Traditional wrestling or kushti is an important feature of local fairs organised across the state including that held on Shivratri, the Minjar mela in Chamba and the Bilaspur Nalwari mela. Wrestling is one of the key events at these fairs with wrestlers from all over Himachal as well as neighbouring states taking part.
Kushti is an ancient combat sport and training is imparted in an akhara (place of practice), which resembles a gymnasium. Each akhara has a guru (master) who guides the budding wrestlers. Matches are played on a dark red painted square on the ground and wrestlers follow a strict regimen that includes a special diet.
"Traditional Indian wrestling isn't just a sport, it's an ancient subculture where wrestlers live and train together and follow certain rules. The focus is on living a pure life, building one's strength and improving wrestling skills," said Suresh Pahalwan, a resident of Pathankot in Punjab, who has been regularly participating in these fairs along with his students for the past two decades. Some of them have topped in various state and national wrestling championships.
"These days gyms are preferred over akharas and a sculpted body is preferred over skilled fingers of a traditional wrestler. Over the years fewer wrestlers have been joining akharas but a few gurus still run them and such events encourage the combat sport in its traditional spirit" he said.