Wrestling tradition

Print edition : October 10, 2008

Wrestlers engaged in Naada Kusti during Dasara.-M.A. SRIRAM

A CAPARISONED elephant carrying the golden howdah, concerts in front of the Mysore palace, and Naada Kusti (traditional wresting) are some of the main attractions of Mysore Dasara.

During the annual Dasara festivities, wrestlers from inside and outside the Mysore kingdom came to participate in the Naada Kusti competitions in front of the Durbar Hall of the palace. The Maharaja of Mysore would witness the competitions and honour the winners. The Vijayanagar kings made it a great sport by including it in the Dasara festivities. The Wodeyars continued with the tradition. Thus wrestling became synonymous with the city of Mysore.

The smell of fresh mud wafts across the stadium as wrestlers grapple with each other to win the prized silver mace. As a Naada Kusti bout goes on in the akhada, a cloud of dust rises and so does the adrenalin levels of frenzied fans of the pahalwan (wrestler) from their favourite garadi (gymnasium). Nothing short of victory for their garadi will please them. The wrestlers take part in the contest after years of training under the watchful eyes of khalifs, yajamans and ustads. Naada Kusti is very popular among people from the lower middle class and from rural areas.

Old-timers never tire of recounting how the Wodeyar ruler Ranadheera Kanteerava Narasaraja Wodeyar I (1638-1659) defeated an arrogant wrestler at Tiruchi. First promoted by Raja Wodeyar in the 16th century, the popularity of Naada Kusti reached its peak during the rule of Krishnaraja Wodeyar in the first half of the 20th century.

Jayachamarajendra Wodeyar fixed the Jaganmohan Palace as the venue of the competition, but it was later shifted to the Sahukar Channaiah akhada. Over a period of time, the State government improved the akhada. The Karnataka Exhibition Authority built a modern akhada near the exhibition grounds at a cost of Rs.1 crore a few years ago.

Sadly, the garadis and the exponents of Naada Kusti are a neglected lot despite the games popularity. However, with the restoration of two of the oldest garadis in the city, wrestlers can hope that the sport will receive more patronage.

Muralidhara Khajane