Mysore Dasara has many traditions and rituals associated with it, all adding flavour to the festivities in their own way. Among them is ‘Vajra Mushthi Kalaga’, a wrestling bout that is held in the palace, which kickstarts the ten-day celebrations. Preethi Nagaraj writes about the famed ‘garadi manes’ of Mysore, where traditional wrestlers are trained.
The mud is loose, indicating that no man has stepped on it for the day, yet. At the garadi mane (homes where wrestlers are trained), the malla kambha (acrobatic pole) stands lonely and tall. A traditional picture of Hanuman or Maruti standing all muscled-up and sturdy (sometimes without the images of Rama and Seeta peeping from his bleeding and torn chest) has different shades and colours.
At the break of dawn, young men and boys start walking in slowly. Gaze fixed, daav on their minds, they are hoping to spring a surprise move during their practice, to make their ustad happy. Women don’t even cross their mind, let alone their path! The pehalwans.
They are the men kings took pride in. Those Indian gladiators who wrestled with other men to provide both entertainment and also to reassure their kings that virile men were among his subjects. Such events formed the most important part of festivals too.
For instance, in Mysore’s Dasara, Vajra Mushthi Kalaga is considered the traditional flagging-off ritual of the festivities.
During the days of the early Maharajas, this was albeit a bloody one. But today, it stands as a small representation of the bygone era.
Those days, men wore metal knuckles while fighting. But today, the knuckle has tiger nails set in metal, considered most sturdy and sharp.
The kalaga (fight), which has a place even in the modern-day Dasara, takes place in the precincts of the Palace. Soft soil is spread to create an akhada (stage) and two jattis fight each other till a few drops of blood oozes from the head region of one of the fighters.
“The rakta darshana (sight of blood) would hail the journey kings undertook to defeat or capture the kingdoms of other rulers.
Ayudha pooja completed, weapons all ready and set, kings would proceed on seemollanghana (surpassing the boundaries of their kingdom),” says historian who has chronicled the contribution of Wodeyars, the royal family of Mysore, Prof P V Nanjaraje Urs.
Support from the kings kept the art alive till date. But, the costs involved in making a pehalwan and also disappearance of garadi mane, which have been replaced with quintessential gyms and karate classes, has left the art with less takers.
Mysore today has 84 documented garadi houses, where men receive training in traditional method, to few hundreds which survived till early 80s. With the cost of living increasing every day, their diet of badam, pista, dates, milk, eggs and chapaathis are not easy for the lower middle class families to meet, from where the wrestlers come.
Dasara Kusti Development Committee Secretary P Ravikumar, a government servant working in the capacity of PRO at Cauvery Neeravari Nigam, was instrumental in initiating ‘Marali Baa Garadige’ programme, which saw many former wrestlers returning to garadi houses a year ago.
“Now, we sell tickets for wrestling events which are held every month at Rs 20 - 30, which is organised by former wrestlers who have pooled in the finances by themselves. Our crowd numbers not less than 3,000 - 4,000 every event, sometimes going up to 6,000 too!” he says. Courtesy Home Minister Ashok these events are given free police protection.
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