can imagine the super human strength of Raatia Mhaal.

    Plans are in pipeline with govt of haryana for a piece of land to make a state of art wrestling training gymn ,hopefully the govt does something out of the ordinary to start this project in memory of such great wrestlers these lands have produced over the years.These wrestlers were patronized by princely states who looked after there dietery needs but with independence in both the countries this sytem got dissolved and the govt.s didnt pay heed to our sporting and wrestling legacy as a result we lagged behind the foreign counterparts as no longer an ordinary person can take care of his dietery needs if he hailed from poor background.It is high time we as citizens start the culture of wrestling in these very lands of both present day India and Pakistan where such powerfull and great wrestlers were produced .

  4. Sean says:
    August 17th, 2009 2:46 am

    What is Badmashi? What is Noora Kushti?
    Glen – there are training places – e-mail to me and I will tell you what I know. (ChampionNJ@aol.com)
    There is a cousin of the Bholus living in England, who tries very hard to collect and maintain all the Phaelwan information.

    I am in USA, and I do wish someone would start Kushti here.

    Sean

  5. atif says:
    January 19th, 2009 9:19 am

    darwaish bhai sahib :) ha ha haa.. I think this pehlwani culture existed somewhere in androon lahore.. inside bhatti lahore bhatti.. (ha ha) I grew up in lahore, never really had the nashta scene and pehlwani was not even available to watch.

  6. Taimur says:
    January 17th, 2009 1:51 pm

    Very informative article and excellent and useful discussion.

    I agree that Wikipedia is actually not a very good source of information on many things and we should really not be citing it as a ‘source’

  7. PMA says:
    January 17th, 2009 11:58 am

    bonobashi: The Persian word ‘pah-la-wan’ is from stem word ‘pah-low’ meaning brave, strong, and lion heart. From ancient Persia (the art and) the word entered into various South Asian languages. In Urdu, like in Persian, it is pronounced as ‘pah-la-wan’ (there is a pause at ‘h’) and in Punjabi as ‘phal-wan’. Darwaish, the author of this post has chosen to spell it as ‘pehal-wan’. But that is OK. We have enjoyed the post all the same. Roman, Greek and Persian antiquity have often depicted wrestlers and wrestling scenes. Modern Olympics have standardised the rules to make the sport more international otherwise it has many variations in styles and rules. For instance in Pakistan wrestling is done on a pad of soft soil where one is allowed to sprinkle soil on opponents body to make it less slippery. Olympic style is different in that aspect. And one last word. Wikipedia, even though useful, is not a totally reliable source of information.

  8. bonobashi says:
    January 17th, 2009 5:57 am

    So sorry, people, for this ‘afterthought’.

    Just found an entry in Wikipedia – it’s called Pehlwani.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pehlwani

    Seems to need editing; it contains references only to recent developments in India. It’s also not very good about other styles of wrestling, or about specific techniques and methods. Would someone knowledgeable about developments in Pakistan, and about specifics, please step in?

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