Name in Original Language
Area Where Played
Boli Khela is a traditional wrestling sport in Bangladesh, which is very popular in the Chittagong region. The origin of Boli Khela is not known, but it is traditionally believed to have started being played during the Mughal dynasty (1526 - 1857) in the subcontinent. In the year 1902 (or 1909), a man named Abdul Jabbar Saudagar started organizing Boli Khela in Chittagang. He aimed to prepare the countrymen, mainly the young people, to fight against the then British rule. The golden age of this sport lasted from the end of World War I to the partition of India. Every year (usually the 12th Baishakh of the Bengali calendar) in the summer, this special event, called Jabbarer Boli Khela, is held at “Lal Dighi Maidan” in Chittagong, which attracts a big number of crowds from various parts of the country, including tourists from around the world. There are some other Boli Khelas that exists in the Chittagong region, such as Shahabuddiner Boli Khela etc.
The game was patronized by the Muslim rulers in the medieval period. The best wrestlers of the kingdom used to showcase their physical strength in special events in front of crowds. Many of such wrestlers were sent by the Muslim Emperors to fight the enemies whenever there were any invasions. The affluent zaminders used recognize wrestlers as symbol of security and status.
Boli mostly showed up during the special festive occasions to perform in front of crowds. Use of various musical instruments such as drums and flutes increased the intensity of the game and publicized the event. In addition, the music creates an exciting environment while the players showcase their talents.
Some scholar state that Boli Khela originated from the Arakan state of Myanmar (Burma). They argue that the Chittagong region was a part of the Arakan state a few hundred years back and that Boli Khela subsisted there.
Boli Khela generally translates to the “Game of strong men,” or the “Game of wrestlers” in English. It is a combat sport that includes grappling techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and take downs, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds. The game is played in a circular or square ground of sand or mud. The participants are not allowed to use any weapons and have to fight with their bare hands and legs. Games are usually 10-30 minutes long and the game ends when one of the wrestler’s (Boli) falls back on the ground. The participants normally wear traditional costumes, called lungi, during the game. Nowadays, many players prefer wearing short pants.
Two players stand in a straight line face-to-face, with the presence of a referee, in the circular or square ground of sand, mud, or grass. With a signal of the referee, both players stand in front of each other with a body bent position, and touch heads while holding hands tightly for few moments.
The players are allowed to grab each other’s hands and apply techniques to make his opponent fall on the ground. If a contestant is able to touch the backside of his opponent’s body on the ground, he is considered as the winner.
Boli Khela is a competition based on a series of rounds. A player is eliminated from the round if he falls on the ground. The winner from the first round prepares himself for another game with a different player. In this way, one player is qualified for the second or the quarter final round. The number of rounds the competition entails depends on the number of competitors.
During the game, players are not allowed to use weapons or objects made from metal, wooden, plastic, glass etc. Punches, blows, kicks and solid pushes from the head or legs are not allowed. For final touchdowns, techniques that involve the use of the hands such as dirt, grapple, clinch and hold up are not allowed.
If none of the players can defeat his opponent after playing for a long time, then the referee can the game a draw. However, if a player wins one round after another, including the quarter-final, semi-final and final-round of the competition, then he is awarded the title, champion of the year.