Ancient Indian Hindu Pehelwan (Body Builders) Diet
Gama Pehelwan Diet (Exercises & Diet Schedule)
In their day, champion pahelwans were devastating because they trained hard, ate big and possessed superior technique, power and fighting hearts.
Many of the best professional pahelwans were born into wrestling families; a son followed in the footsteps of his father and started to wrestle as soon as he was able to walk. As Pahelwani was the child’s one and only pursuit, and as he learnt young and kept his body supple under good teachers, who were to be found in great numbers, the akhara system produced extraordinarily efficient and scientific wrestlers.
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The pahelwan, though very much a part of society, considered himself a man apart. When he entered the akhara, he left behind him the mundane for a world of tranquillity and authority. He would adhere strictly to the moral principles of continence, honesty, internal and external cleanliness, simplicity, and contemplation of the Divine, an attribute that he shared with the ascetic fakir or sadhu of the Muslim and Hindu worlds respectively.
The diligent pahelwan strove towards the ideal of perfect health. To achieve this he had to release himself from the world. In this perfect state of self-realization (‘jivanmukti’), ignorance was banished as spiritual consciousness and wisdom developed. At this level, a pahelwan was unaffected by emotions of any sort; he had no concern with the sensory world of pain and pleasure, suffering and greed.
Central to the development of a pahelwan’s moral and ideological framework was physical training (‘virayam’), the focal point of his daily routine. This entailed the repetition of specific exercises and the continual practice in actual wrestling.
Stress was placed on stamina and strength rather than beauty. If a pahelwan became a very large man he was given additional exercises to improve stamina and to harden his body. For instance, he was made to turn the shaft of the Persian wheel (the traditional device used to draw water from wells), a task usually performed by a couple of bullocks or camels. This type of exercise done for a length of time was prodigious hard work.
Morning routine (4 to 10 am)
Waking up before dawn, the pahelwan typically ran a few miles to build up his stamina. After brushing his teeth, he bathed before spending some time in contemplation or prayer. In order to enter the sacred space of the akhara he would don the wrestler’s habit, the loincloth (‘langot’) and anoint his body with oil.
The preparation of the actual akhara pit would follow. It was dug with a heavy hoe and raked to remove any rocks. The consistency achieved was excellent for protecting the body; at the same time it was not so loose as to impede a pahelwan’s movement. The akhara would be blessed with a sprinkling of buttermilk, oil and red ochre before the training proper commenced.
Next came the ‘jor’ (literally ‘strength’), a form of wrestling that combined elements of practice, training and exercise to developed stamina as well as strength. Pahelwans would be paired off by the ‘guru’, ‘ustad’ or ‘khalifa’ to grapple under close supervision and instruction. The objective was for each pahelwan to throw his opponent down to the ground through the correct application of particular moves. Each move was countered by a defensive move and this sparring continued indefinitely. Unlike a competitive bout, both wrestlers tended to work together so that moves could be applied with precision and executed smoothly with a minimum of effort.
After two or three hours of jor, the pahelwan would rub his body with the earth of the akhara to dry perspiration and partake of its reinvigorating and healing qualities. As the earth dried, it would be scraped off by other pahelwans. He would then bathe and eat before taking some well-earned rest.
Diet, recuperation (10 am to 2 pm) & late afternoon training (2 to 6 pm)
In the time from when the morning practice session ended until the evening exercise session began, a pahelwan had to rest, eat and sleep. Although this was a passive part of the pahelwan’s regime, it was important for his recuperation and physical development.
Milk, clarified butter (‘ghee’) and ground almonds comprised the holy trinity of the pahelwan’s diet. Some advocated a purely vegetarian diet, while others happily consumed chickens, mutton and a special boiled-down meat soup (‘yakhni’). In a typical day, it was not unusual for a pahelwan to consume half a pound of both ghee and almonds for breakfast, a pound of meat soup made from one chicken, and two loaves of bread for lunch. The same again was eaten for dinner. A large hearty meal was followed by a drought of a cool drink (‘thandai’) made of mixed substances, usually milk, nuts and fruits.
After eating, the pahelwan took a short nap and rested for a couple of hours during the afternoon before commencing his next session of training.
Having eaten, rested, defecated and bathed, the pahelwan returned to the akhara in the afternoon to perform virayam consisting of various individual exercises to build up strength, stamina and flexibility of joints. These were performed religiously.
At the core of this regimen were ‘dands’ (jack-knifing press-ups) and ‘baitaks’ (squats). Although they were two different exercises, dands and baitaks together constituted the core wrestling virayam regimen. Since they provided a complete body workout they were usually referred to as a pair, i.e. dand-baitaks. A good wrestler in the prime of life would perform a minimum of 1,000 dands a day, but more often performing 1,500. As a general rule, the best pahelwans did twice as many baitaks as dands, thus averaging between 2,000 and 3,000 squats a day. This regime made the muscles of the body so incredibly strong that the wrestler appeared divine.
Pahelwans did a host of other exercises, and each akhara has its own particular selection of training techniques: to strengthen shoulders, arms and upper backs, some swung the ‘jori’ or ‘moongli’ (weighted wooden clubs) and the ‘gada’ (a mace in the shape of a weighted ball affixed to the end of a bamboo staff); others lifted the ‘nal’, a hollow stone cylinder with a handle inside, or added resistance to dands and baitaks by wearing the ‘gar nal’, a circular stone ring worn around the neck.
Integral to the pahelwan’s exercise regimen was massage (‘malash’). Massage was an essential component to developing supple and strong muscles. It helped overcome any stiffness that inhibited movement when applying certain techniques.
As a mark of deference and respect, younger pahelwans massaged their seniors in the akhara. Not only did they benefit from giving the massage (a form of exercise in itself), they also received the blessings of their guru or ustad and other senior members of the akhara. Massaging one’s elders served to reinforce an ethic of humility, respect, service and devotion between pahelwans. Massage also served a wider societal role by helping to cut across boundaries in a society deeply divided by status, class and caste distinctions. Within the confines of the akhara, the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich came together with little regard for these ‘worldy’ differences.
After a second bath and a specialized meal, the pahelwan retired for the night around 9 pm in order to wake afresh at the crack of dawn the next day to repeat the regimen. In a typical week, only one day was reserved for a complete rest.
Lived properly, pahelwans believed that this routine produced a whole, healthy and harmonically balanced body.
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