Early mornings in many Indian cities and villages are still often marked by the loud grunts of thickset men grappling with each other in earth pits, punctuated with the thud of falling bodies.
Kushti – a traditional form of Indian wrestling – is alive and kicking, though it is not anywhere near as glamorous as the American WWE wrestling broadcast on TV.
Kushti wrestling has been a major feature of Indian sporting life for thousands of years, and it continues to attract men and women seeking to flex their muscle.
In a nation obsessed with cricket, every city and town boasts of a few akharas (wrestling schools) where wrestlers congregate daily to test their prowess.
It’s a hard life and training sessions last for hours. Wrestling bouts are harder: there are no rounds, and matches are known to last for 20 to 30 minutes until one wrestler manages to pin his or her opponent by their shoulder to the ground.
A traditional wrestler also leads a life of abstience: sex, wine, tobacco and drugs are not permitted.
The tough sacrifices though have brought rich dividends. Though cricket stars hog the limelight, some wrestlers nurtured at the akharas have gone on to win medals at the international stage, including the Olympics.