Obituary: Guru Hanuman

THERE HAVE been few Indian wrestlers of any merit over the past five decades who at some point in their careers were not either coached or given valuable tips by the legendary wrestler Guru Hanuman. Scores of potential champions daily practised the ancient intricacies of Indian free-style wrestling at the akhada, or wrestling seminary, he founded in the old, walled city of Delhi 76 years ago.

Under his baleful eye, they learnt wrestling grips, feints and tricks which few in India know today. Two of Hanuman's disciples won gold medals at the Asian Games in 1982 and 1986. Seven others trained at his akhada won various national championships and received the Arjuna Award, the highest honour for Indian sportsmen. Others coached by him represented India at the Olympics and a handful secured medals in free-style wrestling in the 1970s and 1980s at the Commonwealth Games.

Free-style Indian wrestling in which Hanuman specialised has few rules, no mats and no time limit. The duration of each bout can seem interminable as two wrestlers circle one another in a bid to get a firm grip and pin the other flat or "chitt" on the ground for the count of three.

At times, locked in a deathly clinch, wrestlers push and pull one another around the ring for long periods, aiming to flatten their opponents with the "sudden death" stratagem which Hanuman perfected. This deft manoeuvre entails tripping up one's opponent and then flinging him to the ground before he regains his footing.

Wrestling is highly popular in northern India, mainly amongst rural folk who have little or no access to many other forms of entertainment. It is not uncommon at evening time to see hundreds of villagers gathered around a mud wrestling pit, cheering on the local lads dressed in skimpy loin-cloths, grappling with one another.

On special occasions rural competitors oil their bodies, making a firm grip difficult. This makes the bouts lengthier, tests the competitors' skills to the maximum and adds spice to the betting. Wrestlers or pahelwans become folk heroes in rural India and some are in great demand by political parties during elections to boost their chances at the hustings.

Hanuman was born in 1901 in Chidwa village in western Rajasthan into a poor home, and named after the mythical monkey god with formidable physical prowess and agility. He did not attend school but began wrestling at the local village akhada for fun at an early age. His inherent wrestling talent greatly impressed a local businessman who persuaded him to move to Delhi and helped establish his akhada in 1923 in the old, northern part of the walled city area.

Within a few months Hanuman's fame as an accomplished wrestler spread and youngsters flocked to be part of his seminary, dedicating themselves to his strict regimen that included numerous workouts and mud-pit wrestling besides practising special holds and grips. The inmates' bonus was a rich, vegetarian diet, swimming in gallons of ghee or clarified butter and endless glasses of milk. This diet kept Hanuman fit and coaching till he died in a car accident at the age of 98.

In the early 1940s he inadvertently became involved with India's freedom struggle when he provided refuge to a wanted revolutionary fleeing the police. He was arrested by the police and reportedly subjected to severe third-degree torture that included being hung upside down for hours over a well. But he was steadfast and refused to divulge the whereabouts of the wanted man, who managed successfully to evade capture.

After independence in 1947 Hanuman's akhada became the home for competitive wrestlers in northern India. He never turned professional, concentrating exclusively on coaching. In the 1980s he was awarded the Padma Shree, one of India's highest civilian honours, and the Shree Dronacharya Award - named after the mythical sage warrior - which is reserved for coaches.

Hanuman, wrestler: born Chidawa village, India 15 March 1901; died Meerut, India 24 May 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada
    Birthplace of Arab Spring in turmoil as angry Tunisians stage massive sit-in over lack of development

    They shall not be moved: jobless protesters bring Tunisia to a halt

    A former North African boom town is wasting away while its unemployed citizens stick steadfastly to their sit-in
    David Hasselhoff's new show 'Hoff the Record': What's it like working with a superstar?

    Hanging with the Hoff

    Working with David Hasselhoff on his new TV series was an education for Ella Smith
    Can Dubai's Design District 'hipster village' attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?

    Hipsters of Arabia

    Can Dubai’s ‘creative village’ attract the right type of goatee-wearing individualist?
    The cult of Roger Federer: What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?

    The cult of Roger Federer

    What is it that inspires such obsessive devotion?
    Kuala Lumpur's street food: Not a 'scene', more a way of life

    Malaysian munchies

    With new flights, the amazing street food of Kuala Lumpur just got more accessible
    10 best festival beauty

    Mud guards: 10 best festival beauty

    Whether you're off to the Isle of Wight, Glastonbury or a local music event, we've found the products to help you
    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf