Hundred and ten years ago, on 23 May 1904, First World Greco-Roman wrestling was held in Vienna, Austria. So 23 May is celebrated as World Wrestling Day. But the day has left a big scar in the history of Indian wrestling, a big pioneer and patron of traditional wrestling over the world, when the most acclaimed and celebrated wrestler from the country died on this date of the year 1960. So this article is to pay a tribute to this great wrestler as well the World Wrestling Day for Indian Traditional Wrestling.
While talking of the wrestling in India, you can’t but mention the name of Kolhapur of Maharashtra. It is the cultural hub in persuading traditional wrestling as its sacred religion. Despite being famous for its spicy food and decorative footwear, Kolhapur has another big story to tell to the world, the famous story of this traditional red soil wrestling. In and around Maharashtra and its surrounding states, Kolhapur remained a synonym of wrestling due to those famous Akharas(talim) it has for quite a long time. Some of those are as old as contemporary to the era of Rajashri Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj. Shri Shahu Vijayi Gangavesh Talim is one such prominent Talim of Kolhapur.
One can find this Talim just within a walking distance from the famous Mahalaxmi temple, a very prominent place over here. Once entered, one can feel the extreme wrestling environment welcomes him with the seer touch of discipline and rawness. Pehlwans(wrestlers) wearing langoth(wrestling shorts made of a piece of saffron red cloth) are found busy with their daily routine of game practises and exercises during the peak hours. The wall of the Talim is smeared with the palm-print of red soil all over, a mute testimony to the red soil clad sweating wrestler resting on the wall.
The daily routine of the wrestlers starts with a morning health run with physical exercises at 5 o’clock in the morning. Rope climbing, push-ups, weight liftings are the various other facets of the exercise sessions. Getting back to the Talim around 6 am, morning puja is offered to the god Hanuman. Hanuman, due to his immense power and gigantic figure is considered as the wrestling god all over India. The wrestlers maintain a simple non luxurious celibate life taking a leaf from their god’s life. The Talim provides an in-house facility of hostel for the member wrestlers. Their every day is divided into segments for exercise, practice, food preparation, washing, bathing and sleeping which are being strictly followed properly in sequence and on time.
Before the practice starts, the soil of the ring is prepared. Milk, buttermilk, turmeric powder, Neem oil, Ghee, camphor, red colour etc are being mixed in it in order to get it soft, antiseptic and anti-allergic. A heavy plunk is being dragged through it after it is being ploughed. Then they start their daily practice. Wrestlers of different ages of as young as 10 years to grown up adults undergo rigorous practices every day. During this morning session, the streak of light rays of the rising sun that reach the red soil through the peepholes of the east facing door, augurs the rays of hope and ambition illuminated deep inside these wrestlers’ heart. When practice gets over around 9 am, they go for a bath in the open and start for preparing their own food. Their diet mainly consists of high caloric ingredients like milk, egg, ghee, almonds etc along with good quantity of vegetables and other foods that help them increase weight. The place Kolhapur itself is quite famous for weight gaining owing to its soothing climate and geographical positioning. Average expenditure here of an young wrestler per month for food only is around 10-15 thousand rupees and for a well grown senior is around 20-30 thousand rupees. At 0430pm again they gather in the ring for physical exercises and game practise and pack up around 0630pm. The next activity for them is to go for a complete rest with a sound sleep to get them prepared for the day next activities. They observe a complete holiday on Thursday.