Indian Wrestling (Malla-yuddha)

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Indian wrestling, known as Mulla-yuddha, was practised many years ago, and the time when it first started is unknown, but it was at least 2500 years ago. Some writings mention Mulla-yuddha as far back as 900 BC, and the sport was contested mainly in southern India, and it was accessible to all castes, from peasants to, to the middle class, to kings. Meaning “wrestling combat” it incorporated many different styles, which today are known as separate sports. These included wrestling and grappling, boxing and the beginnings of the martial arts we know today. Although Mulla-yadda had different forms, the rules for these styles have been lost over time. All that remains is the knowledge that some ways allowed “no holds barred” such as choking striking and biting similar to the Greek pankration. Other differences were how far the combatants were allowed to take the holds and in the scoring.


The scoring system changed between the styles. In one of the methods, a point was scored for dropping the opponent to the ground, and also for forcing a submission. In another technique, lifting the other contestant off the ground for at least three seconds also warranted a point. In the Jarasandhi style, the fight continued until the opponent was submissive or knocked unconscious. Not much more is known of the scoring system.


  • The Hanuman which is the most technical style
  • The Jambavati in which opponents were forced to submit by locks and holds
  • The Jarasandhi – the breaking of the opponent’s limbs and dislocating of joints
  • Bhimasen – where brute strength was favoured.
  • The injuries incurred by contestants using the Jarasandhi style of violence, resulting in broken bones, etc. was the end of the popularity of Yuddha.

On occasions, Mulla-yuddha was used to settle differences between nations to prevent wars usually using royal favourites as combatants, but in some of the contests, it was the kings themselves who fought each other.


Many aspiring wrestlers were trying to prove their abilities, but the crowd drawers were the professionals. These professionals lived out their lives in training and practise in schools, not unlike the dojos of the martial arts today. Their lives were regulated by their guru who trained them and kept them on the straight and narrow. They had to keep their bodies pure by abstaining from all alcohol and, of course, sexual contact. Royalty and the wealthy would sponsor fights, and the public was allowed to watch the spectacle. There were also large sums of money for the winners. The popularity of Malla-yuddha faded over the years from after the Muslims invaded and ruled India from the 12th century to the 16th.

The God Krishna

A proponent of the sport, Krishna used to partake in the combat himself. When he fought his style included knee strikes, head punching and strangling – a strange competition for a god who represented compassion, love and tenderness!