India’s tryst with wrestling goes back thousands of years with Kushti and grappling being a form of entertainment for several kings and emperor over time. Haryana has always been at the centre of the passion for this sport with villages and towns organising their own events regularly. Yogeshwar Dutt, Geeta Phogat and Bajrang Punia are just a few Haryanvi wrestlers who have brought laurels to India. The concept of kushti has evolved over time into a more technical form of competitive wrestling with modern facilities and training.
Haryana has adapted to this as well by giving its sportsmen ample opportunities to play and perform at the highest level. One such event that comes to light often is that of the Barat Kesari Dangal. The Kesari Dangal was first held in 2016 and has been a regular event since then on Martyrdom Day which is on the 23rd of March.
The Kesari Dangal was first held in 2016 and has been a regular event since then on Martyrdom Day
The event is also considered auspicious and is a tribute to three Indian freedom fighters, namely Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Raj Guru who sacrificed their lives during the freedom struggle. The invitees range from politicians to relatives of the freedom fighters and former sportsmen and women who have won laurels for the country.
Bharat Kesari Dangal
The tournament has a standard knockout format in the initial stages due to the large number of competitors and after the quarterfinals, there is a league system of scoring in place to allow an equal opportunity for all. Apart from the competition format, it follows all the rules that are normally undertaken in international wrestling events. Any wrestler weighing 80kgs and above is eligible to take part and must also be above the age of 17 at the time of competing.
A major attraction in this field is the prize money which is a large amount given the level of the competition. The overall winner takes home 1 crore while the runner up gets 50 lakhs. Bronze medallists get 25 lakh and thereafter fourth, fifth and sixth positions get ten, five and three lakhs, respectively.
There are also small cash prizes for individual group and bout winners as well as those ranked lower down after the sixth position. Apart from the players, the biggest highlight is the number of people who are drawn to watching the competitors. The stadiums and grounds are packed with villagers and locals rooting and supporting their favourite wrestlers. Tensions are high and this is shown through the raucous nature of the crowd when a point is won or lost.
Wrestler Mausam Khatri who won the gold at the 2016 SAF Games stated that “If the government continues to organise events like these, wrestling will have a bright future in India — just like cricket,”. He is a sub inspector with the Haryana police and took part in the Olympic qualifiers for wrestling later that year. The reason for mentioning such wrestlers is that they lead lives dominated by hard work and dedication. Juggling a job alongside a professional sports career is not an option for many, rather it a compulsion.
Events like the Bharat Kesari Dangal not only give wrestlers like Mausam an opportunity to earn state-wide fame but also the chance to build upon their honed skills and talents in wrestling. Organising events such as this is a way of encouraging the already strengthened passion for the sport. Wrestling is not a dying art in Haryana, but it also has to be taken to the next level by promoting it locally and nationally, not by baking on international championships.
The legacy of wrestling in Haryana has often been depicted through Bollywood and TV serials. There is, however, a lot more to this than what meets the eye. The sport is a way of life for the boys and girls of districts such as Bhiwani, Sonipat and Jhajjar in Haryana. Most children who might have an interest in wrestling or would have shown promise in the art are sent to Akharas or wrestling schools during their early teenage years.
They are kept under the guidance of a guru who trains them in the art right from the very basics of the sport. Apart from training and year-round practice, there are numerous villages that organise tournaments amongst themselves by pooling in money and at times, even feeding the wrestlers if they are competing at bigger events. ‘Dangal’s’ as they are often called are seen to be the way out for several wrestlers who wish to make it to the top.
This tradition needs to continue in whatever way possible. The recognition and development of Akharas in Haryana is something that has to be done at whatever cost. The roots of several wrestlers in India need to be considered if the country is to recognise the potential of a sport such as wrestling. It is not new to India and with a solid foundation built through years of tradition and dedication, this is one assured field in which India can dominate the world for years to come.