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Kolhapur – Tracing Kushti’s (Wrestling) Origin

Kha-thoo!

A low, deep, guttural sound followed like the engine of a truck springing to life after a night in frigid Delhi winter.

“Did you see him?”

I couldn’t tell if Harsha sounded horrified or in awe.

“Yeah…kind of hard to miss…” I said as I stole a peek at him through rust-eaten, brick-red metallic bars of the window like those on a train, almost expecting a man to scream ‘Chai! Chai!’ from the other side.
“Urgh!”

Instead, I had to settle for a grunt.
The red mud on his bare form lay split by oil and sweat. He was massive. Not in a way that a 5-foot-tall girl finds everything massive. He was massive in a 56-inch-chest, 6-foot-tall kind of way.

“Oh god! He is opening it!”

“Look away, you idiot!”

It was a terrible piece of advice, I must say, for away offered no different a sight. Fifty odd men, all hiding their masculinity in itsy-bitsy pockets—langots—swarmed our view. That, I’ve been told, isn’t something that happens to two women every day. But it would be criminal to call it so – an every day, for we stood amidst crumbling walls and cockroach-infested nooks, privy to a tradition that started in the city of Kolhapur in the 18th century – kushti.

Motibag taleem, one of few survivors of the dwindling heritage of Shri Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj—the first Maharaja of the princely state of Kolhapur—a surprisingly modest establishment, jostles for space between shops that scream for a fresh coat of paint on a street dabbed in the scents of marigold flowers, paan and grease.

Kushti was developed by the Mughals using influences from malla-yuddha—a wrestling form first mentioned in the Hindu epic Ramayana in context of a fight between King Bali and Ravana—and Persian koshti pahlavani – a system of athletics that combines martial arts, calisthenics, music and spirituality.

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