The Kushti Wrestlers of Calcutta, India

Kushti WrestlersCalcutta never ceases to amaze. Five loincloth clad men are gathered under a neem tree tucked away in a corner of the Malik Ghat on the banks of the River Hooghly near the Howarh Bridge. They are Kushti devotees. Kushti, or Pehlwani, is an ancient form of wrestling begun in the Mughal era, dating back to the sixteenth century, in the Indian sub-continent and south central Asia.

The wrestlers begin their session by smoothing the dirt pit they practice in, and rub their bodies with the soil and neem leaves and offer a prayer to their patron deity. The training is meant to build strength as well as muscle bulk and flexibility. Often the wrestlers use each other’s body weight to add resistance to the exercise. After a period of time, some of the men will spar, practicing holds and throwing one another. At the conclusion of their workout, the five sit cross legged with hands turned out and chant for several minutes.

Kushti,similar to martial arts, requires much discipline. Alcohol, tobacco, and pann, a mixture of the areca nut and lime wrapped in a betel leaf, are strongly discouraged. Milk, ghee, and almonds form the holy trinity of a Kushti’s diet which can be supplemented with certain fruits.

My gallery of images of The Kushti Wrestlers of Calcutta depicts this ancient custom. Also included is a soundtrack I recorded of their chants.

The wrestlers are just one facet of daily life at the Malik Ghat. The River Hooghly is the branch of the Ganges that runs through Calcutta, now officially called Kolkata. As such, it is sacred to Hindus. Many are there to bathe in its water and to pay homage to their ancestors and gods by cupping their hands, lifting the river’s water and letting it fall back. Others are there simply to take a bath and wash their clothes.

The largest wholesale flower market is located adjacent to the ghat.

But these are stories for another day.

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