In pre-Partition Punjab, wrestling competitions called ‘dangals’ were commonly held at village level and in the major cities.
The main events in major cities such as Lahore were held on Sundays. A grand procession was held a day before in which trumpets were blown and loud drums beaten to attract a crowd. The participants would take part in this procession. Wearing a long silken embroidered shirt (‘kurta’) and colourful waist wrap (‘dhoti’), a pahelwan would sit proudly on the front seat of a newly-polished, dazzling horse-driven wagon (‘tonga’) as it made its way through the streets.
Ringing a large bell, an elderly khalifa would make the announcement of the location of the arena, the name, mentor and school of participating pahelwans, and the approximate timing of the eight to ten contests to be held.
In Lahore, Minto Park was the main centre for the bouts. The bouts took place on raked earth, with no penalty for going outside. Locks were permitted; striking and kicking were not. But the rules were flexible and dirty wrestlers were given some latitude.
Matches began from the standing posture but at no particular distance apart. There was usually a jockey for position and subsequently an entry and clinch. Great importance was placed on the entry and clinch because, if done properly, it gave the advantage. Thus, pahelwans would often move back out if not satisfied with their position.
From the clinch there was more jockeying for position and looking for the takedown. Everything was about posture and position, weight and balance. From this position there was a lot of pummelling, sweeps, throws and lifts, all geared towards the takedown. Since all techniques were tied together as a thread (‘sutra’), each move (daw) was followed by a countermove (pech).
Most bouts had one referee (‘munsaf’) in the pit and two judges outside. Rules varied from place to place but normally a win was awarded by either a decision from the panel of judges, stoppage or submission. A bout ran for a specified time, often an hour, without rest, or until a decision was made by the judges.