Mathura is about 150 kms from Delhi. It was a pleasant drive to village -- the birthplace of Lord Krishna. When I reached the akhada, night had fallen already. I met my wrestler friends who had been preparing for my stay. I ate until I was stuffed - a full bowl of vegetable curry and more than 10-12 chapatis with salad, after which I slept well, only to be woken up early in the morning by the wrestlers as they started their daily routine.
The history of the akhada stretches to the time of Dwaper, when Lord Krishna ruled Mathura. It is believed that the akhada itself was started by Lord Krishna and his elder brother Balram or Daau after they defeated the cruel king Kansa of Mathura.
King Kansa and Jarasandha wanted to kill Lord Krishna but failed. Finally, they invited Lord Krishna and his brother Balram to a fair called dhanushagya, and made them wrestle against professional wrestlers in a style of wrestling called mallyudha, the oldest form of Indian wrestling. Kansa sent his bravest demon wrestlers -- undefeated champions -- named Chanur and Mushtika and two others. They wrestled with Lord Krishna and his brother trying to kill them; however it was the demon wrestlers who were killed by Lord Krishna and his elder brother Daau. Krishna then killed Kansa in another match and freed the public from his evil rule. There is temple of Krishna and Balram near the akhada.
The akhada was once patronized by kings and sultans but now it is dilapidated. I was told that once it was centre of wrestling, arms training, Pat-Baji (stick-fighting), music and dance and various local art forms. A grave (Samadhi) of an old singer as well as musician Baba Om beside the akhada attests to its rich history. There are still a few old men who know the oldest art but have few takers and no patronage from the government. Even during the British Raj, Indian wrestling flourished. But the apathy of the current government toward this beautiful sport – our cultural heritage – has weakened it greatly. It is only the sacrifice of the old veteran wrestlers, aspiring wrestler and few good men that has kept the wrestling tradition alive.
It is believed that even ghosts used to come and practice these art forms, mainly wrestling, in the night. They also helped protect the akhada, which is why there have been no accidents or injuries to any of the wrestlers.
The akhada once had the best wrestlers of India. During the colonial period, Kaale Pahlwan and Chandrasan Pahlwan were the star wrestlers. Chandrasan, nicknamed Bhounra, defeated the great Gama Pahlwan at Calcutta. And the akhada developed a special technique called ghotu danv, which nearly always secures a pin for the wrestler who applies it.
The akhada also had branches across the country out of which few like one in Delhi, Banara, Gorakhpur and Gaya are still running.
The wrestlers of the akhada do not have any mat facilities, coaches or any assistance from the government. That makes it difficult for them to excel at freestyle or Greco-roman wrestling. I met many wrestlers who participated in the national games but could not win due to lack of mat practice. It all comes down to apathy of the govt. towards such great culture. The present coach of the akhara told me that Indian wrestlers would have a hard time competing internationally if the government doesn’t invest in facilities to train wrestlers. But he was sure that if the akhada was provided with a mat and freestyle coach that its wrestlers would “bring glory to our state and to the nation.”