Dangal, yes. But wrestling is somewhat older than the story of Mahavir Phogat & his daughters. Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav was the first Indian to win an individual medal for India at the Olympics. While Norman Pritchard was the first (two medals at Paris 1900), he was born of British parents in India & would later migrate to Britain in 1905 (and become an actor). Mr. Jadhav, however, was born in Satara, Maharashtra and represented India (in wrestling) at London 1948 & at Helsinki 1952, where he won a bronze medal. Despite being widely recognized & congratulated back in India for his achievement, he would later fade away from India’s memory, dying in 1984. It would be a long time before another Indian wrestler would step on that medal podium again.
Wrestling, at the Olympics & mainly, is of two categories: Freestyle & Greco-Roman. The main difference between them is that in Greco-Roman, the wrestlers are not allowed to grab each other below the waist. Most of the ones we see in India are freestyle wrestlers, though Greco-Roman has its own champions: Hardeep Singh, Ravinder Khatri, Gurpreet Singh & Yogesh are just some of our wrestlers in this category. No, Mr. Jadhav was a freestyle wrestler.
Since then, wrestling has come a long way in India. Here are some of the wrestling tournaments in India.
Pro Wrestling League
The most visible of all the wrestling tournaments in India; its first edition was held in 2015. The second edition in 2017 had to face quite a number of scares; for one, three teams backed out (and were eventually replaced by three new teams). This was also followed by allegations (from players) of non-payment of their salaries. Oh, and demonetization also played a part in the postponement of the league. But no matter what, people have been consistently watching this league; high viewership was noted both in 2017 and 2018, with the Pro Wrestling League managing to get one of the highest audiences among non-cricket sports in India.
Presently, the Pro Wrestling League consists of 6 teams: Delhi Sultans, Haryana Hammers, NCR Punjab Royals, UP Dangal, Veer Marathas, Mumbai Maharathi. A rather interesting detail is mentioned on the official website of the league:
Pro Wrestling League is an initiative of ProSportify owned by Mr. Kartikeya Sharma, Founder & Promoter of ProSportify Pvt. Ltd. Pro Wrestling League is the earnest initiative of ProSportify.
The Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) plays a role, but it is unclear exactly what. What we do know is that the rights to the league were sold by WFI to ProSportify, as per the issues raised by the former in 2016. But, considering that it is a professional league (played for about a month) and not the national championship, this might just be palatable. That particular honor, of selling what is set to become India’s national league for the sport, goes to the AIFF.
One of the highlights of the league was seen in 2018, when Pooja Dhanda, who had a promising but injury struck career till now, beat the reigning world & Olympic champion, Helen Maroulis, not once but twice! Most other Indian stars have played in the league, including the Phogat sisters, Sushil Kumar (though he was aunable to start because of injury), Yogeshwar Dutt, and many others. League wise, the last two seasons have been won by the Punjab Royals.
Also, meet Ravinder Khatri
Under-15 National Wrestling Championships
The first U-15 National level wrestling championship was held in Meerut, in June 2018. Teams from different Indian states participated, from Karnataka to Manipur, and the competition included both freestyle & Greco-Roman categories and was for both boys & girls. In fact, taking the cue from the national body, the state & UT bodies have also started organizing similar tournaments; the Chandigarh UT Wrestling Association & the Punjab Wrestling Association both, for instance, held their first Under-15 boys & girls state wrestling championship, in the form of a competition-plus-selection trial in May 2018. Meanwhile, Jammu & Kashmir held selection trials to send its team to Meerut, earlier this year.
Here is a list of all Wrestling State Associations, and their contact details
National Wrestling Championships
The national level competitons are held at Cadet, Senior & Junior Wrestling Championships, for both Free Style & Greco Roman Style. Of course, the showpiece event is the senior’s championship.
The senior national wrestling championships are held every year; the 2017 edition was held in Indore (Madhya Pradesh), while the 2016 edition was held in Gonda, Uttar Pradesh. It goes without saying that all the big names, as well as emerging talents, arrive at the tournament.
Sub-Junior Wrestling Championship
The 2018 edition, held in March at Pune, was the 37th iteration of the competition. States send their teams to the tournament; rather expectedly, Haryana won this year’s meet. A separate Sub-Junior meet is held for cadets too; 600 wrestlers participated in the 2013 event.
This is one of the most well-paying competitions in India. Organized by the Haryana government, the 2016 edition saw the first prize winner getting awarded Rs. 1 crore. It is also a long-running competition; the 1991 edition was held in Delhi, and among the audience was Dara Singh himself. The winner of the 2016 edition was Mausam Khatri. Medal winners from college & state level tournaments can participate here in this event.
A similar contest is held by the Maharashtra government, called the Maharashtra Kesari. The competition has been reportedly held since 1961, and the winner gets not only a cash prize of Rs. 1 lakh but also a silver mace weighing 1.5 kilograms.
One of the oldest, if not the oldest is the Hind Kesari competition. The first event was apparently held in 1958, with the winner being Ramchandra Babu (a film is being made on him). This competition is held every year, with big names arriving to fight for the title; the 2017 event was held in Pune, and was won by Sumit Kumar from Delhi.
Meanwhile, dangals are held all across North India, with just a few of them managing to reach the headlines. The Roun-Domail Kesari Dangal, with a cash prize of Rs. 71,000, was held in Udhampur, Jammu & Kashmir, just recently in May. The state also saw the Majalta Kesari Dangal in June, near Udhampur too, with a cash prize of Rs. 75,000.
Unrelatedly, the AISCD (All India Sports Council For The Deaf) organizes wrestling events, among the many sports it organizes. The reason they are significant is because of their athlete, Virender Singh, who is deaf & mute but has won medals at three Deaflympics (Olympics for the Deaf). Despite being recognized all over the country for his legendary achievements, Virender Singh has been treated very badly by the AISCD; they thus prevented him from representing India at the World Wrestling Championship for the deaf, which was held in Russia. This was alleged because they wanted him to apologize for some previous allegations he had made against the AISCD.
Apart from this, there is always professional wrestling. The above competitions & the athletes participating in them (with the exception of the PWL), are considered to be amateurs. Professional events would include India’s much-loved WWE or other such similar events you would have seen on TV. Towards this end, no less than the Great Khali has started his own academy – the Continental Wrestling Academy – for training professional wrestlers; Kavita Devi, for one, trained at this academy itself, and is now a part of WWE. The Khali himself (real name: Dalip Singh Rana) is working at making professional wrestling a financially stable profession for aspiring wrestlers; events have been organised in Ludhiana, Dehradun & Haldwani, with an event, the CWE Championship (with both foreign & Indian wrestlers competing), to be held soon in Himachal Pradesh. In fact, the entire scenario for professional wrestlers, be they male or female, is looking up.