Photography

Wrestling in India’s clay

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Far away from the Indian cricket pitch where pristine whites demand respect, is the dirty, sweaty world of kushti. The traditional style of Indian wrestling sees players take to a red clay pit, where they grab, push and throw each other to the ground. Within minutes their muscular bodies are masked in orange, with clay clinging to their eyebrows and hair.

But despite it being a traditional sport, kushti is on the decline, player Sanjay Chavan says, with the practice suffering from an image crisis.

“Indians love cricket. But many people have no respect for kushti players. They don’t understand it or us.”

The 33-year-old wrestler is part of a troupe of young men that train at a gym or akharas in Mumbai.

Here young men, mostly from small farming villages across the state of Maharastra have gathered to become experts in the sport – all hoping to win themselves glory and fame at the National Championships.

But to get to level where you can compete is tough, says Sanjay and many young men are scared away by the hard conditions.

“Most of them they come and they see the hardship and they go, they can’t handle it.”

Daily practise is imperative to retain fitness levels and there are strict codes of discipline that rule each wrestler’s life.

Many swear off smoking, drinking and women, which are considered distractions.

Young men grunt in exertion as they climb ropes and use their own body weight to improve their muscular strength in a series of yoga inspired exercises. Next to the clay pit is a gym where men pump iron in front of long mirrors.

Here the male body reigns.

Wrestlers admire themselves under the watchful eyes of bodybuilder posters and the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman who is worshipped for his muscular body and his participation in the ancient sport.

In these akharas, the men live, eat, sleep and train together.

“We are very much bound together by doing wrestling together. They can die for each other. That’s how special it is.”

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2 thoughts on “Wrestling in India’s clay

    • Hi Alex,

      I’m not sure if I replied to you. Sorry about that. I haven’t been blogging of recent times as you may have noticed due to a new, very busy job. I’m looking forward to seeing your pics. Sorry again for not replying sooner. I’m afraid I don’t remember where in Mumbai that place was – I was taken there by another journo so was not too focussed on directions.

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