An old Indian pehlwan exercising with Indian clubs near Varanasi.
|Also known as||Kusti|
|Country of origin||Iran|
|Famous practitioners||The Great Gama|
|Part of a series on|
|Indian martial arts|
Pehlwani (Urdu/Shahmukhi: پہلوانی, Punjabi: ਪਹਿਲਵਾਨੀ, Hindi: पहलवानी , Bengali: পাহলাভানি) or kushti (Urdu/Shahmukhi: کشتی, Punjabi: ਕੁਸ਼ਤੀ, Hindi: कुश्ती ,Bengali: কুস্তি) is a form of wrestling from South Asia. It was developed in the Mughal era through a synthesis of the malla-yuddha form of wrestling in South Asia and the Iranian Varzesh-e Bastani.
The history of Varzesh-e Bastani in Persia or Ancient Iran can be traced back to the Parthian Empire of Iran (132 BC - 226 AD). Even the word Pahlavan comes from Parthia (according to one of the most reliable sources on history of the ancient Iran, "History of Ancient Iran" by Hasan Pirnia).
A practitioner of this sport is referred to as a pehlwan, while teachers are known as ustad (or guru, for Hindu teachers). The undefeated champions of India hold the title Rustam-i-Hind, meaning "the Rostam of India", whereas the title Rustam-i-Pakistan is similarly used in Pakistan, denoting Rostam: the hero of the Iranian national epic, the Shahnameh.
Through time Western training methods and nomenclature from Iran and Europe were introduced into pehlwani. Wrestling competitions, known as dangal, held in villages can have their own rules variations. Usually a win is awarded by decision from the panel of judges, knockout, stoppage or submission.
The history of Varzesh-e Pahlavani can be traced back to the Parthian Empire of Iran (132 BC - 226 AD). Varzesh-e Bastani or Varzesh-e Pahlevani (Sport of Pahelevans) was originally an academy of physical training and a nursery for Persian or Iranian warriors against foreign invaders. Throughout the last three thousand years it acquired, and was enriched with, different components of moral, ethical, philosophical, and mystical values of the Iranian civilization. The heroes of this academy were and are still today called Pahlavans in Persia or Ancient and modern Iran. During the Mongol invasion of Iran (1256 AD), many Iranian Pahlavans traveled to India and introduced some of the Pahlavani traditions and instruments to the Indian subcontinent.
The ancient South Asian form of wrestling is called malla-yuddha. Practiced at least since the 5th century BC and described in the 13th century treatise Malla Purana, it was the precursor of modern pehlwani. In the 16th century India was conquered by the Central Asian Mughals, who were of Mongol descent and officially promoted Persian culture. They brought the influence of Iranian and Mongolian wrestling to the local malla-yuddha, thereby creating modern pehlwani.
In the recent past India had great wrestlers of the class of the Great Gama (of British India and later Pakistan, after partition) and Gobar Goho. 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 medal list and in between them they won 12 medals in freestyle wrestling and Greco-Roman wrestling. A repetition of this performance was witnessed again when all the 8 wrestlers sent to the Commonwealth Games held at Kingston, Jamaica had the distinction of getting medals for the country. During the 60s, India was ranked among the first eight or nine wrestling nations of the world and hosted the world wrestling championships in New Delhi in 1967.
Pehlwan who compete in wrestling nowadays are also known to cross train in the grappling aspects of judo and jujutsu. Legendary wrestlers from the bygone era like Karl Gotch have made tours to India to learn the art of pehlwani and further hone their skills. Karl Gotch was even gifted a pair of mudgal (exercise equipment used by the Indian wrestlers). The conditioning exercises of pahlavani have been incorporated into many of the conditioning aspects of both catch wrestling and shoot wrestling, along with their derivative systems. These systems also borrow several throws, submissions and takedowns from pehlwani.
In Indian wrestling, vyayam or physical training is meant to build strength and develop muscle bulk and flexibility. Exercises that employ the wrestler's own bodyweight include the Surya Namaskara, shirshasan, and the dand, which are also found in hatha yoga, as well as the bethak. Sawari (from Persian savâri, meaning "the passenger") is the practice of using another person's bodyweight to add resistance to such exercises.
Exercise regimens may also employ the following weight training devices:
- The nal is a hollow stone cylinder with a handle inside.
