The Kushti wrestlers of India are men that stand apart. They make the conscious and moral decision to join a group dedicated towards a single purpose. Those in the Akahara make commitments and sacrifices of both body and mind. They learn self control through celibacy (brahmacharya), physical training (vyayam), diet (khurak) and are devoted to their Guru and Hanuman. They stand out from the crowd, their bodies and calm dispositions embodiments of the self contained and cultivated power. The men in the Akhara also share something unique in Hindu culture. They can be of any caste and freely intermingle.
India has traditionally been socially structured around a caste system. The castes are divided up into the four "varnas". These are:-
Brahmin, priests and teachers.
Kshatriya, rulers and military elite.
Vaishya, landowners, traders and money lenders.
Shudra, artisans and labourers.
Segregation and in some cases discrimination have been result (further imposed by the British Empire). To the Hindus it is a recognised fact of life. Everything is in its place. In the Akhara, the caste system melts away. Brahmin wrestlers practice Jor alongside their shudra counterparts. Their social standing has little weight in the pit, only their personal moral conviction and strength both of body and character are measured as the worth of a man.
So who are the Sadhus? The word means "Good Man". They are holy men and ascetics who have given up all worldly possessions and attachments. They practice yoga, meditate, fast, chant and perform austerities (physically and mentally demanding tests of pain or control) and remain detached from physical luxuries.All towards attaining moksha (liberation). They stand apart from Hindu society. Anyone from any caste at any age and at any time may elect to become a Sadhu. They must first find a Guru who will teach them about becoming sannyasa. Once inducted into their particular sect, they become legally dead, having no laws for or against them. They must attend their own funerals at the Kumbh Mela festival, symbolically giving up their attachment to the physical world. From then on their interest is on the next. At this point they have fully renounced the trappings of a normal life. Many wander on pilgrimage often wandering into the Himalayas in groups to further deepen their practice. Others may take residence near a village where the locals will visit to ask for advice or healing. They are accorded great respect and have entered the final stage of the Hindu life cycle. they also have a fondness of smoking Chillams (hashish cigarettes) which they believ enchance their spirtuality. Many grow their hair long into dreadlocks and have great beards. They are devoted to their God and their Guru who shows them the path of the Sadhu.
They too like the wrestlers, are outside of the Hindu caste system. Both are accorded the relevant reverence for their choice of lifestyle. Both are example of how to lead a virtuous life.
Both gather in groups. Wrestlers go to Akharas as do a sect of Sadhu, the Nagas (naked). Whereas the Kushti Pahlawan will physically grapple with each other in the pit, the Sadhu will "mentally" wrestle his opponents with theological and philosophical debate. That being said some Sadhus will actively wrestle just like the Kushti Pahlawan though not in the Dangal competitions. Historically both would make Indias first defense. The Kushti wrestlers would be string soldiers or body guards. The Sadhu would take up arms in defense of the nations faith from invaders.
Both pay adherence to a strict set of tenets. Celibacy is a shared quality both learn to control their sexual urges through rigorous physical and mental exercises. This is regarded as a source of power. They can take this excess sexual energy and transmute it into Ojas, the more a man has the more powerful he becomes. The Sadhus are said to have such great hair and dreadlocks because they have a massive store of Ojas.
The wrestler practices his art and strengthens his body for the physical world with Vyayam. The Sadhu trains in yoga and practices austerities such as genital weight lifting or standing on one leg for years to heighten their spirit.
They both live a simple life with very few material possessions. Both have particular diet. The wrestler will eat copious amounts of Ghi, milk and almonds. The Sadhu eats only what is given, normally second hand food and fruits. He will fast and generally places no regard on the quality of food consumed.
Both stand out. The Pahlawan is a mighty figure with his hair cropped short standing tall and emanating a self effacing power. The Sadhu is gaunt figure garbed in a saffron robe with long hair and beards bearing the symbol of their God. The wrestler will cover himself in Akhara soil. The Sadhu daubs himself in ashes of the holy fires. Both consider this to be a source of Vibhuti (power).
These two sub groups can be considered as being as different as they are similar. Two opposite sides of the same coin, there is more in common than not. Both aspire toward a moral and self disciplined lifestyle. They combine their spirituality with their rigorous lifestyle to tread their own paths in the world. Each is an example of what can be achieved through selfless devotion to one's Guru and God. They are the physical monastic ascetics of the Hindu world.