Wrestlers in Motibagh Kushti Akhara, Kolhapur, Maharashtra, India.
With practically every nook and corner streaming with wrestlers, Kolhapur is rightly called the City of Wrestlers. Among the scores of Akharas in this city is Motibagh. Training or talim in the Motibagh Akhara started around 1894 under the guidance of Shahu Maharaj. This Akhara sees a minimum of 150 wrestlers toil it out simultaneously every day. Wrestlers from all across the country come to various talims to begin their kushti training
For these dedicated wrestlers, the day begins as early as 4 am and practice lasts until 6 in the evening. Scores of wrestlers in Kolhapur leave their homes & villages to begin their gruelling practice in the field, with members in the Akharas becoming their new family. While there is no age limit, most wrestlers begin their talim as young as when they are four years old.
So what does a wrestler do, you may ask! Trust me, it goes beyond the mere heavy exercising. Most individuals in this field have a gruelling routine and follow a strict diet. The right food, good amount of sleep and a pure life is carves their path to success. While smoking and drinking is a strict no-no, some wrestlers even abstain from sex. To safeguard themselves from skin infections, wrestlers add lime, oil, milk, ghee, camphor, neem leaves, butter milk, turmeric & geru to the mud in which they practice. This also helps retain the health of their skin, even though they suffer from much body hair loss due to the clay. After regular practice, good wrestlers play kushti matches so as to win prizes.
While the richer lot can still dedicate their life and money to the sport, the poor bear the brunt of cheap facilities. It is heartbreaking to see many wrestlers having to leave the sport due to insufficient funds & poverty. Instead, they are left to fend for themselves through meagre jobs. The government doesn't seem to be doing anything in particular for their upliftment.
Like most Indian sports, Kushti too is in dire need of help from the government. Due to the lack of facilities, many good wrestlers miss out on opportunities to show off their talent. Until now, wrestling as a sport has seen India win just two Olympic medals, thanks to the ignorance from officials. Since more than a handful of wrestlers come from far off villages, they find it very difficult to sustain themselves. Heavy exercise means heavy diet – and even this basic necessity for wrestlers is often very difficult to meet.
It’s time we stand up for these Unsung Heroes of Kushti and do our bit to save this traditional and exciting sport.