TAXILA: Can you lift an 80kg ball of stone? Well, if you can't, better stay clear of the unusual competition where a failure is considered an insult to manhood.
The traditional and folk stone lifting competition, locally known as “Watee” or “Gutti” lifting, is famous in different parts of rural Punjab and Hazara division, especially the adjourning areas of Taxila. Every year, weight lifters attend the contest to prove their manhood by lifting 80 to 400 kilogrammes of stones.
On Sunday, dozens of participants, also including those from Mandi Bahauddin, Jhelum, Chakwal and Hazara, exhibited their skill here.
The event was organised to celebrate the conclusion of the wheat harvesting season and provide entertainment to the farmers, peasants and youth. Drummers played traditional tunes to warm up the competitors and entertain the audience.
The organiser of the event, Syed Zaheer Hussain Shah Zaildar, told this correspondent that the event was organised to preserve and promote the folk sport. While stone lifting and similar sports in Europe, especially Scotland, have been revived through their integration into World’s Strongest Man competitions, the traditional sport of stone lifting, popular since centuries, is in decline here due to lack of support from the government, he added.
Mr Shah, who has been patronising the folk game for the last many decades, said Gutti had its origin in the centuries-old traditional rural area sports. In the past, someone from the bride's wedding procession would throw an 80kg stone and wait for anyone from the groom's side to take up the challenge of lifting it. “If they failed to lift it, the procession would be stalled for days,” he said.
“Watee or Gutti (stone) lifting is just like weight lifting. It is different in a sense that Watee is made of stone while iron weights are used in the other,” said Babu Ishtiaq Akbar, a social worker and politician who served as a judge on the occasion.
He said Gutti was a four-category event with stones that ranged from 80 to 120 kg. Though there are no age restrictions, mostly men between 18 and 23 years of age take up the challenge. He said lifting a huge stone was not easy and the rules made it even tougher. While lifting, no part of the body other than the hands should touch the stone, and there are only a few finger holds drilled into the ball. He added that thumbs cannot be used to lift the stone; instead the competitor must use only his palms to grip the stone, now made of cement, and try and do as many sit-ups as possible with it. He said some barely managed to do five before giving up.
Referee Sajjad Hussain Shah said Watee (oval) and Budkar (rectangular) stones were chiseled till the surfaces became smooth, whose weight ranged between 50 and 300 kilogrammes. A handle is also carved on the Budkars to make them easier to lift, while the Watees are carved without a handle and their surface is made so smooth that the lifters often dropped them. Stone lifters are also trained to stand on their feet.
A contestant is only declared a winner when he stands on the ground carrying the required weight and throws the stone back with a jerk after holding it high in the air.
Chaudhry Tauqeer of Chakwal, who lifted the 400 kilogrammes of round stone, said he inherited the skill from his forefathers but with the passage of time the traditional sport was disappearing from the region. He said daily practice, good food like milk, desi ghee and bulk of meat were essential for a player.
Chaudhry Imran alias Mani, who won the champions title by lifting 180 kilogrammes rectangular stone (Budkar), said stone lifting was a centuries-old tradition in Punjab and also popular in the Potohar region and adjourning rural areas of Hazara, especially Khanpur and Haripur.
He said it was imperative to preserve the legacy of stone lifting.
Bilal Gondal, a participant of 110 kilogramme stone lifting contest, said the youth could be deterred from engaging in harmful activities if we promoted sports and traditional games.