APART FROM THE CITIZENS OF KOLKATA, perhaps only a handful of people might resonate with this address: 19/D/H/7, Gobar Goho Sarani, Kolkata-700006. It is the site of a once-sprawling wrestling Akhara renamed since as Gobar Goho's Gymnasium.
Jatindra Charan Guha who attained international renown as an unputdownable pehlwan was popularly known by his ring name as Gobar Guha. His legacy ranks among the tallest — literally, too — stalwarts of the glorious tradition of pehlwani in Bengal. That state has reached such a pathetic nadir that the word “pehlwani” or “kushti” can probably be no longer associated with “Bengal.”
Gobar Goho hailed from a distinguished bloodline of legendary pehlwans. Although he was born into aristocracy and privilege, his ancestors were devoted to wrestling with a passion bordering on spirituality. They spent enormous fortunes towards nourishing and preserving this ancient sport cum art. His great grandfather had established a vast akhara in Masjid Bari street, about 1.5 kms from the Gobar Goho's Gymnasium.
Gobar Babu’s grandfather, Ambika Charan Guha (Ambu Babu) is often credited with heralding a Wrestling Renaissance in Bengal. His Akhara became a tirtha-kshetra for both aspirants and veterans of wrestling. Some of his celebrated disciples include Swami Vivekananda and Bagha Jatin.
This manly atmosphere at home naturally rubbed off on Gobar Babu who grew up to become a formidable pehlwan, chiselling his body like a finely-sculpted stone. His prowess in the ring both in India and abroad was extolled and feted. He went on smash all previous records in wrestling and aced several championships beginning his wrestling career at the age of 18.
In 1910, the John Bull Society of London organised a worldwide wrestling championship bout to which wrestlers from all over the world were invited. In the tour, Gobar Babu fought in Italy, England and Switzerland. In his second European tour which began in 1912, he pummelled greats like Campbell, Jimmy Esson, and Georg Hackenschmidt. In 1921, Gobar Guha became the first Asian to win the World Light Heavyweight Championship in America.
OUR STORY IS SET IN 1913. By then, Gobar Babu’s name had already made waves in Europe. The public was eager to know more about this “boy” who had stormed the wrestling world starting three years ago. The May 1913 issue of the London-based magazine, Health and Strength: The National Organ of Physical Fitness published an article titled, “GOBAR THE 18ST. BOY WRESTLER FROM INDIA, WHO WEARS A COLLAR 160 LBS IN WEIGHT.”
Here are some excerpts from that delightful profile of Gobar Babu.
In a garden at the rear of a house in Hampstead, within a stone’s throw of the Heath, I saw him for the first time. A mat was spread upon the lawn, and he—that massive, that wonderful, Indian, J. C. Goho Gobar—was wrestling with an Englishman scarcely less massive than himself—the well-known Phil Lane, of Oxford. Phil was panting furiously; he was doing his level best to make that Indian go all put, but he was not going out at all.
Goho Gobar is only 20 years of age, but what a terror of a young giant he is; just like a great big boy with sparkling intelligent eyes—a boy to whom life is full of joy and beauty, because he is so strong and glories in his strength. I do hope you, my readers, will have an opportunity of seeing him, and it will not be the fault of Mr. George Harrington, his manager, if you do not.
Gobar has come to England to meet the best heavyweights we have, and it is not unlikely that the unconquerable Jimmy Esson will take him on. For Jimmy is afraid of no man, and if he and the Indian come to grips there’ll be a match worth going many miles to see, and don’t you forget it.
But there’s one man Gobar has set his heart on meeting, and that is Gotch, the champion of the world.
After all there’s nothing very remarkable in the fact that he is a good wrestler, for he comes of wrestling stock—one of the most famous wrestling stocks, in India.
He was born in Calcutta in 1892. His uncle was a famous wrestler and his granddad a more famous wrestler still. He is a Hindoo and though he has met famous Indian wrestlers he has never yet been beaten. I wonder whether he will ever be. Gama (you remember Gama, don’t you? Zbysco does at any rate) used to train him, but even he could never throw the young giant. He has also wrestled with the brother of Ghulam who in 1900 won the championship of the world at Paris.
Intense interest is being taken in his progress over yonder in India I assure you: and I’m not surprised at that, for India has reasons to be proud of such strong men as he.
