Men of Virtue: Wrestlers and Sadhus

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.

 

The Trident of Shiva

                              

Shiva is a popular hindu god. He has both benevolent and fearsome forms. In his benevolent form he is pictured as Yogi living a ascetic life upon Mount Kalish, as well as tending a household of his wife and two children. In his fearsome form he is pictured as slaying demons. Among the three primary gods of Hinduism, each stands for a facet of life, Brahma the Creator, Vishnu as the preserver and Shiva is depicted as the Destroyer.

Shiva is regarded as the patron God of Yoga and arts, his imagery is that of a pale skinned man sat crosslegged in deep meditation with a third eye upon his forehead, his hair is  a tangle forming the river Ganga and crested with a crescent moon. Adorned upon his neck is a the snake Vasuki, his left hand a hourglass Damaru drum and in his right hand is his weapon the Trishula or trident.

The trident symbolises the three Gunas, tendencies of universal nature, Sattva (creation), Rajas (preservation) and Tamas (destruction/transformation) . It also represents three Shaktis or powers, will, action, and wisdom. At the base of the Trishula all three Gunas and Shaktis meet. The trishula also represents the past, the present and the future.

The importance of this symbolism forms the basis of my philosophy in life and fitness.

THE THREE GUNAS

SATTVA:  A CALM AND COMPOSED

RAJAS:     ACTIVE AND PASSIONATE

TAMAS:     INERT AND INACTIVE

THE THREE SHAKTIS, WILL, ACTION, WISDOM.

WILL:        TO COMMIT TO YOUR GOALS IN LIFE, MIND AND HEALTH

ACTION:   TO INITIATE THESE CHANGES. THE HARDEST PART IS TO                               START.

WISDOM:  TO SEE THE PATH AS THE DESTINATION, ENJOY YOUR                                   GOALS AND ACHIEVEMENTS, LEARN FROM                                                     MISTAKES AND CONTINUE TO STRIVE TO BE THE BEST                                   VERSION OF YOURSELF YOU CAN BE.

PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE.

THE PAST:  HAS BEEN AND GONE.LEARN FROM THE LESSONS, GOOD                               AND BAD. APPLY THAT KNOWLEDGE TO TODAY.

THE PRESENT: IS NOW AND KNOWING IT IS NOW.LIVE HERE AT THIS                                    MOMENT, PAY ATTENTION TO YOURSELF OTHERS                                          AND YOUR ENVIRONMENT. WHEN YOU ACT, ACT                                            WITH PASSION AND DETERMINATION. ENJOY THE                                          SENSATIONS FOR ALL THERE IS AT THIS MOMENT IS                                      NOW.                   

THE FUTURE:  WILL COME. PREPARE FOR IT BUT DO NOT DWELL ON                                     IT.ONCE IT IS HERE IT IS HERE IN THE PRESENT, IT                                         WILL SOON BECOME THE PAST. IT WILL HAPPEN                                             WHEN IT'S TIME HAS COME.                           

The Akhara: Where Earth Is turned Into Gold.

The Akhara. Where boys come to become men. Where men come to become become powerful in the Image of Hanuman Hindu god of strength.

When you find an Akhara you feel like an explorer in uncharted territory. What will you find? New unbidden knowledge? Something no one else has seen before? It is truly a magical experience in more ways than can be imagined.

What is an Akhara? It is a place of strength, a place of devotion. It is a place for like minded individuals to exert themselves or relax in an encouraging environment. It is a gym, a temple and a social club. It is all these things and more. It can be a building or  outside. It can be a modern establishment or it can be on the grounds of a temple.

All Akhara are temples. They are devoted to Lord Hanuman the Hindu hero god of strength. Each and every Akhara will have a shrine  for Hanuman, daubed in orange paint, freshly applied. The first thing anyone who enters the Akhara will do (after removing their shoes, no footwear is allowed) , is pay respects before the God of Strength.

You will feel the ground between your toes. It is mud or marble. Tile or dirt. There is a feeling in this place, something you can't quite place. A coolness envelopes the air. If the Akhara is outside, you will often find Nim trees growing providing a leafy canopy of shade. Flowers adorn the ground, freshly picked or from the leaves of the trees themselves. Lying astrewn the area are Gada, Jori, dumbbells. All stacked neatly in a corner or along the sides of walls. All are worn and well used. How many hands have held these items that give strength to those who heft them? How many generations of wrestlers and strongmen?

Almost always there is a pit. It always has pride of place in the Akhara. The young wrestlers will dig it early in the morning if it is to be used, turn and toil with the soil. Churning it like milk until it comes to the surface a golden colour. It is blessed with flowers oil and incense.

Around the pit, those who have come in the early hours of the morning begin their rituals. Clad in the traditional Langot and janghiya loincloth, they perform Dands and Bethaks. Jori and Gada. They exercise. No sound is made. It is calm and peaceful. Quiet. Underneath this veil of tranquility you can feel it. Power. Not through mad screaming and grunting, the clanging of weights and congratulatory exchanges. It is held within each of the people there, with a single purpose to be better. 

If wrestling is to take place then the youngest go first. Others exercise or watch. There is no sensation of hurriedness. No need to race the clock. Things happen as they happen. Moves are executed and countered in a co-operative manner. Each Pahlawan or wrestler seeks to aid his fellows for only then will the whole Akhara come along together to become stronger. United strength. United growth.

Once the wrestlers are finished they sit around talking amongst themselves. All the while, older men come and go, some to exercise themselves others to talk with those present. Some come simply to give offerings to Lord Hanuman and sit away from the hustle of the city. They can find respite under the shade of the trees.

Once the training is finished, those present dress and pay final respects to Hanuman before leaving for their daily  lives, each content that they have made themselves stronger, as well as without so they may carry that strength for themselves, their families and their community.

The Akhara is now quiet. The Jori and Gada are in their place of rest. the leaves fall from the trees as the breeze stirs the branches. From his shrine, Lord Hanuman watches and waits.