Pehalwan ji, wrestling no more?

Posted on January 15, 2009
Filed Under >Darwaish, Society, Sports
Total Views: 98016


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 responses to “Pehalwan ji, wrestling no more?”

  1. Sean says:

    What is Badmashi? What is Noora Kushti?
    Glen – there are training places – e-mail to me and I will tell you what I know. (
    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.


  2. atif says:

    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.

  3. Taimur says:

    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’

  4. PMA says:

    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.

  5. bonobashi says:

    So sorry, people, for this ‘afterthought’.

    Just found an entry in Wikipedia – it’s called 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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