Did you know long before the west got the hang of body building, Indians were sweating it out with dumbbells? Read on to know about the best Indian bodybuilders and their history.
The eternal saga of bodybuilding in India began long before you even existed. If you’re thinking that bodybuilding is a western rara avis, you might have to give it a second thought. How ancient is bodybuilding in India?
Let’s get on the time machine and travel back to when it all started in India.
The history of Indian bodybuilding dates back to 1100 AD and by 1500 AD bodybuilding had become a national passion. In medieval India stones and sacks of sand were used for weightlifting. A popular form of exercise equipment was ‘Nal’ made of rough stone with a hole through the centre. A giant wooden club or a ‘Mudgal’ was another such equipment carrying pre-historic hangover. Stone wheels with holes were used largely for building massive shoulders and a strong neck.
Bodybuilding in India in the 19th century owes a larger share of credit to Professor K. V Iyer, a physician to the Maharaja of Mysore
Being a South Indian Brahmin, Iyer forbade meat. He was a complete vegetarian and teetotaler. Grains, like unpolished rice and ragi, were his dietary staples. Vegetables, fruits and buttermilk provided him with enough nutrients. Professor Iyer started Hercules gym in Bangalore in 1930 and trained more than 25000 students through this gym. He believed in imparting education through demonstration and explanation. Those who couldn’t enroll in the gym learned through correspondence. For outstation students, Iyer had set up a lodging facility as well. Undoubtedly, the Hercules gym played a focal point in Indian bodybuilding history as it guided bodybuilding initiates with the right information. In the year 1938, Iyer wrote a book called “Chemical Changes in Physical Exercise”, in English, without realizing the profundity of his own work. In the year 1940, he was aptly awarded The Doctorate degree from Missouri University.
Post-independence, four names stand out as top Indian bodybuilders who have made India proud by winning the coveted Mr Universe title. Consecutively in 1951 and 52, Montosh Roy and Manohar Aich bagged the title for the country. Contrary to popular perception, it was Roy and not Aich who won the first Mr Universe title. In the year, 1988 unforgettable Premchand Degra won the title and in 2012, Sangram Chougule, our very own MuscleBlaze athlete won the prestigious award.
1) MONTOSH ROY: FIRST INDIAN TO WIN THE MR. UNIVERSE TITLE
Body Measurements at his best
- Height: 5 feet 5 inches
- Weight: 70 kgs
- Neck: 16.5 inches
- Chest: 45 inches
- Biceps: 16.5 inches
- Thigh: 23 inches
- Calf: 15.5 inches
Montosh Roy was born in the current-day Dhaka district of Bangladesh, then India. He was a great fusion of yoga and bodybuilding. Trained under the stellar yoga teacher, Bishnu Charan Ghosh, younger brother of Sri Sri Parmahansa Yogananda, the author of ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. Montosh Roy didn’t taste the success initially but he had a never-ending spirit. With his zeal, hard work, and dedication, he succeeded in winning the title of East Indian Body Building Championship.
Post-independence, he was crowned as the winner of the All India Bodybuilding Championship. He rose to fame by winning the highly prestigious Mr Universe title. Roy was the owner of an aesthetic physique that took the audience by storm and gave him an edge over his competitors and he went on to win the Mr Universe title in Group III Amateur Division Category. Glory kissed Roy’s feet and he enjoyed immense popularity. People used to queue-up to take his autograph after his shows.
After winning the title of Mr Universe, Montosh Roy returned to India to expedite his interest in bodybuilding. He was the founder of the Indian Bodybuilding Federation and opened a chain of bodybuilding centres and gyms. He also trained celebrities and authored various books. Roy was the owner of a great ability to bend steel with his bare hands. He was also an expert at yoga.
