Saturday, 12 April 2014

POV: The Pehlwani | The Kushti Wrestlers

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy-All Rights Reserved
One of the scheduled photo shoots during my recent The Sacred Cities: Varanasi & Vrindavan Photo Expedition-Workshop was at an akhara, which is a Sanskrit word meaning training area for traditional Indian wrestlers, known as pehlwanis. This traditional Indian wrestling is known as kushti, and was developed in the Mughal era by combining native wrestling and Persian techniques.

These two pehlwanis were the most photogenic of the group that was training when we visited early in the morning. The wrestler in the top photographer is yielding a nada,  a heavy round stone attached to the end of a meter-long bamboo stick. This training implement is associated with Hanuman.

The bottom wrestler is using heavy Indian clubs, exercise clubs introduced by the Mughals and originally used in the Near East, especially in Persia and Egypt.

I wasn't thrilled about the quality of light in the akhara, as the area combined extreme harsh sunlight and deep shadows....and most of the background was of unfinished concrete walls. A difficult photo shoot. However, the wrestlers largely compensated for this, especially when they had daubed themselves with soft clay

For some of the wrestlers, the day starts as early as 4 am and their practice lasts into the day. Technically there's no age limit, but some wrestlers can begin their training when they're as young as four years old. To protect themselves from wound infections,  the wrestlers add lime, oil, milk, ghee, camphor, neem leaves, butter milk, and turmeric to the clay on which they practice daily.