Kushti in Mumbai: Akharas preserve traditional form of Indian wrestling, despite lack of funding, support
The pehelwans practice Kushti in these akharas twice a day, while juggling day jobs
The Lal Bahadur Shashtri Akhara in Mumbai's Matunga area is one among the several rapidly diminishing akharas in the city. The traditional form of Indian wrestling—Kushti—is practiced here.
The akharas use a peculiar red-coloured mud that is "mixed with turmeric and camphor and has medicinal properties, which will heal the wounds of the pehelwans who wrestle in the mud-pit" says coach Namdev Sriram Badre, who has been a part of this akhara since 1987.
When the textile mills were still functional in Mumbai, the mill-workers would come in large numbers and practice Kushti here. Now, the akhara has only about 20 pehelwans, most of whom have come to Mumbai with the hopes of securing a government job through this sport. Their day starts at 4 am with Kushti practice that takes place in either the in-house mud-pit or an open ground.
The practice session is followed by meals and a brief rest before heading off to work. Practice begins again at 5 pm. Of these twenty odd wrestlers, only a handful are really dedicated enough to take up the sport full-time, owing to the lack of finances and government support.
Mumbai's akharas have shaped wrestlers like Narsingh Yadav — an Arjuna awardee. Kaka Pawar who had also won this prestigious award in 1998, had trained in the Lal Bahadur Shashtri akhara. "There are hopes that Rahul Aware and Utkarsh Kale, who are well-known wrestlers, will represent India in the 2020 Olympics," adds a hopeful Badre.
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