Red Mud Wrestlers

Wrestling

Wrestling

KOLHAPUR, INDIA. 13 December 2009. Kushti is an ancient version of wrestling, some 3,000 years old. It originated in India and spread out to Iran and the Middle East. It is still practiced in pockets of India but Kolhapur in India’s west is today the main centre of the art, where all the best fighters, trainers and “Akhada” or wrestling schools are to be found. Kushti came from the great Indian epic, the Ramayana. The monkey god Lord Hanuman is revered as the most famous of all wrestlers and in Kolhapur his portrait can be seen throughout the city. All the wrestlers carry a small postcard image of the god with them. Its very ancient martial arts that still remain unchanged. Kushti’s history in Kolhapur is relatively recent, becoming established there from the 18th century. But the sport really began to flourish here during the rein of Shri Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj, the King of Kolhapur who ascended the throne in 1894. During this golden age, the monarch built hundreds of Akhadas all over the city and held tournaments inviting all the best wrestlers from all over the country to his town. To this day, the way the sport is staged is relatively unchanged. The bouts take place in a clay pit, where the red soil dredged up from river banks is mixed with ghee and water to soften it and carefully tended to before each practice. Each morning Hindu prayers, or pujas, are said on the circular pit which is revered almost as a holy place, a temple. Kolhapur is now a relatively small city by Indian standards, with a population of just over 700,000 people. It is situated an hour’s flight from Mumbai in the southwest corner of the state of Maharashtra. It’s a small but charming city with a wonderful old quarter which is dominated by the Mahalaxmi Temple. (Photos by Palani Mohan/Reportage by Getty Images)

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