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Nov 30, 2010

Akharas Muscle Back Into Action

Times of India
At a time when high-end gyms with swanky fitness equipmets have become a fad with the figure-conscious young, urban population, the traditional akharas or the wrestling arenas had all but became oblivious.

But after the success of the wrestlers in the recently-concluded Commonwealth Games, also with the growing demand for able-bodied bouncers and bodyguards, the village akharas have undergone a revival like never before.

One such facility is the Ayanagar akhara roughly two kilometres from the town, and home to more than fifty burly, young and aspiring pehelwans.

Guru Raghubar, one of the founders of the arena, remembers the time when he had to travel all the way to Delhi from his village for wrestling lessosn. I used to take my bicycle and ride for about 30 km to reach an akhara in Delhi, he said.

This was in 1960, and it was then that Raghubar decided to set up a desi arena on the chunk of village land he had.

Raghubar said that around eight years back, when the wave of urbanization had hit his village, the akhara almost went defunct. People stopped coming. To the young of the village it appeared as a waste of time to join an akhara, he said.

But gradually, as wrestling gained ground over the last few years in terms of popularity, the akharas rose in popularity index.

Also with pubs and clubs coming up in Gurgaon, there was a growing need for bouncers and body guards. These pubs started looking for the pehelwans and hired them as bouncers. So a number of youngsters flocked back to join the akharas, said the 24-year-old, Raman, who works as a bouncer in a pub in the MGF Metropolitan mall in Gurgaon.

Along with Raman, his friends, Manjeet and Krishna, also work at Gurgaon pubs as bouncers and have been working out in the same akhara for the last three years. I think we are as good as the guys who work out in a gym. And it is good that the pubs and nightclubs have started giving a chance to the akhara guys also, said Krishna.

He added that whereas in the modern gyms you work on muscle formation, akharas simultaneously help develop strength and stamina.

While Ayanagar has become a training ground for prospective bouncers in the villages, it also supplies a good number of its recruits to the Gurgaon and Delhi police. More than five boys from this akhara have just been selcted in the police, said one of the coaches, Vihambhar pehlwan.

A young wrestler, Jeetu, shared his last years feat in national games in Chennai. I won a gold in the 63 kg category, he said. Jeetu has been a regular member of the akhara since the time he was 10 years old. It has been seven years here now. I am still glad that I joined this akhara. I have taken natural diet, no supplements and purely simple exercises, he said. Jeetu is currently working hard, readying himself for another wrestling competition next month in Nainital.

Seventeen-year-old has just joined the akhara, and is already nursing a broken right ear. Theres no point fixing it anymore. It is bound to break again, he said, adding that fractured ears are a sign of a veteran akhara wrestler. My granddad used to practice here, and so did my dad. Sushil comes from the nearby village Gaul Pahadi. I have recommended it to my pals in the village, he said.

The Ayanagar akhara has been built on village land, a small portion of which belongs to the government. About 20% of the land here belongs to the government and 80% to the village community. Last year, the government agencies even got part of the akhara demolished, said another elder member of the akhara. He added that the government should be supporting these facilities as they not only train athletes for the state and national levels, but are an essential part of the village life.

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