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Malla-yuddha (Devanagari: मल्लयुद्ध, Bengali:
মল্লযুদ্ধ, Odia: ମଲ୍ଲ ଯୁଦ୍ଧ,
Kannada: ಮಲ್ಲಯುದ್ಧ, Telugu: మల్ల
యుద్ధం malla-yuddhaṁ, Tamil:
மல்யுத்தம் malyutham, Thai:
มัลละยุทธ์ mạllayutṭh̒) is the traditional
South Asian form of combat-wrestling created in what is now India,
Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is closely related to
Southeast Asian wrestling styles such as naban and is the ancestor of
Malla-yuddha incorporates grappling, joint-breaking, punching, biting,
choking and pressure point striking. Matches were traditionally
codified into four types which progressed from purely sportive
contests of strength to actual full-contact fights known as yuddha.
Due to the extreme violence, this final form is generally no longer
practised. The second form, wherein the wrestlers attempt to lift each
other off the ground for three seconds, still exists in south India.
Additionally, malla-yuddha is divided into four styles, each named
after Hindu gods and legendary fighters: Hanumanti concentrates on
technical superiority, Jambuvanti uses locks and holds to force the
opponent into submission, Jarasandhi concentrates on breaking the
limbs and joints while Bhimaseni focuses on sheer strength.
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Indian martial arts
In Sanskrit, mallayuddha literally translates to "wrestling combat".
Strictly speaking, the term denotes a single pugilistic encounter or
prize-fight rather than a style or school of wrestling. It is a
tatpurusha compound of malla (wrestler, boxer, athlete) and yuddha or
juddho (fight, battle, conflict). The compound is first attested in
Mahabharata referring to boxing matches such as those fought by
Bhima. Another word for a sportive wrestling match or athletic sports
more generally is mallakrמḍa. The second element, krמḍa (sport,
play, pastime, amusement) implies a more limited-contact style of folk
wrestling rather than true grappling combat.
The term malla was historically a proper name referring to, among
other things, an asura known as mallגsura and the name of a tribe
Malla Kingdom mentioned in the Mahabharata. The name Malla
was also used in this sense for an ancient mahajanapada, a Nepalese
dynasty descended from them, and the
Mallabhum kingdom in Bishnapur.
Manusmriti (10.22; 12.45), it is the technical term for the
offspring of an out-caste kshatriya by a kshatriya female who was
previously the wife of another out-caste.
Jarasandha in a wrestling match, a folio from the
South Asia has a history of at least 5000 years making
it the oldest known codified form of fighting in the region.
Competitions held for entertainment were popular among all social
classes, with even kings and other royalty taking part. Wrestlers
represented their kings in matches between rival kingdoms; death
matches before the royal court served as a way to settle disputes and
avoid large-scale wars. As such, professional wrestlers were held in
high regard. In pastoral communities, people would even wrestle
The first written attestation of the term mallayuddha is found in the
Ramayana epic, in the context of a wrestling match between the vanara
King Bali and Ravana, the king of Lanka. Hanuman, the god in Ramayana,
is worshipped as the patron of wrestlers and general feats of
Mahabharata epic also describes a wrestling match
Bhima and Jarasandha. Other early literary descriptions of
wrestling matches include the story of
Balarama and Krishna.
Krishna report that he sometimes engaged in
wrestling matches where he used knee strikes to the chest, punches to
the head, hair pulling, and strangleholds. He defeated Kans, king
of Mathura, in a wrestling match and became new king in his place.
Siddhartha Gautama himself was said to be an expert wrestler, archer
and sword-fighter before becoming the Buddha. Based on such accounts,
Svinth traces press ups and squats used by Indian wrestlers to the
pre-classical era. Later, the Pallava king
the moniker Mahamalla meaning "great wrestler" for his passion and
prowess in the art.
Competitions in medieval times were announced by a kanjira-player a
week beforehand. Matches took place at the palace entrance, in an
enclosure set aside for games and shows. The wrestlers typically came
of their own accord during public festivals, along with magicians,
actors and acrobats. Other times they would be hired by nobles to
compete. Winners were awarded a substantial cash prize from the king
and presented with a victory standard. Possession of this standard
brought national distinction.
The scene of action was gay with flags flapping, and the citizenry
quickly packed the rows of benches. When the wrestlers climbed into
the arena, they strutted around, flexing their muscles, leaping in the
air, crying out and clapping their hands. Then they grappled, holding
each other tightly around the waist, their necks resting on each
other's shoulder, their legs entwined, while each attempted to win a
fall or break the hold.
The Manasollasa of the
Chalukya king Someswara III (1124–1138) is a
royal treatise on fine arts and leisure. The chapter entitled Malla
Vinod describes the classification of wrestlers into types by age,
size and strength. It also outlines how the wrestlers were to exercise
and what they were to eat. In particular the king was responsible for
providing the wrestlers with pulses, meat, milk, sugar as well as
"high-class sweets". The wrestlers were kept isolated from the women
of the court and were expected to devote themselves to building their
bodies. The Manasollasa gives the names of moves and exercises but
does not provide descriptions.
The Malla Purana is a
Kula Purana associated with the Jyesthimalla, a
Brahmin jāti of wrestlers from Gujarat, dating most likely to the
13th century. It categorizes and classifies types of wrestlers,
defines necessary physical characteristics, describes types of
exercises and techniques of wrestling as well as the preparation of
the wrestling pit, and provides a fairly precise account of which
foods wrestlers should eat in each season of the year.
