KD Jadhav: The man who put Indian wrestling on the world map

Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav won an independent India’s first individual medal at the 1952 Games in Helsinki.

Khashaba Jadhav did not have the physique of a wrestler. He was a short, gawky student who attended Raja Ram College in Kolhapur and aspired to be a pehelwan, just like his father.   -  The Hindu Photo Library

Tucked away in one corner in Goleshwar, a small town in Maharashtra, Olympic Niwas is an old-fashioned bungalow with a muddy lawn and surrounded by a few coconut trees. But most striking, as one enters the premises, are the Olympic emblems crafted on the gate.

As one walks further, Ranjit Jadhav, the man of the house, greets with a smile. “Welcome to the home of independent India’s first individual Olympic medallist, Khashaba Jadhav.”

Khashaba Jadhav won a bronze medal in wrestling at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

His father, Dadasaheb, was a wrestler, too. And that’s one of the reasons that Khashaba Jadhav — one of Dadasaheb’s five sons — fell in love with the sport at an early age. While some of the locals claim he would visit the akhadas at the age of five, there is also a belief that he took up the sport between eight and ten.

READ | Balbir Singh Sr on 1948 Olympics hockey gold: I felt as if I was flying

One of Khashaba’s childhood friends — and perhaps the oldest resident of the village — Ganpat Parsuram Jadhav remembers the time when they would play mallakhamb, the traditional Indian sport. “As kids, we were pretty good at the sport. We would take taalim (learn and train) together and then he pursued wrestling,” Ganpat says.

Khashaba did not have the physique of a wrestler. He was a short, gawky student who attended Raja Ram College in Kolhapur and aspired to be a pehelwan, just like his father. While he was initially left out of the school annual sports event due to his physique, Khashaba approached the principal, who agreed to give him “one chance.”

He went on to tame his opponents, twice his size, with ease. The biggest surprise, however, came in 1948 when he defeated national flyweight champion Niranjan Das, who hailed from Bengal, at the trials in Lucknow and went on to participate at the London Olympics. The trip was financed by the Maharaja of Kolhapur and Khashaba finished sixth.

Khashaba Jadhav’s son Ranjit has approached various ministries to mark July 23 — the wrestler’s birth date — in honour of his late father, but so far, there have only been assurances.   -  Raju Sanadi

 

Ahead of the 1952 Helsinki Games, there were financial woes. After Independence, the princely states had been abolished and Khashaba had to seek public donations for his trip. Around ₹8,000 was required and the sanctioned government funds hadn’t arrived. “In today’s times, you can’t even believe such a thing. But such were the times then...,” Khashaba’s son Ranjit says.

He had heard stories from his father that while the public paid for his kit, R. Khardikar, the principal of Kolhapur’s Raja Ram College, mortgaged his house for ₹4,000. It was done to ensure that his ward could participate in the Games. But over the years, Jadhav made sure he repaid the loans.

READ | 1936 Berlin Games: Dhyan Chand’s farewell Olympics

After competing in the flyweight category in London, Khashaba featured in bantamweight in Helsinki. If there was a language barrier, another major problem was getting used to the mat. Having trained in the mud of the akhadas, it was not easy to get used to a new format and new rules. But even then, he managed to win four out of six bouts and eventually lost to Russia’s Rashid Mammadbeyov.

It was heartbreak for sure, but then, Khashaba’s feat in Helsinki not only helped independent India win its first individual medal, but also put Indian wrestling on the world map. Jadhav died in a road accident in 1984, and over the years, Ranjit has approached various ministries to mark July 23 — the wrestler’s birth date — in honour of his late father, but so far, there have only been assurances.