The ancient tradition of Indian wrestling, known as kushti, thrives in Wrestling gyms, or akhara, scattered around the city are of the few places where Hindu men from different casts are considered equals. Aside from bodybuilding, practitioners emphasize a life of discipline and celibacy.
Akharas are akin to gyms – where local men go to train using a range of fairly simple but effective equipment. They are also used as sites where pehlwani or wrestlers train and practice their wrestling on the kushti (wrestling ground with hallowed earth). Most akharas are associated with a guru – a holy man who trains the wrestlers with the assistance of older wrestlers.
It’s not just a sport and an art, it’s an ancient subculture. Wrestlers live and train together and have strict rules. They may not drink, smoke or have sex. But as modernity sweeps India and Western sports like cricket become more popular, some akhara are being abandoned. While some prominent, government-run gyms switched to mats for Olympic-style wrestling, akhara in villages and towns maintain the old ways.
In Kolkata there only few akhara still alive but the condition of those are not that much good enough. Jawla Tiwatri palowan akhara is one of them. Jawla Tiwatri palowan still fighting to save his akhara and dream to make his son as a great pehlwan in India.
Photos and text by Suvra Kanti Das