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Is kushti dying a slow death?

The history of kushti has gone in the mist of hoary. One of the highly acknowledged martial sports, kushti (wrestling), the history of this oldest sport dates back to puranas and epics of India.

Epics Mahabharata and Ramayana have portrayed wrestling as a sport as well as a way of war.

The famous fight between Bhima and Jarasandha in Mahabharata or the bout between Vali and his brother Sugreeva in Ramayana is a testimony to the popularity of kushti then.  Traditional kushti is not just a sport but an ancient subculture. Down the years, for reasons not known to many, there are not many takers for the sport, though it still exists in some parts of the world. The sad part is kushti, that used to be patronised by the famous kings of yesteryear, is going commercial, leading to its slow death.

Kushti gained a wholehearted support by the kings and monarchs of Indian provinces who had considered it as a pride for the state. Nada Kusthi (which is performed on clay or matti) has been a part of our history, culture as well as rich tradition. As a macho sport, as a way of displaying one’s strength and abilities, kushti has got its own identity, unmatched by any other sport.

The contribution of the kings in the development of wrestling is remarkable. The Vijayanagara kings were known to be great supporters of this sport. The kings who have ruled from Hampi included wrestling in Dasara sports every year. Vijayanagara kingdom used to celebrate Dasara as a festival of extravaganza of wealth and rich culture, say historians.

After the fall of the Vijayanagara dynasty, Raja Wodeyar, a vassal king of Vijayanagara from Mysuru, started Dasara celebrations in Mysuru. Not only as rulers, Mysuru kings were the cultural successors of the Vijayanagara kings, supporting art, culture, sports, and other activities and festivities in the province.

Narasaraja Wodeyar I (1638-59), was known as ‘Ranadheera Kanteerava’ for his heroics and wrestling abilities. It is said that at the temple town of Trichy, an arrogant wrestler used to hang his wrestling ‘chaddi’ (underwear) at the entrance of the fort and everybody had to walk under it in great humiliation. Even the Madurai Nayaka (chieftain) was helpless in this matter. Some people   from Mysuru, who had gone on a pilgrimage to Trichy, found this highly insulting and construed this as an affront to the Kannadigas by a Tamil wrestler and informed this to the king.

Narasaraja went to Trichy incognito and tore the underwear. Angered by this, the Trichy wrestler challenged Narasaraja. Yore is that the arrogant wrestler was defeated and got killed in the bout.  People of Trichy, including the king, heaved a sigh of relief. But before they could honour him, King Narasaraja had returned to Mysuru.  For his exploits, the king was referred to as Jagjatti (world class wrestler).  Sometime later, three wrestlers from Tamil Nadu came to Srirangapattana and challenged Kanteerava for a fight. For everyone’s surprise, the king accepted the challenge and defeated them.

During the regime of the Wodeyars, wrestling grew at a rapid pace in Mysuru and is still being practised in hundreds of ‘garadis’ in the city. Every year, Kusthi competitions are held in tune with the tradition of the Dasara. Though our pailvans are happy, they feel support for one of the oldest sports is not so encouraging.

But how is the encouragement to the ‘Naada Kusthi’ and the garadis in the city? “Mysuru has more than 100 garadis in Mysuru. They are classified into rural and city garadis. One is Mayanna’s garadi, which represents city garadis and Fakir Ahmed Saheb’s garadi representing the rural garadis. All the garadis are affiliated to either of the two garadis. Dasara opponents are allotted according to the garadis they represent. But the financial support to the wrestlers is too less,” says Chethan Chirthe, a wrestler from Hattu Janagala Garadi, Bogadi.

“It is not easy to wrestle for 10 minutes continuously. They need at least 45 days of training to wrestle in the Dasara wrestling meet. It was known as ‘Naada kusthi’, and the wrestlers from various garadis were taking part in it. But the rules have changed and the national competitors are participating in Dasara wrestling meet and the format too is changing, which is a threat to the ‘Naada Kusthi,” opines Pailvan Ramesh, son of the most decorated wrestler of Mysuru, Pailvan Rudra aka Mooga.

“Wrestlers get a remuneration of Rs 200 for wrestling for 10 minutes. Matti Pooje, the ritual performed before wrestling, itself costs more than that. To wrestle, one has to eat good food. For all these expenses, wrestlers are not getting even a certificate that they have participated in the Dasara wrestling competitions,” a visibly Pupset ailvan Ramesh says.

 “Pailwans don’t want their kids to be wrestlers these days. Wrestlers do not get any job assurance by the government or from local administration. Only those who are willing passionate about wrestling are learning it to keep the tradition alive,” says Chethan, who is son of renowned wrestler Indra Bhavan Ganesh.

Wrestling is now a globally acknowledged sport. The performance of Indian wrestlers is noteworthy at global level. But the traditional Nada Kusthi is struggling to survive. The wrestlers need to exercise to stay strong and fit. The young wrestlers are still trained with the old equipments at the garadis. “When we approach the government for support, they do not provide us the much-needed equipments.  We are made to wait for months. You should also know we train budding wrestlers free of cost and it is almost impossible for us to costly equipments,” reasons pailvan Ramesh.

Mysuru has the distinction of being one of the few cities that nurture wrestling. Pailvans from various parts of the country consider it as an honour to wrestle in the garadis of  the heritage city. If enough support is not provided by the government, the sport may die a slow death. Remuneration for the pailvans who participate in the Dasara meets should be increased. Teachers who have contributed immensely for the growth of wrestling should be identified and honoured. What the sport needs is support and appreciation and lip sympathy. The tradition once lost is gone forever!

 – By Shreeharsha C M

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