Kushti in Sacred Soil
After a gruelling session at the akhara, some pehalwans relax and wash the soil off their bodies.
Idris Ahmed steps inside an akhara to document the ancient cultural sport of kushti and the disciplined life of the wrestlers.
This story was originally published in November 2011.
Discovering one of India’s most ancient sports, kushti or pehalwani (wrestling), happened to me by chance. I was working on an assignment when I came across an akhara (wrestling pit) near the Yamuna river in Delhi. I was intrigued by the wrestlers’ rather esoteric way of living. They lead a very disciplined life dictated by certain ethical and moral values, a strict exercise regimen and dietary prescriptions.
Pehalwani is practised inside an akhara led by a guru or a senior pehalwan (wrestler). These wrestling pits are open areas exposed to bright sunshine and fresh air and surrounded by thickly foliaged trees and fresh water. The wrestlers practise and train themselves under the senior pehalwan, who also acts as a source of strength and wisdom. The ambience of an akhara is very invigorating, and yet it instils peace and tranquillity. The soil of the akhara is considered sacred by the pehalwans, who rub their heads and bodies with it before they begin their session. My trips to these akharas completely changed my perception about pehalwans. Their dedication and passion towards the sport astounded me and I simply had to capture it all with my camera.
Idris Ahmed left his job as a teacher to pursue photography. He loves to travel to different places and capture images of Indian cultures and landscapes. He is currently based in Delhi.
When Shooting Inside an Akhara
- Consult the akhara’s guru well before you begin shooting. They will be able to brief you about the sport and its rules and regulations, which give you useful inputs for shooting inside the akhara.
- Respect the rules of an akhara. For instance, you should always be barefoot, especially when shooting inside the pit.
- If you have any queries for the pehalwans, ask them after their practice sessions so that you do not disrupt their schedules.