The ‘Mud Wrestlers’ of India

Wandering the ghats of Varanasi, you might stumble upon the Tulisi Akhada. Believed to have been established in the mid-16th century, this akhada is one of about a dozen that can be found in Varanasi. Part 24-hour gym, part wrestling ring, men of all ages from across the city come here to practice traditional Indian wrestling known as khushti.

At any given hour day or night, they can be found weight-training, alone or in pairs, or honing their moves in practice sessions in the tilled earth filled ring. Wearing only mud (a tactic used to increase friction), and shorts or a loin cloth, their warm-up exercises range from the straightforward - dumbbell curls and bench presses; to the bizarre - walking around with a 100-pound stone yolk around their neck, or carrying their partner on their shoulders while they jog around the akhada grounds. 

Most of those that come to practice here do so not for professional aspirations, but for spiritual enlightenment. It’s commonly held that exercise is a form of puja to Lord Rama, with traditional offerings made before the training begins. The seriously devoted professionals follow a strict diet regimen, and swear off alcohol, tobacco, and even sex. 

As in modern wrestling, the object is to pin your opponent until he submits or collapses from exhaustion.

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