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Blockbuster films power wrestling, cradle back in action

Bollywood blockbusters ‘Sultan’ and ‘Dangal’ have spurred a renewed interest in wrestling among youngsters leading to revival of an akhara (a place of practice) in Udham Singh Nagar that was defunct for the past 40 years

dehradun Updated: Mar 06, 2017 14:10 IST
Abhinav Madhwal
Ashok Pehelwan levels the soil of akhada by pulling a wooden log.
Ashok Pehelwan levels the soil of akhada by pulling a wooden log. (HT Photo)

Haldwani: Bollywood blockbusters ‘Sultan’ and ‘Dangal’ have spurred a renewed interest in wrestling among youngsters leading to revival of an akhara (a place of practice) in Udham Singh Nagar that was defunct for the past 40 years.

Sultan focuses on a fictional wrestling champion from Haryana played by Salman Khan; Dangal is a biographical sports drama film starring Aamir Khan as Mahavir Singh Phogat who taught wrestling to his daughters Geeta Phogat and Babita Kumari.

The Mahavir Akhara, revived three months ago, is situated near the Drona Sagar lake in Kashipur, which has remains of a 6th century fort and a temple of King Harshvardhan. According to folklore, the akhara existed since the days of Guru Dronacharya who used to meditate at the place. People said the akhara became defunct around 40 years ago.

Ashok Pehelwan from Mathura, who holds the ‘Brij Kesari’ title, revived the akhara after seeing wrestling enthusiasm among youths after the release of Sultan film. Pehelwan, transferred to Kashipur on a posting in the Indian Oil Corporation, said Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, and Sushil Pehelwan’s performance also inspired youths to practise the rural sport.

“Pehelwani helps in character building and maintaining good health; family members are happy that their kids are not indulging in vices.”

“The films on wrestling have made the sport glamourous and rewarding,” said 14-year-old Sachin, a Class 7 student of Oxford School in Kashipur. He has enrolled himself at the akhara. “Pehelwani helps in character building and maintaining good health; family members are happy that their kids are not indulging in vices,” said Sachin.

Disapproving of the gymnasium culture, Salim Pehelwan, a wrestler in his forties, said, “Workouts at gymnasia artificially pump up the body, but akharas foster natural strength.”

Shekhar (18), a BA student, said he has come from Mathura to join the akhara as he wants to make a future in wrestling. “Olympic medals by India inspired me.”

Ashok Pehelwan said he does not charge fees for enrolment and trains youngsters to be proficient in wrestling on both mud surface and international mats.

He admitted that the sport is financially tough for poor students as it requires a diet of around ₹500 per day. “We now have students from financially sound background and they are able to cope up with expenses on food. We also plan to take the help of gram pradhans and NGOs for diet of poor students,” he said.

“We have set codes for pehelwans so that they do not use their strength for destructive purposes. They are told to get up early in the morning, worship, eat almonds, milk and bananas, and refrain from non-vegetarian and fast foods,” said Ashok Pehelwan.

“The five-hour training regimen includes 3000 dand baithaks, 6km run and wrestling for 2-3 hours. Students prepare the soil for bouts by digging and levelling the mud by a wooden log,” he said.