Pehlwani – India’s Wrestling Art

Table of Contents

Pehlwani is a sport immensely loved in India as well as other states. Pehlwani, also known as Kushti, is a form of wrestling sport that originated in India, and it was developed during the Mughal Empire. How the sport developed is quite interesting, as two games from different regions combined to form the sport; Koshti Pahlevani, a Persian sport and Malla-yuddha, an Indian sport, combined to form Pehlwani or Kushti. 

The word Pehlvani comes from the Persian word Pahlavani, which means heroic. And the word Kushti also comes from the Persian word Koshti, which means wrestling. So, the two words combined form Pehlwani Kushti, meaning Heroic Wrestling.

Pehlwani is considered one of the most traditional and ancient sports of India. It’s almost the same as wrestling because the sport includes pins, locks, throws and submission holds or moves. The sport is played on mud, and there is no definite time for the game to end. 

A Kushti player will win the match once his/her opponent is pinned down both shoulders and hips on the ground. Like any wrestling sport, a wrestler can also win by knocking out the opponent or by submission. Pehlwani is said to be on the parent wrestling arts of catch wrestling.

A Brief History of Pehlwani 

Pehlwani is described as one of the oldest as well as traditional forms of wrestling, especially in India. The history of Pehlwani or Kushti dates back to the 5th century B.C., which is during the Mauryan Era. Before it evolved to Pehlwani Kushti, it was Malla Yuddha, a form of wrestling. Then later on, during the Mughal Empire Malla Yuddha underwent a total transformation or upgrade. 

Pehlwani Training
Pehlwani Training

Koshti Pahlevani, a Persian sport that was also another form of wrestling along with Malla Yuddha combined to form Pehlwani or Kushti. Indians were really into Pehlwani, and the number of talented Pehlwani wrestlers is its testimony. There were not just one but many great Kushti wrestlers who got famous and renowned for their skills and dedication in the sport.

Wrestlers like Ghulam Muhammad and Jatindra Charan Guha brought much name and fame to the country. Muhammad was also known as Gama Pehlwan for his talent in the sport and for bringing laurels to the nation. Charan was given Gobar Goho to bring the nation’s face to international recognition in wrestling.

It was during the 1960s India was ranked among the top 8 wrestling nations in the world. The country was at a silver lining in wrestling and even got to host the Wrestling Championship in the year 1967.

Pehlwani Popularity 

One might assume that the sport Pehlwani or Kushti is a sport played only in India. But no, the sport is loved and played in many other countries as well. As a matter of fact, Pehlwani came into form after combining the Persian wrestling sport Koshti Pahlavani and the Indian wrestling sport Malla Yuddha.

India not only has a commendable history of Pehlwani sport, but even during the present generation, the country’s wrestling status still stands excellent. During the 1900s, Ghulam Muhammad and Gama Pehlwan made history in the sport and really brought the country’s name into the spotlight.

After that era, as word was spreading about the country losing its name on the top-list, Sushil Kumar, a former Indian wrestler, reclaimed the name and status. He went on to win the Olympic medal in the year 2008. And not just that, he received many awards for his exceptional play.

However, with the advancement of the world, more and more modern sports have been developed, which has led Pehlwani to lose its popularity over time, and it’s because of people going for western sports. Nevertheless, with that having said, there are still people who truly love the sport, want to keep it alive and are practicing to have their name placed at the top.

What is Pehlwani and Kushti About?

Pehlwani or Kushti is an ancient wrestling sport played majorly in India. It is just another form of wrestling where the rules imply almost the same. So, where does Pehlwani sport take place?

Pehlwani training takes place in an Akhara, where wrestlers train hard. These Akharas can be circle or square in shape, and they have a Guru known as Palawan, who trains the wrestlers. You will find that Pehlwani wrestling uses moves found in regular wrestling sports as takedowns, throws, pins, and submission holds.

One should note that there are no kicks or strikes in Pehlwani sport.

Pehlwani Wrestling Match
Pehlwani Wrestling Match

The game is all about pinning down the opponent by making sure his/her shoulders touch the ground. It’s that simple, yet it takes skill and strength to win over a Pehlwani wrestler.

Unlike other sports, Pehlwani does have sets or rounds, nor time-length. The wrestling match usually lasts for 30 minutes, but it can go as long as the opponent doesn’t get pinned down, knocked out, or he submits.

How to Become a Pehlwani Wrestler?

It’s never a piece of cake to become a Pehlwani Wrestler. You have to go through a lot, and then only you can reach your goal. However, nothing is impossible without hard work and dedication, and if the rest can, you can as well.

First and foremost, if you are really serious about it, then go for Kushti training. There, they will teach you everything there is to be a Pehlwani Wrestler. You will be guided by a Guru, and training will take place at Akharas regularly.

You need to be mentally as well as physically prepared in order to become a Pehlwani Wrestler. One of the most important things to focus on is your diet as Pehlwani wrestlers take serious note when it comes to their diet, and they strictly maintain it. Likewise, take proper diet, avoid non-veg food and exercise daily.

You also need to take your training seriously, as there will be many other competitive wrestlers there. Another thing is the techniques in Pehlwani. Learn all the techniques and improve your strength and endurance.

