Gama Pehlwan: Who Is India’s Legendary Wrestler?


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Gama Pehlwan, also known as The Great Gama is an icon of strength and power. The great wrestler and strongman was the pride of British India for many years. After India’s partition, Gama Pehlwan moved to Pakistan but still maintained his ties with India. In this post, we will find out more about him. Let’s get started.

Gama Pehlwan: All You Need To Know

When was Gama Pehlwan born?

Invincible in the world, Gama Pehlwan was born on May 22nd, 1878 in Amritsar, Punjab, although there is a dispute about his birth. His childhood name was Ghulam Muhammad. He started wrestling at the age of 10. Gama Pehlwan worked on building his body and strength with the help of stone dumbbells.

Who trained Gama Pehlwan?

Gama Pehlwan was the son of Muhammad Aziz, a wrestler from a Kashmiri ‘ Butt ‘ family. Wrestling ran in Gama Pehlwan’s veins. Gama and his brother Imambakhsh initially started learning wrestling tricks from Punjab’s famous wrestler, Pehlwan Madho Singh. 

What was Gama Pehlwan’s training and diet like?

Gama Pehlwan used to do 5,000 “baithaks” (squats) and 3,000 “dands” (hindu push ups) every day. He trained a lot with weights as well. Whenever Gama Pehlwan wasn’t eating or sleeping, he was training.

Gama Pehlwan used to eat six full chickens, 500 grams of butter, 750 grams of almond paste, and drink 15 litres of milk every day.

How did Gama Pehlwan fund his training?

Maharaja Bhawani Singh of Datia provided facilities for wrestling to Gama and his younger brother Imam Baksh. At the age of just 10, Gama Pehlwan participated in a physical exercise exhibition among many wrestlers in Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and the Maharaja of Jodhpur rewarded Gama for his amazing physical abilities.

How did Gama Pehlwan rise in prominence?

Gama was young and every wrestler who came in front of him used to be destroyed. In 1895 , he faced the country’s greatest wrestler Rustum – e – Hind Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala. Rahim was almost seven feet tall, while Gama was only 5 feet 7 inches tall. Despite the incredible size difference, Gama Pehlwan wasn’t intimidated. Even though Rahim was quite old by that time, he managed to hold his own against the young and powerful Gama Pehlwan and the fight ended up being a draw. It was a true David vs Goliath battle. This fight shot Gama Pehlwan into national fame.

Gama’s fame kept on increasing year after year and he became the invincible wrestler of the country. Between 1898 and 1907, Gama continuously trained wrestlers such as Ghulam Mohiuddin of Datia, Pratab Singh of Bhopal, Ali Baba Sen of Indore and Hasan Baksh of Multan. In 1910  Gama once again faced Rustum – e – Hind Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala. This time, Gama Pehlwan was able to win the fight. However, Gama Pehlwan had a lot of respect for Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala. Whenever Gama Pehlwan was asked about his toughest opponent, he always mentioned Rahim Baksh Sultaniwala.

Gama Pehlwan’s strength and wrestling abilities were so intimidating for his opponents that there were long periods of time when he couldn’t find opponents to wrestle against. They were just too afraid of suffering a brutal punishment at the hands of Gama Pehlwan.

Did Gama Pehlwan lift a 1200 kg stone?

In 1902, Gama Pehlwan was in Baroda (Vadodara), Gujarat for a wrestling tournament. To entertain the crowd in between fights, Gama Pehlwan lifted a 1200 kg stone up to his chest level and walked around for a while. That stone is on display in a museum in Baroda.

How did Gama Pehlwan become internationally famous?

Gama Pehlwan went to Britain after being invincible in India. There he made up his mind to defeat numerous foreign wrestlers but due to his short stature, he was not included in western fighting. After this, Gama Pehlwan openly challenged all the wrestlers there but the people didn’t pay attention and just considered it a marketing ploy. Eventually, Gama challenged the biggest wrestlers there, Stanislaus Zbyszko and Frank Gotch.