- The gar nal (neck weight) is a circular stone ring worn around the neck to add resistance to dands and bethaks.
- The gada is a club or mace associated with Hanuman. An exercise gada is a heavy round stone attached to the end of a meter-long bamboo stick. Trophies take the form of gadas made of silver and gold.
- Indian clubs
Exercise regimens may also include dhakuli which involve twisting rotations, rope climbing, log pulling and running. Massage is regarded an integral part of an Indian wrestler's exercise regimen.
According to the Samkhya school of philosophy, everything in the universe—including people, activities, and foods—can be sorted into three gunas: sattva (calm/good), rajas (passionate/active), and tamas (dull/lethargic).
As a vigorous activity, wrestling has an inherently rajasic nature, which pehlwan counteract through the consumption of sattvic foods. Milk and ghee are regarded as the most sattvic of foods and, along with almonds, constitute the holy trinity of the pehlwani khurak (from Persian خوراک پهلوانی khorâk-e pahlavâni), or diet. A common snack for pehlwan are chickpeas that have been sprouted overnight in water and seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon; the water in which the chickpeas were sprouted is also regarded as nutritious. Various articles in the Indian wrestling monthly Bharatiya Kushti have recommended the consumption of the following fruits: apples, wood-apples, bananas, figs, pomegranates, gooseberries, lemons, and watermelons. Orange juice and green vegetables are also recommended for their sattvic nature. Some pehlwan eat meat in spite of its rajasic nature.
Ideally, wrestlers are supposed to avoid sour and excessively spiced foods such as chatni and achar as well as chaat. Mild seasoning with garlic, cumin, coriander, and turmeric is acceptable. The consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and paan is strongly discouraged.
Indian wrestling titles 
- Rustam-i-Hind: (also spelled Rustam-e-Hind) Wrestling Champion of India in Hindustani. Dara Singh from Punjab, Krishan Kumar from haryana, Muhammad Buta Pehlwan, Imam Baksh Pehlwan, Hamida Pehlwan, Dadu Chaugle and Harishchandra Birajdar from Maharashtra ] and Pehlwan Shamsher Singh (Punjab Police) held the Rustam-I-Hind title in the past.
- Rustam-e-Punjab : (also spelled Rustam-I-Punjab) Wrestling Champion of Punjab in Hindustani. Pehlwan Shamsher Singh (Punjab Police) Pehlwan Salwinder Singh Shinda was a six time Rustam-e-Punjab,.
- Rustam-i-Zamana: World Wrestling Champion in Hindustani. The Great Gama became known as Rustam-I-Zamana when he defeated Stanislaus Zbyszko in 1910.
- Bharat-Kesri: Best heavyweight wrestler in Hindi. Recent winners include Krishan Kumar(1986), Rajeev Tomar (Railways), Pehlwan Shamsher Singh (Punjab Police) and Palwinder Singh Cheema (Punjab police).,
- Hind Kesari
See also 
- List of Pehlwani wrestlers
- Varzesh-e Pahlavani
- Mongolian wrestling
- Wrestling in India
- Alter, Joseph S. (May 1992a). "The "sannyasi" and the Indian Wrestler: The Anatomy of a Relationship". American Ethnologist 19 (2): 317–336. doi:10.1525/ae.1992.19.2.02a00070. ISSN 00940496.
- Alter, Joseph S. (1992b). The Wrestler's Body: Identity and Ideology in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07697-4.
- Chaudhry, M. Iqbal; Khan, Mushtaq Ahmed (1996). Sociology: an introduction. University of Michigan: Noorsons. p. 140.
- "ISH - Traditional Iranian Martial Arts (Varzesh-e Pahlavani)". Pahlavani.com. Retrieved 27 March 2013.
- Alter, Joseph S. (May 1992). "the sannyasi and the Indian wrestler: the anatomy of a relationship". American Ethnologist 19 (2): 317–336. doi:10.1525/ae.1992.19.2.02a00070. ISSN 0094-0496.
- The Wrestler’s Body: Identity and Ideology in North India
- Pakistan's pehlwans wrestle to survive
- Pakistan Image Building: History of Kushti
- Dara Singh In The Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame
- Great Gama
- Upper Crust: Badam-Doodh & Kolhapuri Kusti!
- The Art of Pehlwani
- The Traditional Iranian Martial Arts - Varzehs-e Pahlevani