Situated in the southwest corner of the Indian state of Maharashtra is the thriving city of Kolhapur. Hugging the Panchganga River and home to the magnificent Temple of Mahalakshmi, the hindu goddess of fortune, wealth and prosperity and embodiment of beauty, it is also home to the ancient sport of Kusti. Over 70 Wrestling Akharas (gyms) have helped Kolhapur gain the title of The City of Wrestlers.
For the wrestlers, the day begins as early as 4am and practise can last until 6 in the evening. A morning group run followed by hours of wrestling practise guided by enthusiastic coaches, as well as strength and conditioning training leaves the wrestlers with little downtime. While there is no age limit, most wrestlers begin their talim (training) as young as four years of age, living together with the other wrestlers and the gyms that they train in, with the members of the akharas becoming their new family. The daily routine is designed to build strength and develop muscle bulk and stamina. Exercises that use the wrestlers own body weight include the Surya Namaskara (sun salutation), Shirshasan (headstand), and the Dand (diving push-up), as well as the Bethak (squat), all of which can be found in Hatha Yoga.
The wrestlers are expected to follow a strict regimen of rigorous exercise and a rich diet. All food has to be cooked in pure ghee, the daily diet may consist of around a dozen eggs, a kilogram or two of chicken and mutton, beans, green leafy vegetables, and four to five glasses of thandai (a special drink made from almonds, fennel seeds, watermelon kernel, rose petals, pepper, vetiver seeds, cardamom, saffron, milk and sugar). The tradition of adding lemon juice, turmeric powder, peanut oil, yoghurt and milk to the mud forms hard pellets, which are then broken by the wrestler’s body and sweat, caking the body in the process. It is believed that this has cleansing and curative properties, besides having a calming effect on the aggressive wrestler.