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Kushti: The Traditional Mud Wrestling of India and Pakistan


Kushti is an ancient form of wrestling popular in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Peter Adams/Getty Images
Kushti is an ancient form of wrestling popular in India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Peter Adams/Getty Images

We humans find a lot of ways to express our competitive tendencies and compare our relative skills. There's throwing an orange sphere through a ring horizontal to the ground. There's sliding a weird weighted hunk across the ice. There's even galloping about on fantasy sticks. And if you want to add rolling around in the mud to the list, look no further than the South Asian sport of kushti, a form of wrestling also known as pehlwani. The freestyle matches last about half an hour, and a wrestler typically wins by simultaneously pinning an opponent's shoulders and hips to the ground. Learn more about this ancient sport in the images below.

The monkey god Lord Hanuman represents strength and bravery and is the kushti patron god. Many kushti training centers have a shrine to the deity.
The monkey god Lord Hanuman represents strength and bravery and is the kushti patron god. Many kushti training centers have a shrine to the deity.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
The traditional gyms and training centers for kushti are known as akhara. A typical akhara training regimen focuses on strength, weight and flexibility.
The traditional gyms and training centers for kushti are known as akhara. A typical akhara training regimen focuses on strength, weight and flexibility.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
Most akhara these days use modern gym mats, but those with mud and dirt floor still exist, particularly in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Most akhara these days use modern gym mats, but those with mud and dirt floor still exist, particularly in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
Kushti wrestlers are known as pehlwans, and the sport is known as pehlwani in Pakistan. The sport evolved during the Mughal Empire, roughly around the 17th century C.E. It combines native Indian malla-yuddha wrestling (a sport dating back 2,600 years) with influences from Persian varzesh-e bastanil wrestling.
Kushti wrestlers are known as pehlwans, and the sport is known as pehlwani in Pakistan. The sport evolved during the Mughal Empire, roughly around the 17th century C.E. It combines native Indian malla-yuddha wrestling (a sport dating back 2,600 years) with influences from Persian varzesh-e bastanil wrestling.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
Pehlwans often live, cook and eat together in their akhara, and form small communities. The akhara are one of the few places in India where men of different caste backgrounds are supposedly treated equally.
Pehlwans often live, cook and eat together in their akhara, and form small communities. The akhara are one of the few places in India where men of different caste backgrounds are supposedly treated equally.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
The special clay used in kushti pits is primarily dirt, but can also contain oil, buttermilk, yogurt, ghee (clarified butter), ochre or ground turmeric.
The special clay used in kushti pits is primarily dirt, but can also contain oil, buttermilk, yogurt, ghee (clarified butter), ochre or ground turmeric.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
While boxers may bump gloves to start a match, opposing kushti wrestlers will throw small amounts of dirt on themselves and each other as a blessing.
While boxers may bump gloves to start a match, opposing kushti wrestlers will throw small amounts of dirt on themselves and each other as a blessing.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
Pehlwans can live ascetic lives, often cutting out smoking, alcohol and sex from their daily lives.
Pehlwans can live ascetic lives, often cutting out smoking, alcohol and sex from their daily lives.
Subhendu Sarkar/LightRocket/Getty Images
In the same way that yoga practice carries meaning beyond the physical, kushti wrestling also has spiritual, moral and ethical dimensions.
In the same way that yoga practice carries meaning beyond the physical, kushti wrestling also has spiritual, moral and ethical dimensions.
K.M. Asad/Getty Images
Wrestlers seek to simultaneously pin their opponent's shoulders and hips to the ground, though there are other ways of winning, including knockouts.
Wrestlers seek to simultaneously pin their opponent's shoulders and hips to the ground, though there are other ways of winning, including knockouts.
Rana Sajid Hussain/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images
Kushti wrestlers had great success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and since then Indian authorities have sought to modernize the practice by shutting some traditional gyms.
Kushti wrestlers had great success in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and since then Indian authorities have sought to modernize the practice by shutting some traditional gyms.
Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images


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