- 1947 All India Bodybuilding Championship
- 1951 Mr. Universe in Group III Amateur Division Category
2) MANOHAR AICH: POCKET HERCULES
Body Measurements at his best
- Height: 4 feet 11 inches
- Biceps: 18.1 inches
- Chest: 47.2 inches
- Forearm: 14.1 inches
- Wrist: 6.4 inches
He also trained celebrities and authored various books. Roy was the owner of a great ability to bend steel with his bare hands. He was also an expert at yoga. Manohar Aich, born in present-day Bangladesh, was a popular household name in the 50s. He wasn’t blessed with great height (4 feet 11 inches), but through his hard work, he gained a stalwart physique that compensated for it.
P.C. Sarkar was a very famous magician at that time and Manohar Aich started his career with him as a stunt man. He performed stunts like bending steel with his teeth, resting belly on a sword, and bending spears with his neck. He participated in protests against the colonial regime and for this action, he was put behind the bars. While he was imprisoned, he developed a passion for bodybuilding.
While he was in jail, he started training and trained insanely for 12 hours which cast a great impression on the authorities and they made arrangements to provide Aich with special meals that would help him with his bodybuilding. After India attained independence, Aich was released from prison. He didn’t have enough money than to continue his bodybuilding, yet he persisted. As they say, hard work always pays off, it did for Aich too. It was in the year 1950, he became the winner of the Hercules title. From here, there was no looking back for Manohar Aich. he went on to earn the name ‘Pocket Hercules’ as he established himself as a man of high strength and stamina for his size. The following year, he was declared the runner-up for the Mr. Universe title in London. Again, in the year 1952, he won the title for his nation. He didn’t stop there and went on to win gold medals in Asian Bodybuilding Championships.
Manohar Aich was blessed with a really long life. He breathed his last on 5th June 2016, two days after the god of boxing Muhammad Ali left for the heavenly abode. Aich was 104 years old at the time he passed away. The secret to his long life was his absolute refrainment from smoking, drinking, and stress.
In his long life, Manohar Aich inspired many and took bodybuilding to new heights. He paved the way for modern-age bodybuilding in India.
In his life, he grabbed many big titles, which are mentioned below:
- 1950: Mr. Hercules Title
- 1951: Runer up in Mr. Universe Contest
- 1951: Gold Medal in Asian Game (New Delhi)
- 1952: Mr. Universe Gold
- 1954: Gold Medal in Asian Game (Manilla)
- 1955: 3rd Position in Mr. Universe
- 1958: Gold Medal in Asian Game (Tokyo)
- 1960: 4th Position in Mr. Universe
3) PREMCHAND DEGRA: INDIA’S ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER
Timeline: Born 1955
Body measurements at his best
- Height: 5 feet 6 inches
- Weight: 80 kgs
- Chest: 48 inches
- Waist: 31 inches
- Arms: 18.5 inches
- Forearms: 15 inches
- Thighs: 25.5 inches
- Calves: 17.5 inches
Premchand came from a small town in Punjab. Born on 1st December 1955, he is a Padma Shri and Arjuna Awardee. The success that he enjoyed in his life is the result of his hard work. He wasn’t from a wealthy background and faced various difficulties. He had to struggle a lot to establish himself. He broke the full 30 years in Indian bodybuilding by making his way all the way to the international bodybuilding arena.
His journey started as a wrestler, and then switched to bodybuilding. He was crowned as Mr. Punjab, Mr. North India, and Mr. India 9 times in a row. His international career began when he won the title of Mr. Asia in the middle-weight class at Karachi in 1983. In the year 1984, in Seoul, South Korea, he won the same title again. He switched to light heavy-weight class in Mr. Aisa contest and went on to win the title at Colombo in 1985. His winning streak didn’t end here and he grabbed the titles in Taipei and Malaysia in 1986 and 1987 respectively.
Degra was comfortable with the middle-weight class and continued in this in all the five appearances he made at the World Championships. The biggest event of his life came in 1988 when he won the Gold medal in the middle-weight class at Queensland in Australia and was crowned as Mr. Universe. Premchand turned into a professional bodybuilder in 1989 and participated in Mr. Olympia contest in the same year.