Gama Pehlwan specifically challenged Stanislaus Zbyszko and Frank Gotch to either fight him or give him the prize money. American wrestler Benjamin Roller accepted this challenge for the first time. Gama Pehlwan defeated Roller in just one minute and 40 seconds. In the rematch, Roller lasted for nine minutes and 10 seconds but still ended up losing. The next day Gama defeated 12 wrestlers to gain entry into the official tournament.

When did Gama Pehlwan fight against the world wrestling champion?

On September 10th, 1910, Gama faced world champion Stanislaus Zbyszko in the final of the John Bull Belt World Championship in London. The match was for £250 (around £35,000 in today’s money). After wrestling for about three hours, nobody was declared a winner. A rematch was slated for the next day but Zbyszko did not show up for the bout and Gama Pehlwan was declared the winner.

During his tour of Western countries, Gama Pehlwan defeated the most respected wrestlers in the world. Some of those wrestlers included Maurice Deriz of France, Doc “Benjamin Roller” of USA, Jesse Peterson of Sweden (World Champion) and Johann Lemm of Switzerland (European champion ). While wrestling Benjamin Roller, Gama Pehlwan threw him down 13 times in 15 minutes.

After defeating many famous wrestlers in the world, Gama issued a challenge to those who claimed the title of World Champion. This list included people like the judo wrestler Taro Miyaki of Japan, George Hackenschmidt of Russia, and Funk Gosh of America.

How did Gama Pehlwan die?

At the time of the partition of India in 1947, Gama moved to Pakistan, where he lived with his brother Imam Baksh and his nephews and spent the rest of his life. The last days of “Rustom – e – Zaman ” were spent in great pain and trouble. This invincible man by the banks of the river Ravi had to live in a small hut. He was so poor that he had to sell his priceless mementos, gold and silver medals to survive. He started getting sick all the time. It was natural for the people of India to feel sad after getting the news of his illness.

The Maharaja of Patiala and the Birla brothers started sending funds to help him, but it was too late. Rustum – e – Zaman Gama Pehlwan died on May 22nd, 1960 in Lahore, Pakistan. 

What is Gama Pehlwan’s legacy?

Gama Pehlwan might have passed away, but his name and legacy will live on forever. Gama Pehlwan was instrumental in bringing global attention to Indian wrestling. A true icon of strength, Gama Pehlwan’s legacy will never die. Even Bruce Lee has used some of Gama Pehlwan’s exercises to help develop his own strength. 

On May 22nd, 2022, Google honoured Gama Pehlwan with a Google Doodle to celebrate his 144th birthday. Here’s what it said on the official blog: 

Gama Pehlwan was widely considered one of best wrestlers of all time. Gama remained undefeated throughout his international matches and earned the name “The Great Gama.” Today’s Doodle—created by guest artist Vrinda Zaveri—celebrates Gama Pehlwan’s accomplishments in the ring but also the impact and representation he brought to Indian culture.

Traditional wrestling in North India started to develop around the early 1900s. Lower class and working class migrants would compete in royal gymnasiums and gained national recognition when lavish tournaments were won. During these tournaments, spectators admired the wrestlers’ physiques and were inspired by their disciplined lifestyle. 

Gama’s workout routine included 500 lunges and 500 pushups at only 10 years old. In 1888, he competed in a lunge contest with over 400 wrestlers from around the country and won. His success at the competition gained him fame throughout the royal states of India. It wasn’t until he turned 15 that he picked up wrestling. By 1910, people were reading Indian newspapers with headlines praising Gama as a national hero and world champion. Gama is also considered a hero for saving the lives of many Hindus during the partition of India in 1947.  He spent the rest of his days until his death in 1960 in Lahore, which became a part of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. 

Gama earned many titles during his career, notably the Indian versions of the World Heavyweight Championship (1910) and the World Wrestling Championship (1927) where he was bestowed with the title of “Tiger” after the tournament. He was even presented a silver mace by the Prince of Wales during his visit to India to honor the great wrestler. Gama’s legacy continues to inspire modern day fighters. Even Bruce Lee is a known admirer and incorporates aspects of Gama’s conditioning into his own training routine! 

Happy 144th birthday, Gama Pehlwan!


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