© Ayash Basu | December 2015 (Revised June 2016)
Kushti akharas on the Hooghly
Kushti, the Indian sub continent’s indigenous form of wrestling traces back three thousand years to the time of “malla-yuddha,” popular in mythological tales of The Ramayana and Mahabharata. Many styles of malla-yuddha are in fact named after warriors from these tales: Hanumanti, Bhimaseni, Jarasandhi to name a few.
Modern kushti (as in modern for the last 400 years) is largely an outcome of incorporating subtle Persian and Turkish wresting influences with local malla-yuddha when Central Asia Mughals and Mongol Turks invaded India.
Over the decades, Varanasi in particular, and a few other cities in the Ganges belt and northern India (Mathura, Allahabad, Kashi) have retained the kushti culture, although several small pockets exist in central India as well. Post independence, many traditional pehlwans (wrestlers mostly from Uttar Pradesh) migrated to Delhi and Calcutta in search of livelihood prospects as these cities promised a brighter future in the 50s and 60s. Calcutta’s kushti akharas (wrestling pits) are concentrated on the banks of the Hooghly and across Strand Road on Cotton Street.