- 1983: Asian Amateur Championships- IFBB, Middle-weight, 1st
- 1984: Asian Amateur Championships- IFBB, Middle-weight, 1st
- 1985: Asian Amateur Championships- IFBB, Middle-weight, 1st
- 1985: World Amateur Bodybuilding Championships- IFBB, Middle-weight, 1st
- 1986: IFBB Mr. Universe- Middle-weight, 2nd
- 1987: Asian Amateur Championships- Light heavy-weight, 1st
- 1987: IFBB Mr. Universe- middle-weight, 4th
- 1988: IFBB Mr. Universe- middle-weight, 1st
- 1989: Mr. Olympia- IFBB, 16th
- 1992: Niagara Falls Pro Invitational- IFBB, 18th
- 1996: Asian Amateur Championships, IFBB, Light middle-weight, 1st
These two men changed the bodybuilding scenario in India and from there on India saw many ace bodybuilders.
4) SANGRAM CHOUGULE: MUSCLEBLAZE ATHLETE
Body Measurements at his best:
- Height: 5 feet 8.5 Inches
- Weight: 74 kgs
- Chest: 46 Inches
- Forearm: 17 Inches
- Biceps: 20 Inches
- Waist: 32 Inches
Sangram Chougule, a Marathi mulga, and our very own MuscleBlaze athlete is a perfect example of how passion can make you change your ways. Born on 28th December 1979 in Kolhapur, Maharashtra, Sangram is an electrical engineer by education. His passion for bodybuilding made him choose bodybuilding as his profession. He was announced as the ‘Bodybuilder of the Decade’ by the Indian Bodybuilders Federation.
Success wasn’t served on the plate for Sangram. He belonged to a small village in Kolhapure and had to face many adversities throughout his childhood. With his strong determination, he conquered various titles amidst adversities and gripped success. He is an inspiration for modern-day bodybuilders and bodybuilding aspirants.
Sangram has been nominated for the Arjuna award twice. This 40-year old bodybuilder has won many national and international competitions. His major breakthrough came in the year 2014 when he was crowned as Mr. Universe.
- 2014: Mr. Universe
- 2012: Mr. World
- 2012: Mr. South Asia
- Mr. India – 6 Times
- Mr. India Overall Winner – 2014
- JERAI Classic Overall Winner
- Mr. Maharashtra – 5 Times
Other than Sangram Chougule, the current era of bodybuilding in India is witnessing some really good bodybuilders who are dedicated to bodybuilding like anything and are constantly working to make it big in this field.
Some of the popular Indian Bodybuilders of today are:
- Suhas Khamkar: Born and brought up in a bodybuilding family of Kolhapur, Suhas is currently one of the topmost bodybuilders in India, this 39-year old bodybuilder has won the title of Mr. India 10 times in his career. He is the first Indian to win the title of Mr. Asia. he won this title in 2010.
- Murli Kumar: Many would not consider taking up bodybuilding as a career at the age of 25 as it considered to be pretty late for it. But not this man, who has served the Indian Navy. He started lifting weights at the age of 25 and went on to win the Mr. India title 9 times.
- Amit Chhetri: Popularly known as the Arnold Schwarzenneger of India, this Haridwar-born bodybuilder is the winner of Mr. India title in 2016 in the 100-kg weight category. He is a police constable serving in the Uttrakhand police department.
- Varinder Singh Ghuman: What makes this ace bodybuilder even more special is that he is among those few vegetarian bodybuilders in the world who broke the stereotype of diet in the bodybuilding world. Hailing from Punjab, this bodybuilder won the title of Mr. India in the year 2009 and a silver medal while competing for Mr. Asia in 2012. He has also acted in Bollywood movies like Marjaavan.
It will be interesting to witness the rise of bodybuilding in India in the coming years with the new crops of bodybuilding blooming in the nation.