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.