Wrestling fans in India talk about their sport with great emotion. Wrestling legends live on in people’s hearts. They watched their matches and adored them. And later people would help these wrestlers as they made the leap from competitor to coach, building new wrestling akharas.Raj Pahuja, a friend of mine, told me about just such a wrestler. His name was Shri Charan Singh. He fought the very best wrestlers of his time and after he retired from competition was asked by the town people to set up an akhara to serve as a breeding ground for young talent in the area. Keen to know more about the guru ji, I went to visit his akhara in Panchvati, Palwal, Haryana, about 60 kilometers from Delhi.It was 6 a.m. when I got to the akhara and the pupils were warming up for morning practice. The sun was beginning to rise as two young wrestlers were grinding almonds to be mixed with milk – a staple of the wrestlers’ diet. The milk and almonds would be served to wrestlers after practice.Guru ji Shri Charan Singh welcomed me warmly while he gave his students instructions on how to prepare for the day.
It was a beautiful akhara, with good facilities, food and housing. Many veteran wrestlers come and give tips to aspiring wrestlers. There were cows for milk, running water for bathing, and an indoor wrestling room with a wrestling mat, which was provided by the government. There was a grinding stone for wheat, a television and a vehicle to bring wrestlers to dangals.
The dirt wrestling pit was dug, leveled and then sanctified. Incense was brought before Lord Hanumanji and then before guruji and us. We all asked blessings from the god, and the practice began.Guruji coached his students on wrestling techniques while we were busy filming. After the practice we sat with guruji and he told us about wrestling and about the akhara.
The akhara is called Sitaram Vtyaamshala, also know as Panchvati akhara as the Pandava were believed to come here while they were in exile.“I was at Delhi for a short time at Guru Chandrup’s akhara and learned the art there. Delhi is the market for everything including wrestling,” guruji said, adding that he considered Guru Chandrup as his own guru.
He came to this place in Haryana in 1984 and people urged him to open an akhara. He formed a committee to run the akhara and has been coaching wrestlers here ever since.“Wrestling can never die,” said guruji. “It is in the hearts of people and so will remain forever, however trends are towards cricket. When a child is born he is presented with a bat and ball, money flows into cricket and there are corporate sponsors and media, while wrestlers are starved of the fame and money they deserve,” guruji said.“I have been provided with mat but no coach. So sometimes I think it is futile. How can we excel at mat wrestling, without a freestyle coach?”
Guruji told me that the sport of wrestling, especially traditional Indian wrestling can never die. “There are more and more wrestling clubs opening, and more and more boys are joining the akhara. The prizes for the wrestlers in dangals have also gone up sharply, however the prizes are not sufficient for a wrestler to live on, so they should also be provided with employment opportunities. When they win medals or wrestle at state or international competition this will give them some money. Money is necessary,” he said.
Guruji welcomes corporate and government sponsorship and points out that historically, wrestling was patronized by kings and gods. “Nowadays government and corporations play the role of kings and gods. And kings should take care of their people.”While talking, the pupil brought in a big glass of badam milk. I drank it to fill my belly and thanked them for their hospitality.