This is a story about the life and dreams of the Kushti wrestlers in the Indian city Kolhapur. Kushti is a sport with an ancient history that dates back at the very least to the Parthian Empire (132 BC to 226 AD) that was situated where Iran and Iraq is located today.
Many of the wrestlers in Kolhapur left their home villages even before they turned 10 years old to start their training. They move in to so called Akharas (gyms) and after that they get to reunite with their families just around two to four times a year. The Akhara and it’s members becomes their new family, the wrestling becomes their new way of life. Usually the parents send their kids away because of a wrestling interest in the family combined with dreams about the honor and money that it’s possible to get if their sons turn into successful champions. A state champion is even remembered and respected after his death.
The parents invest a lot of money in their kids when sending them away so the pressure to succeed is big. The biggest expense is for food. A growing wrestler eats for around 60 000 indian rupees a year, that is around 1130 dollars. According to Unicef the average yearly income (GNI per capita) in India 2010 was 1340 dollars. So driven by their Gurus (teachers) strict regimes, their own and their families dreams about success they practice six hours a day, six days a week.
The rules in Kushti is similar to the ones in Western wrestling, as the goal of both the sports is to pin the opponent’s back to the floor. The wrestling itself takes place in a pit whose floor is covered of soft red gravel/soil instead of the wrestling mats used in the West. A lot of focus is put on the right practice, right food and right sleep as this is what creates the healthy and strong bodies needed in wrestling. Drinking, smoking and even sex are off limits. The focus is on living a pure life, building strength and honing their wrestling skills.