As the influence of Indian culture spread to Southeast Asia,
malla-yuddha was adopted in what are now Thailand, Malaysia, Java, and
other neighbouring countries. It was popular not only among commoners
but also patronized by royalty. The legendary hero
Badang was said to
have engaged in such a wrestling match against a visiting champion in
Traditional Indian wrestling first began to decline in the north after
the medieval Muslim invasions when influences from Persian wrestling
were incorporated into native malla-yuddha. Under Mughal rule, courtly
fashion favoured the Persianate pehlwani style. Traditional
malla-yuddha remained popular in the south, however, and was
particularly common in the Vijayanagara Empire. The 16th-century Jaina
classic Bharatesa Vaibhava describes wrestlers challenging their
opponents with grunts and traditional signs of patting the shoulders.
Bhatkal depict wrestling matches, including female
wrestlers. As part of his daily routine, the king
Krishna Deva Raya
would rise early and exercise his muscles with the gada (mace) and
sword before wrestling with his favourite opponent. His many wives
were tended to by only female servants and guards, and among the
12,000 women in the palace were those who wrestled and others who
fought with sword and shield. During the
Navaratri festival, wrestlers
from around the empire would come to the capital in
compete in front of the king, as described by the Portuguese traveller
Then the wrestlers begin their play. Their wrestling does not seem
like ours, but there are blows (given), so severe as to break teeth,
and put out eyes, and disfigure faces, so much so that here and there
men are carried off speechless by their friends; they give one another
fine falls too.
Malla-yuddha is now virtually extinct in the northern states, but most
of its traditions are perpetuated in modern kusti. The descendents of
the Jyesti clan continued to practice their ancestral arts of
malla-yuddha and vajra-musti into the 1980s but rarely do so today.
Malla-yuddha has survived in south
India however, and can still be
seen in Karnataka and pockets of
Tamil Nadu today.
The historic Jarasandha's
Akhara (wrestling arena) mentioned in the
Mahabharata epic, at Rajgir in Bihar, India.
Wrestlers train and fight in a traditional arena or akhara. Matches
take place in a clay or dirt pit, thirty feet across and either square
or circular in shape. The soil of the floor is mixed with various
ingredients, including ghee. Before training, the floor is raked of
any pebbles or stones. Water is added approximately every three days
to keep it at the right consistency; soft enough to avoid injury but
hard enough so as not to impede the wrestlers' movements. Wrestlers
begin each session by flattening the soil, an act which is considered
both a part of endurance training and an exercise in self-discipline.
During practice, wrestlers throw a few handfuls of dirt onto their own
bodies and that of their opponents as a form of blessing, which also
provides for a better grip. Once the arena has been prepared a prayer
is offered to the gym's patron deity, most commonly Hanuman. Every
training hall has a small makeshift altar for this purpose, where
incense is lit and small yellow flower garlands are offered to the
god. This is followed by paying respect to the guru by touching the
head to his feet, a traditional South Asian sign of respect for
Many wrestlers live at their training hall but this is not always
required. Traditionally revered as extensions of Hanuman, all
wrestlers are required to abstain from sex, smoking and drinking so
the body remains pure and the wrestlers are able to focus on
cultivating themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. This
purity is also said to help achieve the highest level of martial and
sporting perfection. A wrestler's only belongings are a blanket, a
kowpeenam (loincloth) and some clothes. In this regard, they are often
compared to Hindu-Buddhist holy men.
Boys typically start training at the age of ten to twelve. To avoid
stunting their growth, young trainees are first taught kundakavartana,
callisthenics and exercises to develop their overall strength and
endurance without equipment. Exercises that employ the wrestler's own
bodyweight include the sun salutation (Surya Namaskara), shirshasana,
Hindu squat (bethak) and the Hindu press-up (danda), which are also
found in hatha yoga. After acquiring the necessary power and stamina,
students may begin khambhasrama, referring to exercises that use the
mallakhamba or wrestler's pillar. There are a number of pillars,
although the most common is a free-standing upright pole, some eight
to ten inches in diameter, planted into the ground. Wrestlers mount,
dismount and utilize this pole for various complex callisthenics
designed to develop their grip, stamina, and strength in the arms,
legs and upper-body. In a later variation, the pole was replaced with
a hanging rope. Rope mallakhamba is today most commonly practiced by
children as a spectator sport in itself rather than its traditional
role as a form of training for wrestling.
Other training concepts include the following.
Vyayam: Physical training in general. This includes rope climbing, log
pulling, running and swimming.
Rangasrama: Refers to the wrestling itself and its techniques.
Includes locks, submission holds, takedowns and, formerly, strikes.
Gonitaka: Exercises done with a large stone ring called a gar nal in
Hindi. It can be swung, lifted, or worn around the neck to add
resistance to press-ups and squats.
Pramada: Exercises performed with the gada (mace). An exercise gada is
a heavy round stone attached to the end of a meter-long bamboo stick.
Uhapohasrama: Discussion of tactics and strategies.
Mardana: Traditional massage. Wrestlers are given massages and also
taught how to massage.
Khmer traditional wrestling
^ a b c Alter, Joseph S. (August 1992b). The Wrestler's Body: Identity
and Ideology in North India. Berkeley: University of California
^ a b 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.
^ a b
Donn F. Draeger
Donn F. Draeger and Robert W. Smith (1969). Comprehensive Asian
Fighting Arts. Kodansha International Limited.
^ 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.
^ a b J. R. Svinth (2002). A Chronological History of the Martial Arts
and Combative Sports. Electronic Journals of Martial Arts and
Jeannine Auboyer (1965). Daily Life in Ancient India. Phoenix Press.
p. 252. ISBN 1-84212-591-5.
^ Robert Sewell (1982). A Forgotten Empire: Vijayanagar. Adamant Media
Corporation. ISBN 0-543-92588-9.
^ "The Lost Temples Of India". TLC. 1999
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