They say that Pehlwani is not for all, but if you have the determination and hunger to become one, there is no reason why you can’t do it. Remember to start as early as possible to really strengthen your endurance and diet. Pehlwani is mostly about strength and food! 

Pehlwani Training

Pehlwani wrestling is no doubt one of those sports that require intense training. Therefore, the wrestlers put in much effort in training. The earliest you start your Pehlwani training, the better and easier it is for you to develop strength and endurance.

Pehlwani Hindu Pushup
Pehlwani Hindu Pushup

Some even enroll their children in Pehlwani schools or centers from a very young age. There, the Guru trains them and molds them from the root. So, why do these wrestlers go through intense training? The answer is simple. Every Pehlwani wrestler’s goal is to build muscular strength, flexibility and endurance in order to win over his opponent. Therefore, they go through serious training sessions regularly.

Wrestlers perform specialized exercises that require their body strength or muscles. These training sessions are meant to develop their strength, stamina and increase their endurance. The wrestlers also do Yoga to keep them focused, flexible and awake.

Pehlwani wrestlers consider physical exercise as a necessity. Without it, you cannot develop the attributes needed to defeat your opponent. In Kushti, whoever defeats the opponent is declared the winner, often being the wrestler with more strength and endurance.

The Pehlwani Diet 

We need different kinds of food to stay healthy and strong. So, for a sport like Pehlwani, where you need triple the strength and endurance, you need to consume the right kind of food and amounts of food to build muscles and maintain physical strength.

Diet is very important when it comes to Pehlwani wrestlers. They need to go through intense training, and therefore, they need the nutrients needed to properly recover. So from where will they get the strength? Food!

They consume a lot of nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, etc and lots of fruits. They drink more than 2 liters of milk in a day and eat lots of dry fruits, which boost their energy and are rich in fiber. They also consume clarified butter or ghee up to 200 grams per day. Remember, they are Pehlwani wrestlers, and so they need to push their diet to the limit.

Pehlwani wrestlers try to consume less salt and non-veg. They also avoid sour foods and spicy foods, which may hamper their health. Wrestlers also avoid any use of tobacco as these intoxicants are strongly discouraged. In simple words, they eat foods that’ll give them strength, endurance and will help in developing an athletic body.

Pehlwani Facts

Like any other sports, Pehlwani, too, has some facts that’ll blow your mind. Let’s get right into them!

  • Pehlwani is also known as Kushti.
  • It is one of the oldest forms of wrestling that was developed during the Mughal Empire.
  • Did you know a combination of two sports formed Pehlwani? The Persian Koshti Pahlavani and the Indian Malla Yuddha!
  • The wrestlers train in a specific arena called the Akhara.
  • The mentors or Gurus of Pehlwani are known as Palawan.
  • The wrestlers must maintain heavy diets in order to build muscles and strength.
  • It is a sport practiced and played mainly in India.
  • K.D. Jadhav was the first to win an Olympic medal in wrestling.
  • Sushil Kumar, a Pehlwani Practitioner, is the only Indian to win consecutive Olympic medals in the years 2008 and 2012.

Many great Pehlwani wrestlers made history in the sport of wrestling and are still remembered for their greatness to this day. 

Rules and Regulations of Pehlwani

Like any other wrestling sport, Pehlwani Wrestling has specific rules and regulations that must be followed before and during the match. To start off, Pehlwani wrestling must be played in an arena that can be circular or square in shape. Before the wrestling match, they make sure that no stones or pebbles are left in the dirt pit that will injure the players. The wrestling arena is then made moist by sprinkling water, oil, buttermilk, etc.

Pehlwani Throw
Pehlwani Throw

Unlike other sports requiring players to play inside the rings with a closed boundary, in Pehlwani, wrestlers can go outside the boundary during the match. And the exciting thing about this wrestling is that there is no time limit or rounds. A Pehlwani match usually lasts for 30 minutes at max, but the match can go on until and unless a player gets pinned down, knocked out, or gets submitted.

In Pehlwani, each player must try and pin down their opponent by making their shoulders touch the ground. A player can also be declared the winner if his/her opponent gets knocked out or through submission. Pehlwani does not allow strikes or kicks during any match.

These wrestlers must not just follow all the mentioned rules and regulations, but they must also respect and be obedient towards their Guru. What’s excellent about Pehlwani wrestlers is that they have so much respect for the game. Besides, they respect women, eat clean and live a disciplined life.

Final Thoughts 

Pehlwani rightfully secures its title as one of the oldest and most traditional forms of wrestling. It is a sport loved immensely in India. Though it is played in other countries as well, it is very rare to find such dedication to the wrestling sport, unlike India. 

Many great and famous Pehlwani wrestlers were from India, and these people really shined in their country through their talent and dedication. Of course, like mentioned above, the sport might be dying today due to the many western sports increasing in popularity. It’s because people are drawn more towards sports like cricket and football, especially in a country like India where everyone loves cricket.

But that doesn’t change the fact that many still love Pehlwani. There are still people who are keeping the ancient wrestling art alive. These people know the history this sport holds, and they practice intensely so that one day they will make Pehlwani wrestling known to the whole world.

Pehlwani and Kushti Wrestling will keep on producing world class wrestlers and entertain it’s fans. It is a truly amazing grappling art and one that holds historical and cultural significance to the Indian people.


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