Today’s India prides itself on soft power. Even the soft power of Bollywood is soft. Every Bollywood hero has to dance to be successful. It is hard to imagine today that once the billboards all over Mumbai used to display large images of a wrestler, a world-champion and a folk hero. Every week, a famous wrestler from another country used to come to Mumbai to wrestle India’s hero only to lose.
That wrestler was Dara Singh. He was the symbol of Maruti, the Son of the Divine Wind Marut. The legendary Maruti or Hanuman is the epitome of strength, valor and justice. Akshay Kumar, a Bollywood Star and a martial arts practitioner described him as “Hanuman for every kid and the God of all wrestlers, the original action hero who truly inspired me.”
Born as Deedar Singh Randhawa (same last name as the maiden name of South Carolina Governor Nicki Haley), he took the name Dara Singh as his wrestling nom de plume. He was 6’2″ tall, weighed about 290 lbs and his chest measured 54 inches. Despite his massive physique and his skills, he never fought dirty.
We remember, as if it were yesterday, the visit to Mumbai of a seven foot tall American wrestler named Sky-High Lee. Lee used illegal moves in his match and was disqualified. Dara Singh’s younger brother Randhawa climbed into the ring after the match. Livid with anger, Randhawa said to Sky-High Lee “Bhai Jaan (my esteemed brother) does not fight dirty. But I do”. Then he issued a challenge to Sky-High Lee for a no-referee, no-holds barred fight the following week.
The following week, Randhawa climbed into the ring, removed the padding from all the poles of the ring. For 45 minutes, Randhawa beat up Sky-High Lee and put him in the hospital. The crowd roared with approval. This was classic WWE, some 50 years before today’s WWE was formed.
After his Bollywood career, Dara Singh joined Bollywood as a strong man and starred in 121 Hindi films and 21 Panjabi films. He was universally respected even in an industry notorious for egos and feuds.
This week Dara Singh passed away at the age of 84. Below are a couple of tributes to him:
- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – “I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing away of Dara Singh, who has been an inspiration and icon to many generations in our country.”
- Amitabh Bachchan – “A great Indian and one of the finest humans,…An entire era of his celebrated
Shah Rukh Khan – “Wrestlers are made of sweat, determination & a hard to find alloy
called guts…most apt for Dara Singhji our very own Superman.”
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