Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Fred Canonge: Pehlwan of Benares

Photo © Fred Canonge-All Rights Reserved
Pehlwani (also known as Kushti) is a traditional style of wrestling popular in the sub-continent of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The wrestler is known as pahlawan which, interestingly for those who are etymologists, is the colloquial Arabic word meaning "clown". I wouldn't tell this to these wrestlers, as they would be offended and I'd be on the mat in less than a second.

Based in Paris, Fred Canonge is a French freelance photographer who has extensively travelled in India for the last ten years, and is constantly exploring all the nuances and the diversity of Indian society. His website is replete with galleries of India, including some of images made in Kathputli and Varanasi, but the gallery which I liked the most has his work on the pehlawan.

Varanasi has a number of traditional wrestling training gyms (known as akhara), and one can spot them working with rudimentary weights near Tulsi ghat. The wrestlers' diets consist of milk, almonds, ghee, eggs and chapattis, but have a difficult time making ends meet. Some of them find work as bodyguards to those who need protection or as "enforcers" during political elections.