Gurus in India from ancient times have always helped their students to excel in life. One such Dronacharya is Satpal Singh or the Mahabali Satpal, who has helped Indians sports in producing Olympics medallists and world champions.
Wrestling is the oldest sport in the world and also the oldest Olympic sports. It was part of Ancient Olympic Games held in Greece in 708 B.C. When the modern Olympics were founded in 1896, wrestling was one of the nine sports on the program.
As wrestling finds its root in ancient India, it is believed that wrestling is India’s gift to the world. And yet, it remained a lesser celebrated sport in India and the flip-flop state of the Indian wrestlers remained unanswered till the recent past.
In the last decade, Indian wrestlers have excelled in both Asian and Commonwealth Games and credit goes to Gurus and coaches who did not leave any stone unturned in preparing them for the podium.
Life and Times of Mahabali Satpal Singh
82 & 100kg freestyle
Date of Birth
11th May 1955
Bawana village in Delhi
1974 - Arjuna Award (Wrestling) 1983 - Padma Shri 2009 - Dronacharya Award 2015 - Padma Bhushan
Satpal Singh was born on 1 February 1955 in Bawana village in Delhi. Though his father was a wrestler in their village, he did not want Satpal Singh to take up the sport. As he was good in studies and was getting a scholarship of Rs 50 in 1968, his father wanted him to concentrate on education.
How it started for Satpal Singh?
One fine day when some boys fought and clobbered Satpal Singh in school, his mother asked the father to start taking him to the akhada.
“That was my first wrestling school, near a pond in the village,” remembers Satpal Singh. A year later as he shaped up and his confidence grew, he joined the Guru Hanuman Akhada in Delhi.
Participation & Achievements of Mahabali Satpal Singh
He started his wrestling journey as a student of the legendary wrestling coach Guru Hanuman — winning in a range of weight categories, from 35 kg when he started to 100 kg.
Mahabali Satpal has been a national heavyweight champion 16 times, has won over 3000 big and small matches in his career, and has played 21 wrestling matches in one day in his heydays.
- Won bronze medal in Asian Games 1974 at Tehran.
- Silver medals in the Commonwealth Games 1974, 1978, and 1982.
- Silver medal in Asian Games 1978 at Bangkok.
- Won Gold medal in Asian Games 1982 at Delhi.
- Won Gold medals in Commonwealth Wrestling Championship 1979 and 1981.
He also participated in various editions of World Wrestling Championship. The nameplate outside his office boastfully reads “Mahabali” Satpal Singh, which is reminiscent of those days of glory.
Satpal Singh and the Longest wrestling match
Satpal Singh played his longest match in Belgaum in 1981. It went on for 40 minutes.
Remembering his longest bout Satpal says
“Wrestling then was very different from wrestling now. It’s very fast now. One round is limited to two minutes. It went on for 40 minutes! I was pitched against (Rustam-e-Hind) Dadu Chougule. It took me that long to bring him down.”
His shortest round ever, played in Varanasi against a wrestler from Pakistan, lasted just five seconds.
- 1974 – Arjuna Award (Wrestling)
- 1983 – Padma Shri
- 2009 – Dronacharya Award
- 2015 – Padma Bhushan
The Guru who gave India Olympic Medallist: Sushil Kumar & Yogeshwar Dutt
Even now at the age of 66, Singh reaches Chhatrasal Akhara at 4 am every day and looks after the training of budding wrestlers. In the evening again he walks into the akhara where his students are sweating it out, each one of them reaches out to touch his feet. Having paid their respects, they go back to their rigorous regime. Some of them have already started winning competitions.
Satpal Singh akhara has one philosophy that techniques and inspiration can come from any source — even the choreographed rounds of World Wrestling Entertainment. Whatever new the wrestlers learn on their trips abroad, they have to demonstrate to their fellow wrestlers when they return to akhara.
Lesser Known facts of Satpal Singh
- Satpal used to drink 10 litres of milk a day during his wrestling years. Now he makes do with only 3 litres.
- Two individual wrestling Olympic medals winner Sushil Kumar is Satpal’s son-in-law.
- Satpal did a Haryanvi film called Premi Ramphal in 1985.
- Satpal Singh works as Additional Director of sports and physical education (Delhi).
- He wants to enter politics, which he says is not completely unchartered territory for him.
Guru Hanuman Akhara – Breeding ground for India’s Wrestlers…
Akhara built by Guru Hanuman in 1919, has honed some of the best wrestlers in the country, including Dara Singh, Satpal Singh, commonwealth Gold medalist Subhash Verma. Guru Hanuman died in 1999.
Despite having a small space of 800 yards, combined with a severe lack of infrastructure and funds, the akhara has produced 15 Arjuna awardees, 1 Dhyan Chand, 7 Dronacharya, 3 Padma Shri, 1 Padma Bhushan awardee.
A few years back, the Government offered a larger space for the wrestling school, but the students and staff firmly believe that the land and its mitti are blessed and that Guru Hanuman continues to be present in spirit among them. They refused to relocate to a bigger space.
“If Guruji hadn’t set up this akhara, we wouldn’t have had Satpal Singh, and without Satpal, we probably wouldn’t have Sushil,” says Coach Maha Singh Rao, who’s been coaching young grapplers at the Akhara since 1984.
Satpal Singh still bows in respect for his guru – Guru Hanuman and asks his trainees to follow the guru-shishya parampara to achieve success.