Who knew panja could turn into a nail-biting, thrilling sport? This pair stopped at nothing to take this childhood game to the next level.
My elder son, all of eight years of age, was extremely enthusiastic about this article. Why? Because it’s about arm-wrestling, popularly known as panja, a game he loves to play. Little did we both know that arm wrestling is a competitive sport that attracts participants not just from various parts of India but also the world to its battleground.
Pro Panja League, an arm wrestling league conducted it’s very first tournament in February, 2020, just before the pandemic-induced lockdown began. The brain-child of Parvin Dabas and Preeti Jhnagiani, this tournament had more than 250 participants from 15 states across India. One of the unique features of this league is that men, women, and specially-abled participants are all on an equal footing when it comes to competing.
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The Better India caught up with Parvin and Preeti, who spoke about how the league was conceptualised, what it entails, and the work going into making this an international league.
Next level sport
For Parvin, who spent his childhood in Delhi, panja was something that every child grew up playing. “It was a very popular game among my cousins and friends. What I like is its aggressive but non-violent nature. I saw potential to make it more than just a game,” says Parvin. The sport isn’t like martial arts or karate, and allows you to showcase your strength without the use of violence.
“It is a game that is very popular in many Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities in India, and in putting together the Pro Panja league, our intent was to take Indian players to an international stage,” says Parvin.
The league had six weight categories for men and two for women. For men, the categories are 60kgs, 70kgs, 80kgs, 90kgs, 100kgs and 100kg plus, while for women the categories are 65kgs and 65kgs plus and an open category for the specially abled.
Ring side view
Preeti, who was born and raised in Mumbai, says this was an entirely new experience for her. “Panja wasn’t something I was familiar with until this league came together,” she says. Speaking about her experience of watching the initial few matches courtside, she says, “The sheer intensity that I witnessed blew my mind. Some of the participants we had were national level players, and all that they needed was a nudge to push them forward.”
What this sporting event guarantees its spectators, Preeti says, is “thrill”. “Many of the matches went down to the wire and as a spectator we sat on the edge of our seats biting our nails.”
Having won nine national level medals in arm wrestling, Sunil Kumar (37) a resident of Amritsar, who won the gold medal in the 100 kg category at the Pro Panja league 2020, says, “This platform was different as it took it to a whole new level. We had large audiences cheering us on during the matches and everything was streamlined.” He adds, “Arm wrestling is a sport that is conducted in many countries. Pro Panja has simply elevated the sport in India to a level where we can now think of hosting other countries here.”
Manish Kumar, who participated under the specially-abled category, is afflicted with Polio. At the Pro Panja League, he won the gold under the specially-abled category and has also represented India seven times in the World Championship circuit. He says, “Arm wrestling might look like an easy sport, but we train for almost 10 to 12 hours before competing. Strength training and various exercises to train our hands and even fingers is what we focus on.” Having participated in several international arm wrestling events, he says that having a league in India is something that he cherishes.
The gold medallists were awarded Rs 15,000, while the silver medallists received Rs 10,000 and the bronze medallists won Rs 5,000 as prize money. This was constant across all three categories (men, women and specially-abled).
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Panja – a sport with rules
While there is no time limit assigned to each match it is upto the referees to call the match to a halt if one or both participants, in their opinion, are unfit to carry the match forward. Each match is officiated by two referees, one on each side of the table.
Before the match begins, the participants are required to grip each other’s palm in such a manner that the thumb knuckle is visible. The match begins only when the referees are satisfied with the grip of both the participants. Each participant should attempt to pin their opponent’s arm onto a touch pad placed next to each player.
As simple as it may sound, there are various fouls that the referees need to keep an eye out for. Touching a part of your own body with your free hand during the match, dropping the shoulder below the height of the touch pad, using expletives, abusing or displaying poor sportsmanship are considered fouls.
The next edition of the Pro Panja League is scheduled to take place in 2021 and you can click here to get more details.
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)
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