Tag Archives: Kushti

For Hanuman-ji and the Pakistani cab-drivers: Aditya Kapoor’s beautiful photo essay of a wrestling akhara in Benares

17 Oct

“At 5 in the morning when most of us are still curled up in bed, some young wrestlers  begin a daily tradition. A tumbler full of warm milk and 30 almonds down they reach the practice ground and pay their respects to Lord Hanuman, the God of good health and courage. Then begins the strenuous training of theses wrestlers aka Pehlwans.

[Every wrestling akhara is also a Hanuman shrine]

“This is the modern day wrestling in India locally called ‘Kushti’. It is also a dying art that traces its roots to  the 5th century BC. Once, the sport enjoyed royal patronage and immense popularity. Whole villages would turn out to watch the local tournaments. But over the past few decades, like all other sports, it lost its popularity to cricket – an obsession in India.

“But these phelwans are nowhere near giving up. They lead parallel lives working as part time cops, railway officials and make do with what (if at all) the government offers them. And they need all they can get because wrestling is by no means a cheap profession. Their daily diet consists of 3-5 litres of milk, about a 100 almonds and three square meals a day.

“These photographs document the training sessions of many such wrestlers.”

— Aditya Kapoor

Indian Wrestler




















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Hanuman Jayanti!!!

7 Apr

Geez, all holidays are falling together this year.  I just realized it’s Hanuman’s birthday.  And he’s my patron deity too.  Shame on me…

I can’t get into all of the complex mythology associated with Hanumanji right now; help yourselves: Hanuman   Suffice it to say that it’s one indication of the infinite brilliance of Hinduism to take an animal that so creepily resembles us, that we often use as a metaphor for the sub-human precisely because of the discomfort of that proximity, and make him the embodiment of all human heroism and virtue.

So Jai Bajrang Bali…’cause he’s the paragon of strength and courage and devotion and humility, ’cause he’s always in kick-ass shape, being the patron deity of wrestlers and all strength athletes, and ’cause he’s passionately in love with another man and it’s not about sex…

Indian wrestler at his akhara (gym-temple).  Photo by Aditya Kapoor

If you’re interested in Hanuman and his changing image in India today, especially in relation to changing concepts of masculinity or Hindutva nationalism, see Hanuman’s Tale by Phillip Lutgendorf.

If you’re interested in traditional Indian wrestling and the complex physical and moral training and ethical structures that underlie it and in the “akhara” as an institution: a combined gymnasium, wrestling pit and Hanuman shrine, see The Wrestler’s Body Identity and Ideology in North India by Joseph S. Alter.

P.S.  I just connected a few dots and realized that Hanuman Jayanti is the 15th of the Hindu lunar month of Chaitra (full moon) and Passover is the 15th of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan (full moon) so Hanumanji’s b-day and the first day of Passover always fall together — good to know.

Comment: nikobakos@gmail.com

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