The ancient period of Indian history, as I've explained, was definitely an era in which developing physical strength was important, it didn't become institutionalized until the Rashtrakuta kingdom, which was extant from the 6th to 10th Centuries. During that period, India basically became a place that only exist in most of our wet dreams (except, of course, for the godawful food), as every village under the control of the the Rashtrakuta contained a gym called an Akhada. This could have been a carryover from the Grecian occupation, as all Greek towns contained an agora, wherein people would gather, lift weights, wrestle, and fuck. Given the fact that modern historians believe that most or all hard-style Asian martial arts are descended from pankration, which was introduced to the East by Alexander the Great through India, it would stand to reason that the martial arts themselves would bring with them Greek-esque gyms. Should you think I just took a Matrix-like leap from one metaphorical building roof to another, settle down Neo- the Akhada, like the Greek agora, were places where the men of the region developed their physical strength and martial skills simultaneously. Thus, they were similar enough that it's not that big a leap. In any event, by the time the Rashtrakuta were in power, club swinging and wrestling were the two most common forms of heavy exercise, and are credited with the development of "awe-inspiring" figures in a number of historical figures and the populace. It was at this point that the first accounts of Hulk Hogan-esque descriptions of historical figures began in Indian history, The physical culture craze really took off with the rise of Krishnadevraj to power in the Hindu empire. From 1509AD onward, the entire Indian populace (men and women alike) became obsessed with heavy club swinging, wrestling, and other "hard manly exercises" (Mujumdar 15) Thus, in a time when Europeans had completely forgotten we'd already discovered and mastered central heating, we were shivering in half-frozen stone buildings looking like sickly scarecrows and trying to pray away the plague while the Indians were busy getting jacked as fuck.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with club swinging, it's a recently revived exercise with an extremely long history in India. The war club and heavy mace were two of the most prominently utilized weapons in ancient India, and as such were utilized heavily in training in the akhara to ensure the bearers of those weapons wouldn't tire in combat. In the past, I've posted about how badass it was that English railway navvies were able to handle sledges three times heavier than moder construction workers, but Indian mace and club swingers blow even those guys out of the water with the weights they handle. When you think of club bells, if you know about them at all, you think of some skinny, ambiguously homosexual karateka in the back of your gym swinging 5 lbs bells in the darkened back corner of your gym while screaming his ridiculous karate screams and throwing the occasional piss-poor punch at the mirror. If you've never had the pleasure of witnessing such a spectacle, you need to get out more, as there are few things funnier than American karetekas doing pretty much anything. In any event, Indians training in akhadas still use heavy stone maces and clubs for training. They'd start with 5kg clubs and maces and then work up to 35 to 45 kg maces and 25 to 60lb clubs (that measured up to four and a half feet in length), getting so good with them that they could swing them all day (Wikipedia, Pahlavani). In training. For those of you who are unaware, it'd be hard for most people to raise a 77 to 99 lb club with both hands, because the majority of the weight is in the tip away from your hands. That sort of training should give you wrists and hands to rival freak of nature and unstoppable arm wrestler Denis Cyplenkov, in addition to badass shoulder strength. In short- club and mace training in India during India's strength training heyday was nothing whatsoever like the stupid shit you see bandied about on the internet these days- in their day, shit got real when the Indians busted out their clubs.
I don't think that's a club bell. It looks suspiciously like a giant dildo.
As time progressed, Indians became more and more obsessed with physical culture, stone throwing, wrestling, and weight lifting. By the establishment of the Maratha Empire, gymnasiums were incredibly widespread, and were associated heavily with the worship of Hanuman in Hinduism. This became so prevalent that the Indians began putting idols of Hanuman, the monkey god representing strength and valor, in every gym in the country. Though that seems about as reasonable as putting a statue of Samson in gyms throughout the American Southeast, it actually points to a really interesting facet of Indian physical culture. In the West, there exists in the minds of the populace what is termed the Cartesian formula, wherein the mind and body are two separate entities. In the Cartesian dynamic, the mind is the superior organ,and the body exists as its subordinate- the effeminate and adolescent Robin to a grizzled, hirsute, foul-mouthed Batman. There is no such distinction in the Hindu belief system, wherein the mind and body are much more like the Catholic Yahweh and Jesus, two components or equal parts of a larger whole, no more able to be separated than the elemental components of air with one's bare hands. Thus, a hulking, ripped, Herculean physique is incontrovertible evidence of a disciplined mind in India, whereas it is generally ascribed to heavy drug use or some other disordered behavior in the West.
