Book Review: Enter the Dangal

Title: “Enter the Dangal: Travels through India’s Wrestling Landscape”

Author: Rudraneil Sengupta

Publisher: Harper Sport (An Imprint of  HarperCollins Publishers)

Enter the Dangal: Travels through India’s Wrestling Landscape is a celebration of Wrestling as an ancient Indian sport. It is a journey of India’s Pahalwans from the mitti of Akhada to the modern day Olympic mats. Enriched with accounts of famous personalities of Indian wrestling- Kushti, this book is a record of ‘events that have shaped its history from Gama to Sushil Kumar’.

About the Author

Rudraneil Sengupta is the deputy editor of ‘Lounge’, the weekly feature section of Mint. Having worked as Sports Journalist for TV News Channels, Rudraneil Sengupta holds Masters degree in English from Jadavpur University, Kolkata. He has won the Ramnath Goenka Award for Excellence in Journalism (2008) and the Society of Publishers of India Award (2015). He is also the author of the book ‘Ringside with Vijender’.

So lets ‘Enter the Dangal’

This book is a fascinating insight into the world of Indian Wrestling. It has 3 sections:

  1. The Olympic Wrestler
  2. Revival
  3. The Annals of Wrestling

The initial chapters revolve around the Akhadas (Wrestling Pits) and the Dangals (Wrestling Competitions). These chapters throw light on lives of people associated with Kushti. The author writes about the present day status of Kushti in India.

As long as the season lasts, the pahalwan will be on the road, sleeping when he can and where he can. He will make his homes in cars, buses, trains and railway stations.” Thus, we see that the youth, especially in Northern India, is still attracted towards wrestling. In another chapter, the author writes, “A family without a pahalwan – there is something incomplete about it, something almost impotent,…”. This statement highlights the importance that wrestling had in the earlier days.

Then we have chapters on Sushil Kumar’s experience at the Olympic village, his family, his transformation into the Olympic wrestler and his ‘band of brothers’. I enjoyed reading this part of the book, particularly the chapter covering Sushil’s matches at the Olympics. The narration shifts from Olympics to his house and then again to the Olympics and then again to his house in Baprola.

The book also brings into the limelight the ‘utterly broken’ support system & the ugly face of the National Sports Institutes. Here are a few lines from the book:

  • One federation secretary even admitted: “I can destroy the career of a champion athlete and nothing will happen..”
  • The administrators make sure that the athletes are always under their thumb. They live with no dignity. No self respect. They have to beg to get their visas done if they have to compete outside India.
  • The gold was won by the rifle shooter Abhinav Bindra, who trained in a custom- built shooting range at home, found his own coach, funded his own training,…

I feel this particular chapter must be read by everyone out there.

The subsequent chapters showcase the close relationship of wrestling with Indian culture. The readers get to know how wrestling has been a prominent part of India during the times of Mughals and the British too. We get a picture of the times when wrestlers were considered as a symbol for the health & prowess of kingdom. The author goes on to draw instances from our religious texts. Lord Krishna & Lord Hanuman have special mention too.

After Sushil Kumar’s victory, wrestling is being revived in India. Wrestling has become a ray of hope for the poor. 

The history of wrestling, the special mitti of Akhada, emergence of women’s wrestling and the recent decline in Dangals, all have a dedicated chapter.

There’s also a chapter titled ‘Six Sisters’ on Mahavir Singh Phogat. He’s the guy on whose life the latest Bollywood movie ‘Dangal’ is based.

The concluding part of the book is full with international conquests of the Great Gama and Gobar Goho. There are tales of Rahim Sultaniwala and Pahalwan Gulam. As we move towards the end, we are brought once again to the world of Dangals.

Final take on the Book

“Wrestling is monastic with the option of a family life; anti-materialist while making comfortable sums of money; it is an escape from the drudgery of the village to an idealized rural life in an urban space; it is somatic but not sexual; spiritual without being overtly religious; it is a little socialist, a little communist, a little capitalist, and it is none of those.”


Beautifully written and well researched, this book is meant to be cherished. I have least interest in Sports & Games, but still I loved this book.

The author has written very intriguingly. However, I couldn’t focus on some chapters of the last section. May be it was too much of wrestling by that time. There are a lot of names in those chapters and I couldn’t make out about whom I’m reading. But that doesn’t stop me from saying, that this book is a must read for everyone. It is indeed ‘a journey through the wrestling landscape of India, both past and present’.

My Rating: **** (4/5)

So what do you think about the book? Have you read any other book on wrestling or any book by the same author? Do share your views.

Available for purchase on Amazon.in and Infibeam.

Happy New Year 2017! 🙂

Source of Pictures: Internet

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