Wrestling to keep traditions alive

Dasara Festivities

Wrestling to keep traditions alive

The mud is loose, indicating that no man has stepped on it for the day, yet. At the garadi mane (homes where wrestlers are trained), the malla kambha (acrobatic pole) stands lonely and tall. A traditional picture of Hanuman or Maruti standing all muscled-up and sturdy (sometimes without the images of Rama and Seeta peeping from his bleeding and torn chest) has different shades and colours.

At the break of dawn, young men and boys start walking in slowly. Gaze fixed, daav on their minds, they are hoping to spring a surprise move during their practice, to make their ustad happy. Women don’t even cross their mind, let alone their path! The pehalwans.

They are the men kings took pride in. Those Indian gladiators who wrestled with other men to provide both entertainment and also to reassure their kings that virile men were among his subjects. Such events formed the most important part of festivals too. For instance, in Mysore’s Dasara, Vajra Mushthi Kalaga is considered the traditional flagging-off ritual of the festivities.

During the days of the early Maharajas, this was albeit a bloody one. But today, it stands as a small representation of the bygone era. Those days, men wore metal knuckles while fighting. But today, the knuckle has tiger nails set in metal, considered most sturdy and sharp.

The kalaga (fight), which has a place even in the modern-day Dasara, takes place in the precincts of the Palace. Soft soil is spread to create an akhada (stage) and two jattis fight each other till a few drops of blood oozes from the head region of one of the fighters.

“The rakta darshana (sight of blood) would hail the journey kings undertook to defeat or capture the kingdoms of other rulers. Ayudha pooja completed, weapons all ready and set, kings would proceed on seemollanghana (surpassing the boundaries of their kingdom),” says historian who has chronicled the contribution of Wodeyars, the royal family of Mysore, Prof P V Nanjaraje Urs.

Support from the kings kept the art alive till date. But, the costs involved in making a pehalwan and also disappearance of garadi mane, which have been replaced with quintessential gyms and karate classes, has left the art with less takers. Mysore today has 84 documented garadi houses, where men receive training in traditional method, to few hundreds which survived till early 80s. With the cost of living increasing every day, their diet of badam, pista, dates, milk, eggs and chapaathis are not easy for the lower middle class families to meet, from where the wrestlers come.

Help trickling in
Dasara Kusti Development Committee Secretary P Ravikumar, a government servant working in the capacity of PRO at Cauvery Neeravari Nigam, was instrumental in initiating ‘Marali Baa Garadige’ programme, which saw many former wrestlers returning to garadi houses a year ago.

“Now, we sell tickets for wrestling events which are held every month at Rs 20 - 30, which is organised by former wrestlers who have pooled in the finances by themselves. Our crowd numbers not less than 3,000 - 4,000 every event, sometimes going up to 6,000 too!” he says. Courtesy Home Minister Ashok these events are given free police protection.

Out of bounds for women
Women are a strict no-no inside a garadi mane. The only time when they are allowed to enter is when Amba pooje is performed and new mud is brought in and mixed with the old one. Otherwise oblivious to the outside world, a garadi mane opens its doors to some select people when the members source red soil from outside, sieve it to remove hard particles and bring it inside the premises.

Before mixing, the old soil is scooped out, heaped up and the load of new soil is dumped alongside. Prior to this, the red soil is mixed with vermilion, turmeric, edible camphor and generous share of coconut oil, which act as natural antiseptics. They are also beleived to have a cooling effect on the body.

“After a good fight, and training session, ustads tell their wrestlers to dig out some mud and lie down. They are then covered in neck deep soil and lie that way for a while. After a good bath in cold water, they leave the garadi for that evening,” says Kempegowda, a former wrestler, who now trains youngsters in Mysore.

This ritual of Amba pooje is also another occasion for garadis to offer veelya to other garadis. Though veelya means betel leaf in the literal sense, it is an open invitation for seniors at other garadis to visit, check out the wrestlers and schedule a wrestling bout with the members of this particular garadi.

Maar-Peet is a higher version of wrestling where the event goes on till one of the contestants gets exhausted and cannot fight back. But, Jangi Kusti and Nada Kusti offer glimpses of a fight and victory is declared faster. “If a wrestler can force-touch the back part of shoulder of his opponent and hold it for sometime, he is declared the winner,” says Manjappa, former wrestler who now trains young men and women to take part in various wrestling events. His students train on a mat, which he says, is energy conserving and flexible, as against training on mud.

“The days of wrestling are not numbered. With the inclusion of wrestling in Olympics, many boys and girls have taken interest in it. Soon, wrestling may gain its glory back, in a rather renewed avatar,” he says.

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