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Hamida Banu: The “Amazon of Aligarh”

Text on image about a competition between a strong woman named Hamida Banu and men to win her hand in marriage by defeating her in wrestling.

In the male-dominated world of wrestling, Hamida Banu stands out as a true icon. Widely considered India’s first female wrestler, Banu’s career in the 1940s and 1950s shattered barriers and challenged societal norms.

Early Life and Stepping into the Arena

Born in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, in the early 1900s, details about Hamida Banu’s early life are too little. However, what shines through is her unwavering passion for wrestling. At a time when women’s participation in athletics was discouraged, Banu defied expectations. Growing up, she honed her skills, l under the guidance of local male wrestlers or perhaps inspired by a family tradition.

Nicknamed the “Amazon of Aligarh,” Banu’s confidence and skill were undeniable. Her most famous challenge – “beat me in a bout and I’ll marry you” – became a legend. This audacious declaration wasn’t just about finding a spouse; it was a public display of her unwavering belief in her abilities. Reports suggest she successfully defended this challenge against multiple male wrestling champions, including a champion from Patiala and another from Kolkata. These victories not only established her dominance but also garnered her national recognition.

A Career Filled with Victories and Recognition

Banu’s wrestling career spanned over two decades. While official records are limited, historical accounts suggest she won over 300 matches, amassing a dedicated following across India. Newspapers of the time documented some of her victories, including a particularly impressive win against the renowned wrestler Chotte gama pehlwan, who had close ties to the Maharajah of Baroda.

Perhaps Banu’s most celebrated victory came in 1954. She challenged the legendary wrestler Baba Pahalwan in Vadodara. This highly anticipated match drew a massive crowd and captured national attention. Banu’s exceptional technique and strength proved too much for Pahalwan, and she emerged victorious in a stunningly short time – just 1 minute and 34 seconds. This win not only solidified her reputation as an undefeated champion but also earned her international recognition. News reports suggest she even defeated a female wrestler from Russia, Vera Chistilin, in a highly publicized match.

Beyond Victories: The Struggles of Hamida Banu

Despite her achievements, Banu’s journey wasn’t without hardships. Conservative social norms meant she faced criticism and even physical assaults. Newspapers reported incidents where she was stoned after defeating male opponents. Her numerous victories and the sheer number of matches she won are a testament to her exceptional talent and unwavering spirit.

Later in life, Banu reportedly faced financial struggles. Yet, her legacy as a wrestling pioneer remains strong. Hamida Banu’s story continues to inspire aspiring female wrestlers in India and worldwide. She is a symbol of resilience, courage, and the power to break barriers.

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