Mud-wrestling on the mat - Federation ban tries to take the fight out of akharas

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By OUR BUREAU in Calcutta
  • Published 12.01.03

Ranchi/Calcutta, Jan. 12: Hanumanji is not going to like this.

Nor will the Bajrang Dal, which swears by the monkey-god known for his kusti prowess, or Mulayam Singh Yadav, a mud-wrestler himself.

The Wrestling Federation of India today banned mud-wrestling — or the style of kusti practised in akharas — and warned state associations of disciplinary action if they were found promoting the traditional form of the sport.

The country’s apex wrestling body announced the decision at the 49th Senior Men’s and 6th Senior Women’s National Wrestling Championship, which ended in Ranchi today. “From now on, all wrestlers will have to practise only on mats and it will be the responsibility of the state associations to ensure that. We will provide the mats,” federation president M.S. Malik, who is also the director-general of Haryana police, said.

Any association violating the ban will be put on the mat — proscribed.

Malik explained the reason for the decision. “Some of our promising wrestlers have been telling us time and again to impose the ban. Not practising on mats has cost Indian wrestling dearly in the international arena. So, this time we are firm in our stand. This will help improve performance,” he said.

The federation had been planning to ground mud-wrestling for long and had sought the opinion of wrestlers.

Its members were divided on the move, with some suggesting that the federation think it over.

Now that it has gone ahead and done it, not all are happy. And largely because of the tradition: both the epics — Ramayana and Mahabharat — mention it.

The chief coach of the Punjab wrestling team, Amarnath Sharma, said akharas had vanquished religious barriers. “They have a sentimental and emotional attachment to both communities (Hindus and Muslims). This is our traditional sport. The conventional form of wrestling is the identity of India and Indians,” he said.

Mats, like astro turf in hockey whose introduction coincided with India’s downfall, are a western concept.

The federation has decided to provide mats even at the village level at subsidised rates to start with. “It is high time that Indian wrestlers start practising on mats right from the village level. The federation will provide all required support to implement the idea,” Malik said.

Arjuna Award winner Kripa Shanker Patel of the railways, who bagged a gold in the championships on Saturday, welcomed the move, though he said it had come late. “This decision should have been taken a long time ago. We have the strength, resources and willpower but when we compete with other wrestlers in other countries, we lack the technique,” Patel said.

He suggested that the federation should now invite foreign coaches to train Indian wrestlers to improve their technique.

Globalisation has come to wrestling but on the banks of the Hooghly at Ganga Seva Samity Ghat akhara, bare-bodied during a Calcutta winter evening that is harsher than usual and made harsher still by the chilly winds blowing in from the river, Jwala Tewari was not amused.

Jwala, the winner of several state-level championships in free-style wrestling, said: “Since time immemorial, mud-wrestling has been a popular sport in India. How can someone stop this suddenly?”

Ashok, Jwala’s brother who stays with him at the akhara’s dharamshala, said: “We have a mat here but we use it only in winter and that too occasionally. It is unbearable in summer. Also, mud-wrestling is good for health.”

Under Guru Shree Nathmal Pareek, who established the akhara over 40 years ago and is now 90, they vowed to continue the tradition.

“All the pehelwans of the country will come together and oppose the decision,” Jwala declared.

A procession of pehelwans — whether he means it or not, Tewari threatened to launch a “movement” — will be quite a sight, more so with Mulayam Singh at its head?