Sandip De‘s photostory: Kushtir Akhara

By the side of the Ganges below Howrah Bridge, at Siyaram Akhara Bayam Samity I found myself in the middle of the training of two young boys. Kushti is an evolved version of ancient wrestling practice called Mallya-yuddha ( in the Indian subcontinent. Apart from the wrestling practice, there are various forms of exercise that these athletes go through the everyday morning. 

The traditional arena where the wrestlers hone and exhibit their skills is called the akhara. In reality the word akhara expands beyond the geometric boundary of that space, adding to it an ideology of exercise, life-habits and combat practices. Various ingredients like mud, sand and even ghee is used to make the ground of the akhara. There must not be any pebbles or stones and the softness of the ground is maintained by sprinkling water. This is not only to keep the wrestlers safe from injury but also to keep their movements supple. Wrestlers begin each session by flattening the soil, an act that is considered both a part of endurance training and an exercise in self-discipline. A few handful of dirt is thrown onto their own bodies and opponents to astonishingly juxtapose respect for the opponent and better grip on their bodies. The idea of religion is not out of their lives as once the arena has been prepared a prayer is offered to the gym’s patron deity, most commonly Hanuman. The idea of Guru-Shishya parampara, traditional to Indian ethos of learning, is upheld as wrestlers touch their head to their trainer’s feet before starting their performances. 

The massages that can be seen in many of these photos are most likely part of a traditional form of muscle stretching and relaxing practices that goes hand in hand with the strength training our physiotherapist friend Kalyan explained.

Sandip De is a trained Computational Physicist whose musings with his camera aim to capture the uniqueness of city-life, nature and the interdependence of the two. Currently he s working as a Research Scientist at BASF, Heidelberg. His interests are diverse ranging from macro-photography, to aerial videography. He has won several photography awards and his photographs are published in different journals, National Geographic being one of the eminent ones.

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