Photos By Cathylouise Broda

Coming to India

Phil and I hadn't come to India to find wrestlers. We'd come to study ashtanga yoga with Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the then 88-year-old patriarch of this ancient art. Phil was a teacher of Brazilian jujutsu at Maxercise, the first center in Philadelphia to offer classes in the Gracie system. I was one of his students. Both of us shared a passion for ashtanga yoga, and early in 1998, we decided to deepen our study of it with a visit to Pattabhi Jois. Before we left, we'd heard from various people that the roots of jujutsu lay in India, and we thought it would be interesting to go there and find some actual Indian wrestlers. Upon arriving in Mysore, we figured we'd just ask a taxi driver where the nearest wrestling school was.

We did just that, but the first rickshaw driver—taxis are rare in Mysore—told us there was no wrestling there. So did the second. And the third. Pretty soon, we'd resigned ourselves to the possibility that we might not encounter any Indian wrestlers. It wasn't until the day we decided to go to the market that we found what we were looking for.

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for them. The wrestlers eventually disappeared into a banana stall in the heart of the market.

Almost out of breath, we reached the stall and saw the men seated in a circle with three others. All of them had large, impressive physiques—rare in Mysore—and they displayed the same cauliflower ears. Instinctively, the oldest man, who looked about 45, reached for the nearest bunch of bananas and asked, "How many?"

"No," we replied, after which Phil and I simultaneously burst into an excited and incoherent explanation of why we'd come to India: "We study Brazilian ju-jutsu with the Gracies. Do you know the Gracies? They're famous! We heard that jujutsu has its roots in Indian wrestling. Are you wrestlers? I mean, those ears ... there's no other way you can get those ears. ..."

Blank stares. It struck me that our rambling explanation probably would have left a native English speaker dumbstruck. We decided a more graphic demonstration was necessary, so Phil wrapped his right arm around my neck and started choking me. I dutifully responded with the appropriate defense, and Phil transi-tioned to an armbar. I tapped. We looked eagerly at the wrestlers.

This time, a glimmer of comprehen-

Gushti wrestling begins from a standing position, but the action soon descends to the ground.

The garb of Indian wrestlers is a simple triangle of cloth that's wrapped strategically around the pelvis.

The Wrestlers

Phil and I immediately hurried after the two men. That was easier said than done in a crowded Indian market. Luckily, they were easy to spot, and not surprisingly, crowds readily made way

Gushti wrestling begins from a standing position, but the action soon descends to the ground.

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Training Knives - Swords - DVDs sion shone in their eyes. The largest man laughed and yelled something in Kannada, the dialect of Mysore. Then another man, the original passenger on the motorcycle, retrieved two more stools, placed them in front of us and motioned us to sit. With a brilliant smile, he said in clear English: ''My name is Punesh Urs. I am a gushti wrestler. Welcome to Mysore."


Modern forms of wrestling, judo and jujutsu attribute their beginnings to India. Here is wrestling in its most primitive and pristine form. The rules of gushti have been preserved from its inception, which some historians have traced back to the time of the Buddha, around the fifth century B.C.

Gushti, although virtually unknown

Indigenous wrestling is making a comeback in some parts of India, but it must compete with computers and cars before it can win the hearts of the masses.

in the West, enjoys a wide following throughout India. Matches resemble boxing prizefights, drawing crowds of up to 10,000. The Mysore team is especially well-known, as it's been the Karnataka state champion for many decades. A gushti match also resembles a Greco-Roman wrestling bout in that the objective is to put your opponent's shoulders in contact with the ground.

Viewed as sacred events, matches take place in a ring of hallowed soil. Contests are always preceded by an elaborate ceremony in which priests bless the ground. Fighters don a thin strip of cloth around their waists and cover their bodies with coconut oil. Opponents fling mud at each other to facilitate any type of grip. Bouts have no time limits, no rounds and no draws.

