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Dangal: From Traditional Indian Wrestling to International Recognition

Two wrestlers in a Dangal

Dangal, a term deeply rooted in the Indian subcontinent, resonates with the spirit of traditional wrestling, echoing centuries-old customs and practices. This age-old sport, more than just a physical contest, is a cultural heritage symbolizing strength, honor, and discipline. This article delves into the origins, historical journey, and the contemporary resurgence of Dangal, highlighting its profound connection with Bollywood that has catapulted this traditional form to global fame.

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Malla Yuddha by Krishna and Balarama

The Roots

Dangal traces its origins back to ancient India, where it was more than a sport; it was a pivotal aspect of martial training for warriors. Historically, it is associated with the Malla-yuddha, a form of wrestling documented in the Vedas and epics like the Mahabharata, indicating its existence over 5,000 years ago. The practice evolved over centuries, becoming an integral part of Indian culture, with Dangal matches held in villages as festive celebrations and a test of strength among men.

The term 'Dangal' refers to a traditional wrestling tournament, a spectacle of raw strength, technique, and endurance. Wrestlers, known as Pehlwans, compete in a clay or dirt pit, adhering to rules that have been passed down through generations. Victory is achieved by pinning the opponent to the ground, showcasing not just physical prowess but also mental discipline and respect for the opponent and the sport.

Dangal is deeply embedded in the rural fabric of India, especially in states like Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra, where it is considered both a rite of passage for young men and a community event that fosters unity and celebrates local heroes. The sport is closely linked to festivals and fairs, drawing spectators from far and wide, reinforcing social bonds and community identity.

two werstlers in akhada

Setting Up

The setting of a Dangal is as traditional as the sport itself. The fight takes place in an Akhada (wrestling ring), which is typically an open-air arena with a pit filled with mitti (clay or mud). This mitti is specially prepared by mixing clay with water, and sometimes, other materials like ghee (clarified butter), mustard oil, and turmeric, to make it soft and suitable for wrestling. The preparation of the Akhada is a ritual in itself, believed to connect the wrestler not only to the earth but also to the tradition’s spiritual roots.

Rules of Dangal

The rules of Dangal wrestling are straightforward yet deeply rooted in tradition. Matches are usually categorized by age, weight, and experience to ensure fair competition. The objective is to pin the opponent's shoulders and hips to the ground, a move known as a 'fall.' Points can be scored for various techniques, including takedowns and reversals, with the match's duration varying from tournament to tournament.

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1. No Use of Equipment: Wrestlers, or Pehlwans, compete barefoot in a loincloth, avoiding any equipment that could cause injury.

2. Gripping Techniques: Wrestlers are allowed to grip any part of their opponent’s body, including limbs and clothing, to gain an advantage.

3. Winning the Match: A match can be won by pinning the opponent's shoulders to the ground, although some Dangals also award points for techniques and control, with the highest scorer declared the winner if no pin occurs.

4. Respect and Fair Play: Above all, respect for the opponent and the sport is paramount, with strict rules against unsportsmanlike conduct.

Prize Money

The prize for winning a Dangal varies significantly across different competitions, from modest amounts in local tournaments to substantial sums in high-profile events. Prizes can range from a few thousand rupees to lakhs, depending on the scale of the event and its sponsors. In addition to cash, winners often receive trophies, medals, and traditional honors such as turbans or shawls, symbolizing respect and achievement. More than the material rewards, the prestige and honor of winning a Dangal carry immense social value, elevating the winner's status in their community.

Dangal Movie Actors

Bollywood and Dangal - The Great Indian Film Industry

The traditional sport of Dangal gained unprecedented global attention with the release of the Bollywood blockbuster "Dangal" in 2016. Starring Aamir Khan, the film is inspired by the true story of Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former wrestler who trains his daughters, Geeta and Babita Kumari, to become India's first world-class female wrestlers. The movie's critical and commercial success not only highlighted the gender issues within the sport but also brought the traditional Dangal to the forefront of international consciousness.

The film's narrative, focusing on determination, resilience, and breaking gender stereotypes, resonated with a global audience, making Dangal synonymous with women's empowerment and the struggle against societal norms. Its success has revitalized interest in the sport, with increased participation and recognition for wrestlers, and has prompted initiatives to promote wrestling at the grassroots level.

ONE Championship Dangal

ONE Championship Embraces Dangal: A Fusion of Tradition and Modern Sports

ONE Championship, Asian global sports media property in mixed martial arts (MMA), kickboxing, and Muay Thai, has taken a significant step by incorporating the concept of Dangal into its diverse array of combat sports.

This move not only acknowledges the rich heritage of traditional wrestling but also brings a fresh, culturally resonant dimension to the global stage of competitive fighting.

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Dangal, from its ancient roots to its Bollywood-induced fame, to international sports recognition, represents a journey of evolution, embodying the spirit of traditional Indian wrestling while adapting to contemporary narratives. It stands as a testament to India's rich cultural heritage, showcasing the timeless appeal of a sport that transcends mere physical contest to become a symbol of pride, honor, and social unity. The story of Dangal is a compelling narrative of tradition, transformation, and triumph, continuing to inspire and captivate audiences around the world.

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