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Pehlwani (Urdu پہلوانی, Hindi: पहलवानी), or kushti (Urdu کشتی, Hindi: कुश्ती) is a form of wrestling that is predominantly played by people in India and Pakistan. It is a synthesis of the indigenous malla-yuddha, which dates back at least to the 5th century BC.

A practitioner of this sport is referred to as a pehlwan or pahalwan.Teachers are known as ustaad, whilst Hindu teachers are called guru. The undefeated champions of India hold the title Rustam-i-Hind meaning "the Rostam of India", denoting Rostam the hero of the Persian Shahnameh.

Through the ages, western training methods and nonclamenture from Iran and Europe were introduced into pehlwani. Wrestling competitions, known as dangals, held at village levels, have their own rules which vary from place to place. Usually a win is awarded by decision from the panel of judges, knockout, stoppage or submission.


In Indian wrestling, vyayam or physical training is meant to build strength and develop muscle bulk and flexibility. Exercises that employ the wrestler's own bodyweight include the Surya Namaskara, shirshasan, and the dand, which are also found in hatha yoga, as well as the bethak. Sawari (from Persian savâri, meaning "the passenger") is the practice of using another person's bodyweight to add resistance to such exercises.

Exercise regimens may also employ the following weight training devices:

  • The nal is a hollow stone cylinder with a handle inside.
  • The gar nal (neck weight) is a circular stone ring worn around the neck to add resistance to dands and bethaks.
  • The gada is a club or mace associated with Hanuman. An exercise gada is a heavy round stone attached to the end of a meter-long bamboo stick. Pahalwani trophies take the form of gadas made of silver and gold.

Exercise regimens may also include dhakulis which involve twisting rotations, rope climbing, log pulling and running. Massage is regarded an integral part of an Indian wrestler's exercise regimen.


According to the Samkhya school of philosophy, everything in the universe—including people, activities, and foods—can be sorted into three gunas: sattva (calm/good), rajas (passionate/active), and tamas (dull/lethargic).

As a vigorous activity, wrestling has an inherently rajasic nature, which pahalwan counteract through the consumption of sattvic foods. Milk and ghee are regarded as the most sattvic of foods and, along with almonds, comprise the holy trinity of the pahalwani khurak (from Persian خوراک پهلوانی, khorâk-e Pahlavâni), or diet. A common snack for pahalwan are chickpeas that have been sprouted overnight in water and seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon; the water in which the chickpeas were sprouted is also regarded as nutritious. Various articles in the Indian wrestling monthly Bharatiya Kushti have recommended the consumption of the following fruits: apples, wood-apples, bananas, figs, pomegranates, gooseberries, lemons, and watermelons. Orange juice and green vegetables are also recommended for their sattvic nature. Some pahalwan eat meat in spite of its rajasic nature.

Ideally, wrestlers are supposed to avoid sour and excessively spiced foods such as chatni and achar as well as chaat. Mild seasoning with garlic, cumin, coriander, and turmeric is acceptable. The consumption of alcohol, tobacco, and paan is strongly discouraged.