Our new friend, Punesh, explained that the reason we were unable to find the famous Mysore wrestling team was that Phil and I had used the wrong words for wrestling—we'd tried Sanskrit and Hindi variations on the word "wrestling,"

Indigenous wrestling is making a comeback in some parts of India, but it must compete with computers and cars before it can win the hearts of the masses.

Gushti wrestlers compete on a mud platform that's been blessed by a Brahman priest.

but they were apparently uncommon and virtually unknown. Gushti is the formal name for Indian wrestling. Unlike "wrestling" or "grappling," which are broad terms that encompass a variety of contact sports, gushti is a specific term that refers to one particular form of Indian wrestling.

The men who initially caught our attention in the Mysore market happened to be two of the most prominent athletic figures in the city. Punesh was a former champion bodybuilder and worked as a physical trainer in the most prestigious hotels and sports clubs around Mysore. The driver of the motorcycle was Shan-kar Charavarthy, an imposing hulk of a man who, at 330 pounds, commanded attention and respect with his mere presence. He was the reigning Karnataka gushti champ, and his skill and strength were legendary.

The other men in the banana stall were also wrestlers, two of them former members of the Mysore gushti team. The oldest, who turned out to be 65, was Shankar's father and the proud owner of the stall.

After an hour of gesticulating, demonstrating and, thankfully, translating by Punesh, Phil and I won ourselves an invitation to a practice session with the Mysore team the following day.

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A clothesline was strung around the perimeter, upon wwhich hung several strands of cloth. To our horror, we learned that these meager libers would serve as our uniforms during the workout.


At 3 o'clock the next afternoon, Punesh and Shankar showed up at our door on two motorcycles and gave us a lift to the gushti shala (wrestling school). It was a humble, blink-and-you'll-miss-it establishment, located on a dirt road in the middle of a nondescript neighborhood. No signs indicated that this was where the wrestlers trained.

We entered through a rickety metal

Shankar Charavarthy is one of the most successful gushti wrestlers on the Mysore team.

Wrestling Mans Name Mysore

gate and found ourselves in a small square with a basin of water sitting at the center. A clothesline was strung around the perimeter, upon which hung several strands of cloth. To our horror, we learned that these meager fibers would serve as our uniforms during the workout. The loincloths weren't unlike the mawashi worn by sumo wrestlers. Their sole purpose was to keep unwanted appendages out of the way during a match.

After reluctantly donning our very uncomfortable loincloths, we entered a separate room that measured about 30 feet square. It reminded me of any jujutsu or judo hall, except that in place of mats, it had a two-foot-high platform of mud. We lined up along the edge to begin the day's practice. About 15 wrestlers had gathered, ranging from 12 to 91 years old. The eldest, Balaji, began with a solemn chant honoring the god Hanuman, the patron of all gushti warriors. After the short prayer, we stepped onto the platform and formed a circle.

The warm-ups were arduous. They consisted of several sun salutations, in which we bent forward to touch our hands to the floor, jumped back to a push-up position, moved our chests forward and upward to do a backbend, and then lifted our buttocks toward the ceiling in what's known in yoga as the downward-dog pose. The series of movements and postures was difficult enough, but the wrestlers insisted on making it even more challenging by passing around a 110-pound concrete ring that was placed around each man's neck. Phil and I couldn't even support

Before beginning a match, gushti wrestlers cover their bodies with coconut oil.

the ring while standing up.

Following the sun salutations were more familiar calisthenics and stretches that, thankfully, we were capable of doing. Fifteen minutes later we were ready to wrestle.

Shankar was the instructor. He talked us through the general objective of gushti: to touch your opponent's shoulders to the ground. However, gushti uses no point system, so the matches continue until there's a victor. The techniques Shankar then demonstrated were similar to standard wrestling pins, throws and locks. I dare say the Mysore team was quite impressed with our command of them.

After about 45 minutes, Phil and I thought that we had this gushti thing down pat. The practice, however, proved

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