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Kikkar Singh, Pahilvan

Wrestler of Legendary Fame (1857-1914)


Was born on 13 January 1857 to Javala Singh Sandhu and Sahib Kaur, a farming couple of moderate means living in the village of Ghanieke, in Lahore district (now in Pakistan). Javala Singh, himself a wrestler, wished his only son to train as one. Young Kikkar Singh began his apprenticeship in his mother's native village, Narpur, under Ghulam, the potter. As he returned to his own village, he started practising with an elderly wrestler, Vasava Singh, who taught him many fine points of the sport. He had already made a name as a wrestler by the time he put himself under the tutelage of Bata Pahilvan, Rustam-i-Hind (a title for the champion wrestler of India), of Lahore. Soon Kikkar Singh came to be counted as the leading Indian wrestler and one among the best in the world. He enjoyed the patronage of the rulers of the princely states of Jodhpur, Indore, Datiya, Tohk and Jamma and Kashmir.

Kikkar Singh had a prodigious frame. He was uncommonly tall, over seven feet, as the tradition goes, and many legends became current of his Herculean strength. For example, his real name was Prem Singh, he came to be known as Kikkar Singh for he had once uprooted a kikkar tree (accacia) with bare hands. It is also likely that he earned his botanical name because of his extraordinary height and dark complexion.

Kikkar Singh fought and won many bouts during his lifetime. In fact there were not many competitors to match his strength and skill. He, however, lost the last contest of his life. During the Delhi Darbar held in December 1911 to celebrate the coronation of King George V, he was challenged by a younger wrestler and an old rival, Kalla of Amritsar. Kikkar Singh, at 54, was long past his prime and was already a patient of asthma, but he would not let a challenge go unanswered, and came into the arena. He put up an elegant fight to the delight of the elite gathering (Maharaja Bhapinder Singh of Patiala and Sardal Singh Caveeshar were among the spectators), but lost although to many eye-witnesses it appeared a dubious judgement.

Kikkar Singh died on 18 February 1914 at his native village where a samadhi or memorial shrine was raised in his memory.

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