Ancient Sport Of Mud Wrestling Survives In India

Wrestling with Tradition

Ami Vitale

Kolhapur, India. 2009

Indian men practice a 3,000-year-old sport known as Kushti, a form of wrestling, in its traditional form at the fight club Shahupuri in Kolhapur.

Kushti has a long tradition in this southeastern Indian city. Once financed by local maharajas and, later, the local government, its traditions have come under attack. In 2001, the Indian Fighters Federation in the capital of New Delhi stunned thousands of fighters when it announced prohibition of fighting on red soil and ordered fight clubs to buy mattresses for their arenas. The end of traditional red clay wrestling had its roots in a desire to win more Olympic medals; the only wrestling medal won by India was a bronze in 1952.

The prohibition was roundly ignored. Wrestlers continue their rigorous regimen of waking up at 3:30 a.m. six times a week and practicing more than six hours every day. They live together in a small room above the arena, their only belongings a blanket, a few items of clothes, and some books about the art of Kushti.

They have been compared to holy men because of their dedication and celibacy, which is reinforced by exercises like standing on one’s head for lengths of time to expel “filthy” thoughts.