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Mangala Rai: The Legendary Wrestler of India

In 1952, he was bestowed with the title “Rustam-e-Hind” and later honored with the title of “Hind Kesari” in 1954 

Gopal Ji Rai

Mangala Rai, also known as the “Rustam-e-Hind” and the “Shakahari Veer,” was born in August 1916 in the village of Joga Musahib in the Ghazipur district. He inherited the legacy of wrestling from his father Ramchandra Rai and his uncle Radha Rai, who were renowned wrestlers of their time.

It is said that Mangala Rai’s early days were spent in hardships. His father and uncle went to Burma in search of livelihood, engaging in wrestling even there. Mangala Rai’s uncle, Radha Rai, was a skilled wrestler himself and initiated Mangala into the art of wrestling.

Mangala Rai was of robust build, weighing 131 kilograms and standing tall at 6 feet 3 inches. He would practice rigorously, engaging in four thousand squats and lifting two and a half thousand logs every day. Following this, he would wrestle with twenty-five skilled wrestlers in the akhara (wrestling arena) thrice a day. He was a strict vegetarian, adhering to a diet consisting of half a kilogram of pure ghee, eight to ten liters of milk, and one kilogram of almonds. Born on a Tuesday, he was named Mangala Rai by his parents.

One day, Mangala Rai encountered a renowned Burmese wrestler named Isha Nat, and in a swift turn of events, he defeated him in four rounds, earning him the title of “Sher-e-Burma” (Lion of Burma). After some time, he returned to his village with his father and uncle. In 1933, Mangala Rai wrestled against the famous wrestler Mustafa in Allahabad, marking a turning point in his life. Mustafa, having defeated numerous wrestlers, underestimated the young Mangala Rai, who utilized his signature moves “Tang” and “Bahrali” against Mustafa. Mangala Rai’s strength proved too much for Mustafa, astonishing the spectators who couldn’t believe that a young wrestler had defeated such a renowned opponent.

This victory propelled Mangala Rai to nationwide fame, and people from far and wide came to witness his wrestling matches. Within a year, Mangala Rai wrestled in more than a hundred matches despite being over thirty-two years old. He defeated notable wrestlers such as Akram Lahore, Khadag Singh, Kesari Singh, Gora Singh, Nizamuddin, and Gulam Gaus, among others.

In 1952, he was bestowed with the title “Rustam-e-Hind” and later honored with the title of “Hind Kesari” in 1954. He also defeated the Romanian wrestler George Constantine, earning him the title “Tiger of Europe.” This match, held in Haldia, West Bengal, in 1957, saw Mangala Rai at the age of forty-one, overpowering wrestlers from Europe and Asia.

However, one of his most memorable matches took place in his own village of Joga Musahib. Despite facing discouragement due to his age, Mangala Rai accepted the challenge to wrestle against Mehruddeen, a wrestler representing the collector of Ghazipur. The villagers supported Mangala Rai, urging him to defend the honor of Ghazipur. Despite the odds, Mangala Rai showed remarkable resilience, and the match ended in a draw. Despite his age, Mangala Rai continued to inspire the youth and contribute to the development of his village.

Realizing the importance of education after traveling extensively, Mangala Rai took initiatives to establish an intermediate school in his village. He also imparted wrestling training to the youth in the surrounding areas, producing several notable wrestlers. Despite facing obstacles, Mangala Rai remained steadfast in his commitment to the welfare of his village.

Mangala Rai, a wrestler deeply rooted in the soil of his country, breathed his last on June 26, 1976. Every year, his village organizes wrestling tournaments and other events to commemorate his birth anniversary and death anniversary, keeping his legacy alive.

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