Spectrum: Of rural sport and tradition

Spectrum: Of rural sport and tradition

Imagine a man walking with a 32 kg stone tied to each leg and carrying bags with 237 kg of wheat on the back. Or a man balancing himself on 12 such weighing stones while holding an iron rod weighing 40 to 50 kg.

Needless to say, the feat is not easy. Even a slight loss of balance and he would fall from the stones with iron rods in his hands. However, these daredevil acts are not uncommon in North Karnataka. Several such events, where physical strength is displayed, are regularly organised in many villages of the region.

While the show of strength is easier said than done, weightlifting cannot be mastered in a day or two. It require years of consistent practice for a certain level of perfection to be achieved.

Grand spectacle

Weightlifting and wrestling events can be seen in the rural areas of Dharwad and Belagavi districts to this day. Amid criticism that youth are getting drawn to mobile phones and televisions and are moving away from such traditional sports, there are wrestlers who have maintained good physical strength.

In order to inform people about such sportive events, a wrestler issues a public notice almost a month in advance, in which he describes the acts that will be performed. This is then publicised through loud announcements.

The announcement itself creates a lot of excitement among the villagers and on the day of the event, people of the village gather with enthusiasm to witness the show. The venue is usually a school ground or a four to five acres open land on the outskirts of the village.

The area where the display of strength takes place is called a ring (kana) and it takes four to five days of intense efforts to set it up. Stones are removed and sand is added to soften the area, and it is barricaded using poles and ropes.

Traditional symbols

Rangolis depicting om and pictures of Veera Anjaneya are drawn in the ring. For the convenience of spectators, LED screens are also installed. Once the organisers begin the commentary, the wrestler begins lifting the stones one by one.

Every time a wrestler shows his strength, traditional musical instruments are played and slogans like ‘Bahubali’
are raised to motivate him. Budding wrestlers keenly watch the movements of the veterans to learn from them. A number of assistants gather to help the wrestler.

This traditional display of strength is not limited to the lifting of weighing stones alone. It also includes acts like going around the ring while carrying sand-filled copper pots weighing 18 to 20 kg, balancing on ten or more weighing stones and throwing iron moulds or stones on the ground, lifting 75 to 95 kg stones with both the hands, carrying 100 to 140 kg spherical stones on the shoulders and moving independently with a 150 kg iron mould on the shoulders. Also, there are wrestlers who lift and drop 25 stones of different units of weight in a minute.

Wrestlers who engage in showcasing such daring acts say that they need specific training for at least six months to one year for one such exhibition. They have to practise in a gym or traditional gym (known as gardi mane in Kannada) every day to gain strength. They have to consume nutritious food like milk, ghee, dates and most importantly, they need to maintain a composed mind.

Recently, Dharwad Zilla Panchayat Vice-president, Shivanand Karigar, exhibited his strength at Byahatti in Hubballi taluk and impressed the audience. He had even showcased his strength in 1999 and during Mysuru Dasara in the year 2000, which earned him the title ‘Mysuru Kesari’.

To encourage such games, the zilla panchayats of Dharwad, Belagavi and Vijayapura districts allocate funds in lakhs for setting up garadi manes, every year. In addition to the funds, events by the experienced ones instil enthusiasm in budding wrestlers.

After the success of every show, the wrestlers are honoured with a silver mace, gold finger rings and shawls. Though the organisers keep asking the spectators not to interrupt the wrestlers during the event as their bodies will turn dry, fans clad in Nehru shirt, dhoti and a towel rush towards the ring in excitement and honour them.

(Translated by Divyashri Mudakavi)