General caption : Kushti is the traditional form of Indian wrestling established centuries ago in Persia. In vogue during the 16th century Mughal era, this art is practiced in a type of gymnasium called an Akhara.
Wearing only a well-adjusted loincloth (« langot »), wrestlers or « Pelwhans » enter a pit made of clay, often mixed with salt, lemon and ghee (clarified butter). This clay, representing Mother Earth is renewed every 2 years. Before every match, each wrestler covers the body of his adversary with this earth whose color varies by region (red in Kolhapur, yellow in Varanasi). During combat, the coated bodies meld with the color of the arena.
The rule for winning is simple. Both shoulders must be pinned to the ground. It is strictly forbidden to strangle or throw punches, yet the swollen ears of seasoned wrestlers are testament to the vigorous contact.
The religious rituals of preparation are as important as the fight itself. Inside and around the arena, the statue of the monkey-god Hanuman is the object of litanies and daily prayers.
Kushti is more than traditional Indian wrestling. It is a way of life that perpetuates a tradition where every encounter is a spiritual quest. More than a sport, it is above all a lifestyle that requires rigorous discipline as in all martial arts.
For long periods (between 6 – 12 months), wrestlers in training dedicate their bodies and souls to Kushti. Living at the Akhara, training begins with mastering self-control and learning to respect others which brings great pride and glory to practitioners of the sport. Wrestlers are bound by extremely strict rules, training 365 days a year even in the summer when temperatures reach 40°. Up at 5am to workout till 8-9am, then they break until 4pm when for the next 2 hours, skirmishes in the arena start up again. A cold shower outside with a simple hose or bucket over the head follows. Dietary rules are specific: essentially, almonds, milk, ghe
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