Saturday, March 22, 2014

Games Indians Play - Wrestling

Traditional Indian wrestling is known as kushti (koosh-thee) or pehelwani (pay-hel-vaani). In days of yore, it enjoyed great patronage among the royals, some of whom, even took up the sport, then called mallayudh (mull-a-yudhh). Walk into traditional wrestling club (called akhada = a-khaa-daa) in an Indian village and you are bound to notice a statue or print of a muscular Hanuman from the Ramayana being venerated by trainees, seeking both mental strength to deal with the discipline required for the rigorous training as well as the physical prowess to wrestle even the most formidable of opponents. The Pandava brother, Bheema from the Mahabharata is depicted as a great wrestler and a symbol of immense strength. Wrestlers practise and fight in a prepared earthern pit, wearing only a loincloth, smearing their bodies with red dust as an offering of respect to the earth as well as for better grip during a fight.  Part of the training includes the use of a pillar, mallakhamb (Mull-a-khamb) to exercise stretches and twists to make their bodies lithe and their spines, supple. Mallakhamb has now become a breakaway sport in its own right.  Among Indians to enter the international wrestling scene, Khashaba Dadasaheb Jadhav became the first Indian wrestler to win a medal in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, but it would take a good 56 years for another Indian to break the dry spell. Sushil Kumar not only won a bronze in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he also became the first Indian to win a medal in two consecutive Olympics, by winning the Silver in this year’s London Olympics.

An edited version of the article was published in Culturama's November 2012 Issue.

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