The art of Pahelwani was handed down from generation to generation, existing in its highest form in the schools of wrestlers maintained by the wealth of the princely states situated throughout the land.
Many of the best pahelwans in pre-Partition Punjab were a product of the three main Pahelwani schools: the Nurewala, Kaloowala and Kotwala schools.
The pioneering Nurewala School of the modern Pahelwani style has its origins in the 17th century. Its founding father was Ustad Nur-ud-din Pahelwan, ‘Qutab-i-Zaman’ (Greatest in the World). This master of the art was said to have developed 361 daw-pech techniques.
The school’s prime representatives were Chirag Ali Wala, who held a much younger Ghulam Pahelwan to a two-and-a-half-hour draw in Jodhpur, Khalifa Meraj Din (1832-1910) and his cousin Khalifa Ghulam Mohi-ud-din (1876?-1962). The latter toured Europe in 1911 and pinned Maurice Gambier, the Greco-Roman Champion of the World, twice with ease. No other European would meet him and the American, Frank Gotch (‘catch-as-catch-can’ or freestyle World Champion), pretended not to hear his challenge.
Another member of the Nurewala School was Biddo Brahmin (circa 1872-1949), the greatest Hindu wrestler since the giant Kikkar Singh.
This stable also produced Karim Baksh Pelra (born 1871) of Gujranwala. He hit the world headlines in 1892 when he flattened the British national champion, Tom Cannon, twice in ten minutes at Calcutta, despite being three stone lighter. After beating Kalloo, Ghulam’s younger brother, Karim Baksh Pelra held the Indian crown for five years.