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Making of a Pehlwan

Chaitanya Deshpande

Budding wrestlers at a morning training session at the 'kushti' pit in Pune, India. 'Kushti' or ‘Pehlwani’ is a form of wrestling practiced for over 5000 years in the Indian subcontinent with influences from Persian wrestling in the recent past.
Camaraderie is important for these young ‘pehlwans’ (wrestlers), starting as young as 6. They live in the ‘akhara’, a place of practice with facilities for boarding, lodging, training & grow up there honing fighting skills, life skills.
Traditional exercises start 4am, then massages, shower, high protein breakfast (eggs, milk, crushed almonds, protein/mass building powder too!) & rest. Afternoons – wrestling. Then it’s dinner:early to bed and very early to rise.
That is not to say that the wrestlers don’t relax. They watch TV as any teenagers would, they have their phones to play with, girlfriends to talk to and there’s also talk of taboo subjects like sex. Rest and relaxation is as important as exercise.
The wrestlers have a deep connection with the soil – bathing with it is encouraged, considered sacred, they pray to it before entering the pit & after a fight. The red earth provides a backdrop through the most important stages of their lives.

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