Mallyuddha (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, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. It is closely related to Southeast Asian wrestling styles such as naban and is the ancestor of kusti.
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:
Wrestling in 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 against steers.
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 strength. The Mahabharata epic also describes a wrestling match between Bhima and Jarasandha. Other early literary descriptions of wrestling matches include the story of Balarama and Krishna.
Stories describing 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 Narasimhavarman acquired 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 Singapore.
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. Sculptures at 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 Karnataka to compete in front of the king, as described by the Portuguese traveller Domingo Paes.
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.
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