Who was Hamida Banu? Google Doodle celebrates India's first female wrestler whom no man could defeat

Known as the ‘Amazon of Aligarh’, Hamida Banu weighed a 108 kg with a height of 5 feet 3 inches; her daily diet included things like 5.6 liters of milk, half a kilo of ghee, 1 kilo of mutton.

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The year was 1944 and the place was a stadium in Bombay, which was packed. The crowd of about 2,00,00 people was shouting and clapping enthusiastically. Just a few minutes later, there was going to be a wrestling match between a female wrestler and the legendary wrestler of that era, Gunga Pahalwan. The ring was set and the match was about to kick off when suddenly Gunga Pahalwan withdrew his name. The organizers said that Gunga had set such conditions which were impossible to accept. He demanded more money and asked for more time to prepare for the match.


As soon as the announcement of cancellation of the match was made, the crowd became furious and started vandalizing the stadium. The next day, some media houses published articles claiming that Gunga Pahalwan had cancelled the match in fear of Hamida Banu...' Banu was the female wrestler who was to compete with Gunga Pahalwan. Known as India's first female wrestler, she is being remembered today (May 4) by Google through Google Doodle. So who was the pioneering female wrestler being commemorated through Google Doodle, who even the great male wrestlers of that era feared? Here is all about Hamida Banu:


Who was Hamida Banu?

Hamida Banu was born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh and was interested in wrestling from the beginning. In that time period wrestling was limited to men’s participation only. Not only were women not allowed, but even the thought of a woman entering the arena was frowned upon. When Hamida told her family about her dreams of pursuing wrestling, she was scolded for her ambitions. However, Hamida rebelled and came to Aligarh. Here she learned the tricks of wrestling from Salaam Pahalwan and then started competing.


Hamida Banu came into spotlight in the year 1954 when she made a strange announcement: 'I will marry the one who defeats me'. Bano announced that she would marry the male wrestler who defeated her in wrestling. After this announcement, all the wrestlers accepted her challenge, but none could stand in front of Hamida Banu. The first match was against the wrestling champion of Patiala and the second against the champion of Calcutta, both of whom suffered defeat at the hands of Banu.


According to a news report, in the same year, Hamida Banu reached Vadodara (then known as Baroda) for her third match with Chhote Gama Pahalwan. At this point, she was gaining popularity so the fight’s posters and banners were put up at various places in the city. From rickshaws to handburrows, their fight was being promoted. Chotte Gama Pahalwan was under the protection of the Maharaja of Baroda, but at the last moment he backed out of the match saying that he would not wrestle with a woman. After this, Hamida faced Baba Pahalwan.


According to a report dated 3 May 1954, the match between Hamida Banu and Baba Pahalwan lasted for 1 minute 34 seconds and Hamida defeated Baba. Along with this, the referee announced that there is no male wrestler who can defeat Hamida and marry her.


By the time Hamida Banu reached Baroda in 1954, she had won at least 300 matches and was named 'Amazon of Aligarh'. Every day, news related to Hamida Bano's height, weight, diet was published in newspapers. Hamida Bano weighed a whopping 108 kg with a height of just  5 feet 3 inches. Her daily diet included 5.6 liters of milk, 2.8 liters of soup, 1.5 liters of fruit juice, about 1 kg of mutton, almonds, half a kg of ghee and two plates of biryani, as per reports.


Academic Ronojoy Sen wrote in his book 'Nation at Play: A History of Sport in India' that the society at that time was feudal and could not tolerate a female wrestler defeating a male wrestler in the arena. Therefore, Hamida Bano had to face opposition on many occasions. There was to be a match between Hamida and Ramchandra Salunke in Pune, but the Wrestling Federation was adamant and the match was to be cancelled. On another occasion, when Hamida Bano defeated a male wrestler, people started pelting stones and the police had to escort her to safety.


Due to the rampant patriarchy, an undeclared ban was imposed on Hamida Bano in Maharashtra. Ronojoy Sen writes in his book that Hamida Bano also made a written complaint about this to the then Chief Minister of Maharashtra Morarji Desai. Desai replied her contest was not being cancelled that because she was a woman, but the organizers were complaining that dummy candidates were being fielded to contest with Bano.


Foray into International Wrestling and fighting Russia's 'Female Bear'

In the year 1954, there was a competition between Hamida Banu and Russian wrestler Vera Chistilin in Mumbai. Vera was called the 'female bear' of Russia, but could not stand even a minute in front of Hamida. Hamida destroyed Vera in less than a minute. In the same year, she announced that she would go out of India to Europe and wrestle internationally.


Hamida Banu’s marriage

Hamida's coach Salam Pahalwan did not like the idea of her going to Europe to wrestle. Both of them got married and then started a dairy business in Kalyan near Mumbai. However, Hamida did not give up her insistence on going to Europe and wrestling. A report quoting Hamida Bano's grandson Firoz Shaikh, wrote that Salaam Pahalwan beat Hamida Bano so much that her hand was broken. She also suffered a serious leg injury. After this, she had to walk with the help of a stick for many years.


Tragic Death in Obscurity

After a few years, Salaam Pahalwan returned to Aligarh and Hamida Bano remained in Kalyan to continue her milk business. In later days, she also sold food items on the roadside. The tale finds a tragic end as she could not compete after the injuries. Sadly, she died in anonymity in the year 1986. According to her family, her last days were difficult, an unfortunate end for a fierce warrior who fought against the norms of her era.