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Mar 6, 2011
Visit To Guru Shyam Lal Akhara
Deepak Ansuia Prasad takes his friend from America to visit Guru Shyam Lal akhara, to practice with some of the wrestlers there and to see just how devoted Indian wrestlers and gurus are to their sport.
Jim McSweeney and I attended the wedding reception of Guru Ajit’s daughter and were welcomed by people of the village. Jim fit in well, eating spicy Indian food with no problem and speaking Hindi with some of the other guests. I dropped him at nearby metro station and we made plans to meet the next day to visit Guru Shyam Lal akhara (after getting permission to visit from Guru Ajit Pahalwan and other senior wrestler of the reputed akhara.)
The akhara is at Ayanagar crossing, in the immediate vicinity of Arjan Gadh metro station. We met there at 2 pm, along with photographer Kartik Dhar, and were welcomed by the gurus Ajit Pahalwan, Rajinder Pahalwan, Khalifa Rahbar Pahalwan, and other senior wrestlers, as well as Coach Tony. Jim was amused at the name Tony, saying this is an American name, and I said it is common here too.
We reached the akhara before practice started, so had time to talk to one of the senior gurus and Khalifa Raghbar, who was getting cleaned up at that time. We sat beside him and he told us that he lives at the akhara, taking care of the wrestling education of the pupils, and coaching them while they practice. He never married and devoted his whole life to kushti. I consider him a great man for devoting his life to wrestling and Jim agreed that few men could make such a commitment.
We watched the wrestlers begin their chores, first by digging the akhara pit with a big iron spade (weighing about 15-16 kg) and I asked Jim if he wanted to try digging too. He was happy to do so. Then a wrestler leveled the dirt by dragging a heavy wooden plan attached by a big rope which he wrapped around his shoulders as a young wrestler stood on the plank to add more weight. Then the akhara was sanctified with dhoop, and we all prayed before the exercises and other chores began.
Jim explained to the coach that the warm-up exercises were almost the same as the ones done by wrestlers in his country. After the warm-up it was time for some practice and Jim wanted to try wrestling with some of the wrestlers.
He started with Jeetu Pahalwan, a great young wrestler. Jeetu, who is 15 years old, is the grandson of Guru Shyamlal, who used to run the akhara at Aya Nagar. I have great respect for Jeetu because of his devotion, hard work, and amiable nature. Jim said he could probably pin any wrestler of equal weight and age back in the U.S. Jeetu easily pinned Jim two or three times, so we decided to practice some more with other wrestlers.
Jim wrestled some of the other younger wrestlers and told me that they are indeed very good and bright young men.
The akhara has also has a wrestling mat for wrestlers, so they can practice their skills their freestyle skills to prepare them for competition at the school and state championship level.
I have been reading comments on the blog asking about the rules of Indian wrestling and how a win is declared, so I decided to discuss it with Jim on video. (The link to the video is here.)
After the wrestlers practiced it was our time to leave, Guru Ajit Pahalwan asked us to have some tea and refreshments, which we accepted.
Guru Ajit reflected on some of the challenges facing akharas as they train a new generation of Indian wrestlers. He said that the attitude of children is changing and most of the kids nowadays are in search of instant results. He also said that gurus don’t beat the pupils like they used to so they won’t feel humiliated. He told us that in his time, it was the guruji who used to beat the slow wrestlers very badly so that they would work harder. I agreed with him, having been taught the same way. However, he said that he demands the same level of good moral behavior from his pupils and follows the tradition of guru and shisya or the teacher – student of Indian system.
I thanked Jim for his visit and told him that it was wonderful to have him here. It gave me and the other wrestlers a lot of pleasure to learn about a different culture and to make a new friendship with someone from half way around the world.