"In American physical education and sport, strength is a purely physical phenomenon. It can be measured in objective terms: body mass, arm size, muscle-to-fat ratio, heart rate, weightlifting ability, and so forth. As such, strength is something that can be developed as purely somatic and as quantifiable and calibrated. While strength is also manifest as a physical attribute in India, it is, more significantly, linked to such ineffable cultural values as duty, devotion, and morality. It is neither purely somatic nor strictly quantifiable. A wrestler cannot be strong if he does not follow his guru's mandate. He cannot be strong and indulge in sensual pleasure. Strength is manifest not only in the size of his arm but also in the sparkle of his eye and the luster of his skin, symbols that indicate spirituality, devotion, and moral control." (Alter 4)The closest thing to which I could compare this in the West is the "muscular Christianity" movement, which is without question one of the most preposterous movements in any religion, anywhere. The principle concept in muscular Christianity is to build one's body for the subjugation of the world the Jewish god of the Old Testament gave to the Christians. This is, of course, fucking retarded, since the New Testament is a paean to pacifism and basically being a chill bro. To emulate the Indians, muscular Christians would have to modify statues of Jesus to make him look like a mashup of Buddy Jesus and Derek Poundstone, then start lifting and acting in such a way as to convey that they were attempting to achieve the ultimate in themselves rather than "glorify[ing] God in your body" (1 Corinthians 6:20), as Indans strove to emulate Hanuman's example and channel his spirit rather than worship him by making themselves more awesome. Given the abject failure of Muscular Christianity t gain a foothold in the minds and hearts of the West, and it's failure to produce more than a handful of elite athletes, I would posit that the Indian method appears to be the BMW M5 to Christianity's Ford Fiesta in that regard.
Hanuman got his fucking swole on.
Instead of engaging in the mild retardation exhibited by muscular Christians, Indians have utilized a very holistic methodology for developing the mind, body, and spirit simultaneously. It's for that reason that statues of Hanuman were found in gyms. In the mind of Indians, a strong, muscular body was a reflection of their strong mind, rather than evidence of their mind's ability to force the body to bend to its will. Additionally, unlike exercise as is generally practiced in the West, Indians specifically tailor their programs to the individual, and they feel their body expresses their individual personality. Thus, from an Indian's view, Westerners develop their bodies to exhibit "the lines of force of the generic human animal", whereas Indian training displays physically in the individual the "eccentricities his tastes and vices leave in his carnal substance" (Alter 5). Thus, you're not going to find in any old Indian training text a rigidly defined program of lifting and conditioning, as they believed (rightly) that there is no single system that will suit multiple people, and this belief has persisted for over 1000 years.
Former WR holder Karnam Malleswari might clean more than you do- 249 at 119lbs, and 286 at 151. Did I mention her 220 lb snatch? Also, holy fucking triceps.
"But", you might be thinking, "didn't you kick this fucker off by telling us that the Indian people are collectively worse at lifting than a tiny nation of car thieves?" I did indeed, but I was referring to modern Indians, who are basically a pale, sad shadow of their former selves after being systematically raped and robbed by the British. When the Brits raided the Indian national treasury and planted their boots on the throats of India, India pretty much gave up on lifting. They were, however, unmatched athletes in bygone eras.
- In the early 20th century, the professional wrestlers of India could "on the average, perform in their training five series of 300 'dunds'(body-swaying [pushups]) and three series of 1000 'batticks'([squats] performed on their toes) (Willoughby 258). To put that in perspective, that means that there were literally thousands of men in India 100 years ago who could match or exceed Herschell Walker in his legendary workouts, in spite of the fact that they were vegetarians. East Indians took this training a step further and added jump squats performed like baithaks, only they jumped as high as possible at the top of every reps. They could do up to 700 of those in a a row, which is a volume of work that would kill Crossfitters who consider a giant bowl of rhabdomyolysis part of a balanced breakfast (Willoughby 200).
- Rama Murti Naidu was a pro strongman from Madras known as the Indian Hercules who could support a 7000 lb elephant on a plank at a bodyweight of 195 (Willoughby 177).
- The Great Gama, legendary professional wrestler of the early 20th Century, was still doing 200 dunds and 400 baithaks followed by a four mile walk/run and three hours of wrestling a day... at age 69 (Willoughby 370)
- Hamida Banu, daughter of a famous Indian wrestler named Nadir, fought 300 professional wrestling matches after turning 19 and only faced other women three times (Willoughby 579). This is probably because she was built like a brick shithouse at 5'3" 215lbs. She remained unmarried long past what was considered proper due to the fact that she'd only marry a guy who could beat her in a match, and hardly anyone could.
- The aforementioned Karnam Malleswari is India's badass modern lifter and the holder of India's sole medal in the Olympics. One broad coming out of nowhere to take the mantle from Malleswari is Chandrika Tarafdar, a tiny lifter who just pulled down a bronze at the Youth World Weightlifting Championships. The 15 year old 97 lber just busted a 121lb snatch and 162.8lb clean and jerk in competition. Time to bust out the razors and the rat poison, fellas.
Dara Singh laughs at your legs and your squat rack.
Next, I'll cover how Indians trained and ate at the height of their dominance of the professional wrestling world, at which point you'll understand why I'm so impressed at their pushup and free squat abilities.
Alter, Joseph. The Wrestler's Body: Identity and Ideology in North India. California Scholarship Online. 12 May 1992.
Mujumdar, DC (ed.). Encyclopedia of Indian Physical Culture. 1950.
Schatz, William Jackson. Club Swinging for Physical Exercise and Recreation. Boston: American Gymnasia Company, 1908.
Traditional Iranian Martial Arts (Varzesh-e Pahlavani). Pahlavani.com. Web. 30 Sep 2012. http://www.pahlavani.com/ish/html/ph/new/meel.htm
Wikipedia. Mace (club). Wikipedia. Web. 30 Sep 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mace_(club)#Indian_Subcontinent