Kushti, also known as Pehlwani, is a 3,000-year-old form of wrestling developed in the Mughal Empire. It combines Persian ‘koshti pehlvani’, translated as ‘heroic wrestling’, with Indian malla-yuddah wrestling. Although you can still find kushti in its traditional form in India, its vanishing quickly due to modernization.
The wrestlers, also known as pehlawans, dedicate themselves to the sport. They begin their career by moving to a traditional wrestling school called an akhara to train under the guidance of a local guru. Their only training attire is a kowpeenam or loincloth. They wrestle in a pit of sand which is mixed with mustard oil, milk or ghee. This sand holds a huge deal of respect with the wrestlers and is believed to give them strength and represent Mother India herself.
They start their day at 3:30am six times a week and train more than 6 hours every day. The wrestlers live together above the arena and typically own nothing but a blanket and a few items of clothes. The wrestlers have been compared to holy men because of their celibacy and dedication to the sport. Their are annual competitions which start regionally and lead up to a national championship; the dream for most pehlawans.