Pehlwani – Ancient South Asian Wrestling


Pehlwani is an ancient form of wrestling that originated from South Asia. In India the art is considered one of the most pure forms of Indian Wrestling.

Pehlwani, also known as Kushti, was first created in the Mughal Empire. The Mughal Empire was founded in 1526 and covers most of the area considered South Asia today.

The art was created primarily by combining two already established arts. The first of which is malla-yuddha. Malla-yuddha has a history that dates back over 5000 years. It is one of the oldest known fighting style in South Asia.

The other art is varzesh-e bāstāni. This art is an ancient fighting style that originates from Persia. The style’s history dates back over 2000 years.

These two fighting styles combined to form what we now know as pehlwani.

Pehlwani Diet

As with all fighting styles it is a well known fact that a balanced diet is pivotal to performance. However Pehlwani highlights this fact.

Using Pehlwani as a means to fight is a vigorous task that takes its toll on the body physically. It can make a practitioner or Pehlwan extremely exhausted. This isn’t even accounting for the added effects of injury.

Because of this, Pehlwans attempt to negate these effects by indulging in a sattvic diet. In a sattvic diet foods are considered either negative, positive or neutral.

The correct terms for these food groups are Gunas, Rajas and Tamas.

  • Gunas are seen as calming and positive foods that are good to eat
  • Rajas are viewed as passionate or neutral foods
  • Tamas foods that are negative and cause one to be lethargic

The diet emphasizes seasonal eating of fruits, lentils and vegetables however the staples remain constant throughout the year with exception to the amount of milk and ghi which may be reduced during the rainy season and increased in the winter months. Moreover, this choice of diet is seen as ideal for a user of Pehlwani.

Rules in Pehlwani Wrestling

As with all fighting styles Pehlwani also has its guidelines. Competitions solely based around this style are known as kushti or dangal and are normally held in villages around South Asia. The first rule of a fight in this style is the size of the arena.

This is a pivotal rule because it prevents competitors from running away. The shape of the arena varies however it is normally around 4.25 meters across and marked by rocks. The length of the fight is normally 25-30 minutes however it normally finishes far earlier.

The fight ends once an opponent’s shoulders are pinned to the ground. Additionally the fight may also conclude due to a knockout occurring or an opponent opting to quit.

When practicing Pehlwani it is advised to ensure the ground of the ring is soft to prevent injury. Although traditional fights are held on dirt grounds, safety practices are undertaken. the floor is often lightly sprinkled with oil or buttermilk.

By doing this the dirt is softened to prevent injury. However when doing this it must be done with care. This is due to the fact that adding to much can cause the dirt to become to soft and thus impede movement.

Pehlwani Training

Unlike many martial arts Pehlwani is rarely learned in nations outside of South Asia.

Although it can be learnt outside of that area; finding teachers and classes is a difficult task. Additionally the art is a selective fighting style.

It is difficult to use casually limiting its use primarily to competitions. Because few competitions in Pehlwani are held outside of South Asia, the art is yet to make a transition outside of that territory.

However training in Pehlwani for many wrestlers begins at a young age. Some fighters begin training as early as six however most don’t start until their teenage years. The goal in training in this style is primarily to build muscular strength and endurance.

Once this is built substantially, tactics and techniques can be taught. All of this training is normally provided locally at a school or by a guru in Pehlwani. Teachers guide students by providing routines highlighting rigorous activity.

Although it is tough to follow such strict schedules at a young age, it builds character and strength. This can then be taken into the future.

Author Picture William

Author Bio

Hi, I am William. I started out in martial arts with Goshin Ju Jitsu when I was 7 years old. I am passionate about martial arts and love sharing everything I learn. I created Master Fighting to become a resource for learning about martial arts and alternative fighting styles. Learn more about me.