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Traditional akhadas of Punjab grapple with problems aplenty

The same Akhadas that gave Bollywood actors Amir Khan and Salman Khan big blockbusters and raked in big mullahs are now struggling in the absence of financial assistance.

punjab Updated: Jun 12, 2018 14:08 IST
Tarsem Singh Deogan
Tarsem Singh Deogan
Hindustan Times, Ludhiana
Akhadas of Punjab,Punjab Akhada,Akhada in Punjab
Wrestlers at the Akhada Alamgir near Ludhiana say they have not had any government support. (Gurpreet Singh/HT)

Kushti in Punjab is a way of life. Closer to the soil and ethos of sports, the traditional akhadas, however, seem to have fallen on hard times.

The same akhadas that gave Bollywood actors Amir Khan and Salman Khan big blockbusters and raked in big mullahs are now struggling in the absence of financial assistance from the government.

Pehalwans say for last many years, akhadas have been running without any government support and add that people have stopped helping them too. “Earlier the villagers used to contribute for development of akhadas by donating milk and ghee on a daily basis to wrestlers, but it is not the same anymore,” says pehalwan Harmel Singh Kala, who began his journey from Alamgir Akhada.

Harmel adds, “It’s a pity that government officials still think that a pehalwan can arrange his daily diet in ₹200, which is all that the government has been providing.”

Ruing that government help is inadequate, he reveals that daily diet, which includes milk, chicken, meat, ghee and dry fruits, costs ₹1,500 to ₹2,000 to a wrestler. Harmel, who also runs an Akhada at Mamdaut in Patiala, says though Bollywood movies are based on wrestling, but haven’t helped promote the sport.

“However, when Yogeshwar Dutt and Sushil Kumar won medals at the international level, it motivated the youth for wrestling,” Kala says.

Pehalwan Sikandar Singh, who established the Alamgir Akhada in 1960 in the same village, says he spent his life fulfilling his passion for the sport. Winner of the Rustam-e-Hind title multiple times, 85-year-old Sikandar still trains pehalwans at his akhada.

“India has talent, but lacks government help. If the government promotes akhadas, the country will bag several medals at the international level,” he adds.

Fateh Singh, a budding wrestler, points out that except cricket all games have been neglected both by the government and people. “I want to make a career in wrestling and win an Olympic medal for the country,” he says. Fateh says wrestling is the best way to keep youth away from drugs.

LOCAL COMPETITIONS KEEP THEM GOING

In these trying times, it is the local village-level competitions that serve as a source of motivation and keep the Akhadas going.

“The competitions held at the village level keep pehalwans motivated. As they participate in such events, they receive incentives like cash prizes from audiences apart from prize money by organisers,” he adds.

Earlier, Kushti melas were held in villages in which prizes ranging from tractors, cars, motorcycles and even gold were given to winners. Pehalwans from all akhadas participated in the competitions to test their strength.

Ludhiana district has over five Akhadas — Alamgir, Dhandra, Narangwal, Khanna and Malakpur.

First Published: Jun 12, 2018 14:06 IST