The ancient tradition of Indian wrestling, known as kushti, thrives in Varanasi, one of the world’s oldest cities. Wrestling gyms, or akhara, scattered around the city are of the few places where Hindu men from different casts are considered equals. Aside from bodybuilding, practitioners emphasize a life of discipline and celibacy. Akharas are akin to gyms – where local men go to train using a range of fairly simple but effective equipment. They are also used as sites where pehlwani or wrestlers train and practice their wrestling on the kushti (wrestling ground with hallowed earth). Most akharas are associated with a guru – a holy man who trains the wrestlers with the assistance of older wrestlers. It’s not just a sport and an art, it’s an ancient subculture. Wrestlers live and train together and have strict rules. They may not drink, smoke or have sex.

But as modernity sweeps India and Western sports like cricket become more popular, most of the akhara are being abandoned. While some prominent, government-run gyms switched to mats for Olympic-style wrestling, akhara in villages and towns maintain the old ways. Now in these days, people are not that much interested to play kushti in mud. About 20 years back there was more than 30 akhara on bank or river Ganges, but now it’s hard to find that kind of place where pehlwan goes for practice kushti in the morning or in the evening. In this moment there are very few akhara alive where pehlwan plays in the mud. May be couple of years later there will be no mud akhara. Mats will take place of mud on there.  If it’s happened, the traditional ancient Indian mud wrestling will lost forever.


Story by Suvra Kanti Das