The house at which I ran him to earth is inhabited by a select company of Indian students. Gobar comes of a good and well-to-do family. There are no female servants in the house, and here he trains just as though he were in his native land.
No English food will he touch: everything has to be cooked by his own servants. His food comprises fowls and plenty of butter, and he is very fond of almonds crushed and cooked with sugar and water — and a very dainty dish it makes.
He is an absolute teetotaler, but he smokes—or rather plays with a cigarette now and then—perhaps once in a month on the average.
I saw him training and I wonder how many of our British strong men will be able to keep pace with him.
He has two lots of clubs—one weighing 5O lbs the other 100 lbs each. I saw him lift the latter up by the knobs and swing them over his shoulders over and over again.
He tells me that in wrestling with his mat partners, he never gets sufficient exercise for the neck muscles; none of them are able to get sufficient grip upon it.
So he uses a stone collar in the shape of a life-buoy, and with this round his neck and resting on his shoulders, he runs up and down stairs—just for a little exercise. I saw him do it and let me tell you, it weighs 160 lbs. I shouldn’t care to run many miles in that anyway.
Again, he has brought over with him from India, a family heirloom that has been handed down from his grandfather, who used it more that half a century ago. I’m quite sure when he came over, he had to pay a big sum for excess luggage on that. None but he was able to move that, but he lay down on his back and grasping the cylindrical bar that forms a bridge in the centre of the stone, he draws it towards him, and then raises it up perpendicularly above his body.
It is truly a wonderful feat but how the B. W. L. A. (British Weight Lifters Association ) would describe it and whether they will grant him a certificate, I can’t exactly say.
It is quite on the cards that Gobar will take part in the wrestling tournament in the Anglo German Exhibition at the Crystal Palace, and, if he does, I advise you all to go and watch him. It would be worth your while only if just to see what this Indian Hercules really looks like. With all his massive strength, his muscles are as pliable and his limbs as supple as those of a runner, and on the mat he is as quick as lightning.
His measurements are as follows:
Height: 6 ft 1 inch
Chest: 48-50 inches
Waist: 42 inches
Biceps: 18 inches
Forearm: 13 1/2 inches
Wrist: 8 inches
Thigh: 30 inches
Calf: 18 inches
Neck: 18 1/2 inches
Weight: 18 stone (290 lbs)
It would be a matter of great pleasure to the Indian public to learn that Gobar has made himself very prominent by defeating the two conspicuous British wrestlers. He met Mr. Campbell, the British Champion in Glasgow on the 30th of August and defeated him in about 50 minutes.
His success has won him much reputation and the spacious building of Olympia in Edinburgh was packed to the door when Gobar measured his strength with that of Esson, another famous wrestler of Britain, “the unconquerable Jimmy Esson.”
The Gohos have been a family of banias for four generations. Gobar’s father, Babu Ram Charan Goho, is the bania of Messrs. Hoare Miller & Co. He also is a very strong tall, and stout man of simple habits.
Gobar had his training from his uncle the late Babu Khetter Charan Gohar. Famous wrestlers from all parts of India, such as Gama, Kalloo, Rahamani, etc., could not beat him. Their remuneration varied from Rs. 4 to Rs. 6 per diem.
Gobar has had English education up to the matriculation standard.
When in Calcutta, besides the ordinary diet of Bengalis, Gobar Babu took the following: Akni of meat mixed with about 1 kg of ghee, 4oo almonds and 2 ounces of small cardamoms; the juice of 1 1/2 seers of Kabuli pomegranates; gold-leaf worth one rupee and silver-leaf worth two annas; thandai mixed with almonds and spices; one seer of milk; fruit worth a rupee a day.
JATINDRA CHARAN GUHO lived a full and fruitful life dedicated to the noble sport of pehlwani. He retired from competitive wrestling in 1944, blazing a 34-year-long trail of glory and trained legions of students in his mould. It is said that his superhuman achievements inspired Bengali Hindus to pursue wrestling as a career, which was regarded as the preserve of Muslims. The renowned Bengali bodybuilder, Manohar Aich regarded him as his ideal.
Gobar Babu joined the ranks of the immortals in 1972, aged eighty. His Akhara has been lovingly maintained by his disciples who have preserved his cot, exercise equipment and other memorabilia.
|| Śaktiḥ sundaram ||
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